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Headlines for Monday, January 6, 2020

AP Sources: Secretary of State Pompeo Won't Run for Senate

WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has told Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that he will not run this year for an open Senate seat from Kansas. That's according to two people close to McConnell who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe a private conversation they say the two men had Monday afternoon. Pompeo's decision comes as the U.S. braces for possible retaliation by Iran after a U.S. airstrike killed Qassem Soleimani, Iran's most powerful general and leader of that country's elite Quds Force. Republicans worry that without Pompeo as their candidate, they might lose what should be a certain GOP Senate seat.

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Kansas Governor Turns to Pensions for Budget Breathing Room

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly is proposing that Kansas give itself more breathing room in its budget by slashing annual payments to its pension system for teachers and government workers. Kelly on Monday offered a new version of a plan that the Republican-controlled Legislature spiked last year. Kelly's proposal would allow the state to take 10 years longer to close a long-term gap in the funding for the state pension system. The move would free up tens of millions of dollars each year to use on schools and social services. But it's not clear that her new plan will fare better than last year's. 

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Kansas City-Based Hallmark Cards Plans to Cut Nearly 400 Jobs

KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) - A shake-up at Kansas City-based Hallmark Cards could leave hundreds of employees out of work to start the new year.  KCTV5 News reports that Hallmark plans to cut nearly 400 jobs, mostly in the Kansas City area.  The company told KCTV5 News that over the next several days, some 400 employees will be notified they are out of a job.  In a statement, the company started off by saying 2019 was a good year and that Hallmark and Crayola brands saw positive performances.  President and CEO Mike Perry said there’s a “clear line of sight” to transformational work that needs to be done for the long term vision and mission they have for the business.  "This transformation includes actions to reduce the size of the current global workforce for Hallmark’s greeting card business, retail business and corporate support functions," he said.  "These changes, while not easy, will enable us to invest in new growth strategies that will ultimately help us realize our future vision."  Hallmark says employees who are now out of a job will be offered severance and transition assistance and some will have the opportunity to apply for new positions.

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Democrat Announces Run for Kansas 2nd Congressional District Seat

The Democratic mayor of Topeka has kicked off a campaign to challenge freshman Republican Rep. Steve Watkins. Michelle De La Isla told The Topeka Capital-Journal that she would concentrate on access to health care, job creation and infrastructure in advance of her formal announcement Monday that she is running for the 2nd Congressional District. In 2017,the 43-year-old De La Isla became the first Latina to be elected mayor of Topeka. She previously was the diversity coordinator for the utility company Evergy, as well as the executive director at Topeka Habitat for Humanity and chief financial officer at Housing and Credit Counseling in Topeka.

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Kansas Court of Appeals Judge Announces Resignation

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The longest serving judge on the Kansas Court of Appeals announced on Monday that he will retire on April 3. Seventy-two-year-old Judge G. Joseph Pierron Jr.  has written 392 published opinions and heard thousands of appeals since he joined the state's second highest court in December 1990. The Office of Judicial Administration said in a news release that the governor appoints judges to the Kansas Court of Appeals, subject to a majority confirmation by the Kansas Senate. The governor has 60 days from the date the position becomes vacant to make the appointment. 

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Spirit AeroSystems Offers Employees Voluntary Layoffs

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita aircraft parts maker Spirit AeroSystems offered its employees on Monday voluntary layoffs as it grapples with the fallout from the suspension of production for the troubled Boeing 737 Max jetliner. Chief Executive Officer Tom Gentile told employees in a letter that the voluntary layoffs come as the company lacks “clarity on the timing for resuming MAX production or a firm production rate schedule when it does resume." The move comes weeks after Boeing announced the suspension of the 737 MAX program. The buyouts