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Headlines for Friday, July 17, 2020

Missouri Senator: Drug-Diluting Kansas City Pharmacist Won't Get Early Release from Prison

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP/KCUR) —  Robert Courtney, the former Kansas City pharmacist who diluted tens of thousands of prescriptions for cancer patients, will not be released early from prison.  That's according to U.S. Senator Josh Hawley.  The Republican Senator from Missouri posted a message on Twitter, saying the Justice Department had informed him that Courtney would remain incarcerated.  The decision to keep Courtney in prison marks a reversal by the Bureau of Prisons, which had planned to release Courtney to a halfway house and then to home confinement in Trimble, Missouri, because of the pandemic.  At least four U.S. lawmakers have been calling on Attorney General William Barr to block the early release of Courtney.  Senator Hawley, along with Senator Roy Blunt and U.S. Representatives Emanuel Cleaver and Sam Graves, said in a letter Thursday that they “strongly disagree” with freeing Robert Courtney seven years early because of the coronavirus pandemic.  Courtney was sentenced to 30 years in prison in 2002 after he pleaded guilty to diluting cancer and other drugs for profit over a 10-year period. Authorities said the scheme involved more than 4,000 patients and 98,000 prescriptions.

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Kansas Man Guilty in Payday Loan Scheme, Tax Evasion

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Federal prosecutors say a Kansas businessman pleaded guilty Thursday for his role in two fraud schemes involving false payday loan debt and tax evasion totaling more than $8 million. The U.S. attorney's office for the western district of Missouri says in a news release that 51-year-old Joel Jerome Tucker, of Prairie Village, pleaded guilty to one count each of transporting stolen money across state lines, bankruptcy fraud and tax evasion. Under his plea deal, Tucker must pay more than $8 million in restitution to the Internal Revenue Service and forfeit an additional $5,000. He faces up to 20 years prison.

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Kansas Reports Close to 22,000 COVID-19 Cases; Including Nearly 300 Fatalities

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) — Kansas health officials have recorded 21,965 COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began.  The virus, confirmed in 102 of the state's 105 counties, has also claimed 299 lives.  Wyandotte and Johnson Counties have the most cases.  Another update is expected Monday.   

(Kansas health officials release new data on COVID-19 case numbers on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

(–Related–)

Kansas Has New Record COVID-19 Spike, 1,000+ Cases in 2 Days

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas is reporting that it saw more than 1,000 new novel coronavirus cases in two days. The new numbers Friday again gave the state its worst seven-day spike in new reported cases since the pandemic began. The state has seen a resurgence in cases since mid-June that has grown increasingly intense this month. It's prompted Gov. Laura Kelly to announce plans for delaying the reopening of public K-12 schools until after Labor Day. The state health department said Kansas has had a total of 21,965 reported novel coronavirus cases, up 1,032 or 4.9% from Wednesday. The number of COVID-19-related deaths remained at 299. 

(–Related–) 

Despite COVID-19 Spike, Kansas Faces Push to Reopen Schools

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Republican-controlled state school board in Kansas is facing pressure from conservatives to scuttle Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s plan to delay the reopening of K-12 schools, even as a resurgence in coronavirus cases intensifies. The 10-member State Board of Education can block Kelly’s plan under a law enacted last month. Kelly plans to issue an order Monday to delay the reopening of schools from mid-August until after Labor Day. Senate President and conservative Wichita Republican Susan Wagle has called on people to urge the board to reject Kelly’s proposed delay. So has the small-government, free-market Kansas Policy Institute think tank. Seven board members are undecided.

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NEW: Kansas Congressman Steve Watkins Forced to Leave Committees After Charges

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A freshman Kansas congressman facing felony criminal charges has been forced to temporarily give up his House committee assignments.  Republican Representative Steve Watkins said today (FRI) that he is "temporarily and voluntarily" leaving the three committees on which he serves. But the House Republican conference's rules require members facing a potential felony conviction to leave their committee posts. He is accused of voting illegally in a Topeka City Council race in November 2019 and providing false information to a sheriff's deputy who was investigating whether he broke state election laws.

(-Related-)

Kansas Congressman's Colleague Backs GOP Foe After Charges

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas official who is trying to unseat a freshman congressman who has been charged criminally with election fraud picked up the endorsement Thursday of another member of the state's congressional delegation.  Kansas Congressman Ron Estes said he is endorsing State Treasurer Jake LaTurner over fellow Congressman Steve Watkins because the charges against Watkins mean his eastern Kansas seat will be in danger if Watkins wins the primary. Watkins' legal problems stem from his having listed a UPS postal box as his residence for voter registration purposes. He has called the criminal charges "hyper-political" and says he expects to be exonerated.

Kansas Congressman Seeks to Disqualify Prosecutor in Voting Case

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A freshman Kansas congressman who listed a UPS postal box as his residence on a voter registration form is seeking to disqualify a prosecutor from pursuing a case against him. The Kansas City Star reports that Kansas Congressman Steve Watkins's attorney has filed a motion asserting that Shawnee County District Attorney Mike Kagay has a conflict of interest and that the case is politically motivated. Watkins faces three felony charges and one misdemeanor charge related to an investigation into whether he voted illegally in a 2019 municipal election. 

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Kansas State Fair General Manager Resigns After Fair's Cancellation

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — The general manager for the Kansas State Fair has resigned. Robin Jennison said in his resignation letter that he is leaving to keep front-line workers employed after the fair was canceled amid pandemic concerns. The fair board voted last week to cancel the event for the first time in its 100-year history after several large vendors pulled out.  the Wichita Eagle reports Jennison said he'd be surprised if the state fair was able to survive into next year without furloughs or layoffs, adding he could not in good conscience watch that happen.

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Kansas Governor Wants to Delay Reopening Public Schools Until September 9

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Governor Laura Kelly says she will delay the reopening of the state's K-12 schools for nearly a month - until after Labor Day - because of a resurgence in reported coronavirus cases.  The Democratic governor's announcement is all but certain to generate criticism from the Republican-controlled Legislature. Kelly announced her plans only hours after the State Board of Education approved roughly 1,100 pages of reopening guidelines for local boards of education. Kelly said she will issue an executive order Monday to delay reopening of schools until September 9.  Kansas health officials say nearly 21,000 cases of COVID-19 have been reported since the pandemic began.  Almost everyone infected by the virus has recovered but nearly 300 people in Kansas have died.  

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Kansas Professors Protest Return to In-Person Classes on Campus

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KNS) - A group of Kansas professors is protesting the return of in-person classes on campus this fall.  The Kansas Conference of the American Association of University Professors said in a written statement that it's time to rethink reopening plans, especially as case counts of COVID-19 continue to rise in Kansas.  The group's president, Mohamed El-Hodiri, says college faculty felt left out of discussions on coming up with reopening plans.  He says faculty members want to choose whether they will teach in person, online or some hybrid of the two. "We're not just worried about our own personal safety even though we are.  We are worried about safety of our coworkers and our students." Meanwhile, Kansas State University is now facing a lawsuit over the switch to online only classes in the spring, with lawyers arguing students should be reimbursed for tuition.

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Kansas Unemployment Rate Falls in June

WICHITA, Kan. (KMUW) — The Kansas unemployment rate fell to 7.5 percent in June, according to data released today (FRI) by the Kansas Department of Labor. The figure was a significant decrease from May and April, when unemployment soared above 10 percent due to the coronavirus. June's unemployment rate, though, is still double the rate from a year ago.  The report also showed that Kansas employers have recovered more than a third of the jobs lost in March and April. Sedgwick County continued to have the highest unemployment rate of any county in Kansas at 11.5 percent.

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Kansas City Getting 225 Federal Agents to Help Solve Murders

KANSAS CITY, MO. (KPR) - As many as 225 federal agents will soon be on the ground in Kansas City, ramping up investigations into unsolved murders – not to patrol the streets.  Missourinet.com reports the city has recorded at least 101 homicides so far this year, putting it on track for the most violent year in Kansas City history. The figure represents about a 35% increase over last year’s murder rate.  During a press conference Wednesday, Tim Garrison, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, said the goal is to identify the most prolific violent offenders and get them off the streets.  “An unprecedented spike in violent crime deserves an unprecedented response from government authorities,” says Garrison.  The new federal operation, called Operation Legend, was announced last week by White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany.  The operation is named after a four-year-old Kansas City boy killed last month while he was sleeping. Legend’s family joined Garrison and Mayor Quinton Lucas while the details of the work were laid out in the press conference. 

Mayor Lucas said the operation is about finding justice for victims of violent crime.  “This operation is not tanks in the streets,” he said. “This operation is not a substitute patrol force. This operation is not over-enforcement from federal law enforcement. This is not an operation where anyone is coming to take over the work that either our police department does here locally or other authorities and agencies do.”  The federal agents are from the FBI, U.S. Marshal Service, Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.  Wednesday’s press conference came the same day Missouri Governor Mike Parson announced he was calling state lawmakers back to Jefferson City for a special session later this month to address the state's surge in violent crime.

(-Related-)

Missouri Governor Calls Special Session to Address Increasing Violence

O'FALLON, Mo. (AP) — Missouri lawmakers will reconvene later this month to consider ways to stem the increasing violence that's been especially deadly in both urban areas of the state, St. Louis and Kansas City. Governor Mike Parson has called a special session, which will begin July 27.  Unlike some other states that are considering police reforms, Parson said Missourians need to get behind police, and indicated that the racial injustice protests themselves have played a role in the increase in crime. Parson says the special session will be singularly focused on finding solutions to violence. While the worst of the crime is in St. Louis and Kansas City, Parson calls it a “Missouri problem.”

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Former Kansas Man Executed as U.S. Carries Out 2nd Death Sentence in One Week

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (AP) — The United States has carried out its second federal execution in three days, killing, by lethal injection, a Kansas man whose lawyers claimed had dementia. Wesley Ira Purkey, formerly of Lansing, was put to death Thursday at a federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana.  He was convicted of kidnapping, raping and killing a 16-year-old girl in Missouri. He expressed remorse before his execution, saying he regretted the "pain and suffering" he caused. The victim's father said he hoped Purkey "rots in hell." The Supreme Court cleared the way for Purkey's execution to take place just hours before. The Trump administration has pressed for a resumption of federal executions after a 17-year hiatu.  Another inmate, Daniel Lewis Lee, was put to death Tuesday.

(-Related-)

Iowa Drug Kingpin Who Killed 5 People Set for Execution

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (AP) — A convicted killer from Iowa whose five victims included two young girls is scheduled today (FRI) to become the third federal inmate to be executed this week, following a 17-year pause in federal executions. The inmate, 52-year-old Dustin Honken, was sentenced to death for killing government informants and children in his effort to thwart his drug trafficking prosecution in 1993. Honken is set to die by a lethal injection of the powerful sedative pentobarbital at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, where he’s been on death row since 2005. His chances for a last-minute reprieve seem remote after the Supreme Court allowed the other two executions.

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Wichita Man Pleads Guilty in Hallucinogenic Mushroom Case

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Prosecutors say a Wichita man has pleaded guilty to growing hallucinogenic mushrooms in his home. Federal prosecutors for Kansas say 35-year-old Corey Logan pleaded guilty this week to manufacturing a controlled substance. Authorities say that in March 2018, police responded to a shooting at Logan's home and found Logan with a gunshot wound. Police also found an indoor mushroom operation in a bedroom, including about 215 grams of mushrooms with a street value of more than $2,000. Logan, who has since recovered, faces up to 20 years in federal prison when he's sentenced on October 2.

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Protesters in KCK Demand Changes Following Death of 3-Year-Old

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Protesters are demanding changes after a 3-year-old Kansas girl died despite her grandparents raising concerns about her safety with child protective services. The Kansas City Star reports that more than 30 people gathered Wednesday near the Kansas Department for Children and Families building in Kansas City, Kansas, chanting that they wanted justice for Olivia Ann Jansen. The girl's remains were discovered Friday after her father, Howard Jansen III, reported her missing. The 29-year-old and his 33-year-old girlfriend, Jacqulyn Kirkpatrick, have since been charged with felony murder and other crimes. Authorities haven't released how she died.  

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Kansas Man Pleads Guilty in Oklahoma Cold-Case Deaths

VINITA, Okla. (AP) — The Kansas man charged in the 1999 deaths of an Oklahoma couple and the disappearance and presumed deaths of their teenage daughter and her friend has pleaded guilty to an accessory to murder charge. The Tulsa World reports 68-year-old Ronnie Busick entered the guilty plea this week in an agreement with prosecutors. He was sentenced to 15 years, serving 10 years in Oklahoma Department of Corrections custody and five years under supervised release. Busick may get a lesser sentence if he provides information that leads to the recovery of the two Craig County teens. Busick is the only suspect still alive. The two girls have not been found despite numerous searches.

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Affidavit: Suspect Said He "Emptied a Whole Clip" at Wichita Police

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita man charged with shooting at police during protests last month told a co-worker that he “emptied a whole clip” on officers after his sister was hit with a rubber bullet while holding a baby. The Wichita Eagle reports that an arrest affidavit released Friday in the criminal case against 28-year-old Henry Parker says he admitted to the co-worker that he’d fired on officers early on June 2 but told her “don’t tell on me." Parker has denied any involvement in the shooting. He is with 19 counts of aggravated assault of a law enforcement officer and three other counts.

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Most Government Job Cuts in Missouri Affect Social Services

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — State officials say the majority of Missouri government jobs being cut from already-filled positions will be eliminated from the social service department. They blamed the coronavirus pandemic’s economic impact on the state for the layoffs. Officials said they will eliminate a total of nearly 500 state jobs, 200 of them are unfilled positions across state agencies. Another 200 of the remaining 300 jobs will be cut from the state Department of Social Services, including the Children’s Division. The Kansas City Star reports that of the total 96 positions that will be eliminated, 80 are filled and 16 are vacant. Other divisions within the agency, including Youth Services, will also see cuts.

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Kansas Democratic Candidate for U.S. Senate Seat Raising More Money than GOP Contenders

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The presumed Democratic nominee for an open U.S. Senate seat in Kansas raised almost $1.3 million more than the top-tier Republican primary candidates combined, during the second quarter of the year. Democratic state Senator Barbara Bollier's impressive-for-Kansas finance numbers worry establishment Republicans as many of them fear a new political action committee with Democratic ties is trying to steer the GOP nomination to polarizing conservative Kris Kobach with attacks on Kansas Congressman Roger Marshall.  The $3.7 million Bollier raised from April 1 through the end of June surpasses the $2.4 million raised by the top four Republican candidates.

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Muslim Woman Says Missouri Gun Range Refused Service Unless She Removed Hijab

BELLE PLAINE, Kan. (AP) — Civil rights advocates say a Missouri gun range violated the civil rights of a Muslim woman by not allowing her to shoot unless she removed a religious head covering. The Council on American-Islamic Relations asked the U.S. Department of Justice in a letter for a civil rights probe into the denial of services by Frontier Justice during an incident earlier this year at one of their ranges in the suburban Kansas City, Missouri, metropolitan area. The company touts on its website its core values of “Faith, Family and Freedom.” Frontier Justice did not immediately respond to phone and email messages.

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KU to Test All Students, Staff for COVID-19

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The University of Kansas says it will test for COVID-19 all students, faculty and staff who return to campus for the fall semester. The Lawrence Journal-World reports Chancellor Douglas Girod said the university has made arrangements with the Clinical Reference Laboratory in nearby Lenexa to conduct the saliva testing. On-campus housing at the university will be setting aside rooms for quarantining if students do exhibit COVID-19 symptoms or test positive for the respiratory virus. (Read more in the Lawrence Journal-World.)

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Body Found in Rural Area of South-Central Kansas

AUGUSTA, Kan. (AP) — Authorities are investigating after the body of an elderly man was found in a rural area of south-central Kansas along with some bicyclist equipment. KAKE-TV reports that Butler County Sheriff Kelly Herzet said Friday afternoon that a man and a woman found the body while working on a fence southwest of Augusta. The body has not been identified. Herzet is asking anyone who knows of a missing bicyclist to contact law enforcement.

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Bankers Say Midwest Economy Remains Weak in Rural Areas

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A new survey of bankers suggests the economy remains weak in rural parts of 10 Plains and Western states. The overall index for the region remained negative at 44.1 in July even though it improved from June's 37.9. Any score below 50 suggests a shrinking economy, while a score above 50 suggests a growing economy, survey organizers say. Creighton University economist Ernie Goss says weak agriculture crop prices, retail sales and layoffs have hurt the bankers' economic confidence.  For the purpose of the survey, bankers from Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Colorado, Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming were surveyed.

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JCCC Gets $1 Million for Performing Arts; Will Rename Carlsen Center

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (KPR) – After receiving a $1 million donation, Johnson County Community College says it will rename its Carlsen Center for Performing Arts.  In a news release, JCCC says longtime supporters Brad and Libby Bergman made the donation, which is intended to provide an ongoing endowment to support the school's performing arts series. The funds will also provide scholarships for students studying creative arts at JCCC.  The Carlsen Center for Performing Arts will, in the future, bear the name Midwest Trust Center, a local company founded by Brad Bergman, a former chair of the JCCC Foundation's Board of Directors.   According to the news release, both the donation and the name change to the Carlsen Center, were facilitated by Dr. Charles Carlsen and his wife Linda, who wanted to re-brand the performing arts complex in recognition of the significant contribution from the Bergmans.  

The Bergmans have co-chaired the JCCC Foundation’s annual fundraiser, "Some Enchanted Evening," and have supported dozens of activities at JCCC.  Following the unanimous favorable recommendation by the College’s Facilities Naming Committee, the Board of Trustees approved the proposed contribution and the renaming of the preforming arts center at its monthly meeting Thursday.  Emily Behrmann, General Manager for the Performing Arts at JCCC, summed up the impact of the Bergmans donation stating, “This gift will continue to expand our legacy of bringing diverse artists from all over the world to our region.  I offer my sincere thanks to the Bergmans and the Carlsens for their commitment to JCCC and for their recognition of the power of the Performing Arts."

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UPDATE: Pro Golfer and Kansas Native Gary Woodland Doing Well at Latest PGA Tourney

UNDATED (KPR) — Going into the weekend at the Memorial golf tournament in Dublin, Ohio, former University of Kansas golfer and Topeka native Gary Woodland is in contention. He's three shots behind co-leaders Ryan Palmer and Tony Finau (FEE-now), who are both at 9-under par for the tournament.  Woodland is coming off his best finish of the year when he tied for fifth last week in the Workday Charity Open. It was played on the same golf course as this week's Memorial tournament.

(–earlier reporting–)

UNDATED (KPR) - Former University of Kansas golfer Gary Woodland, of Topeka, was tied for third after Thursday's first round of the Memorial tournament in Dublin, Ohio.  Woodland shot a 4-under-par 68 in the opening round and is tied with Brendan Steele, two shots behind the leader, Tony Finau (FEE-now).  Woodland is in a star-studded field that includes Tiger Woods, who's in his first tournament since the PGA Tour resumed play in the middle of the pandemic.  The second round of the tournament, being played without fans, resumes today (FRI).

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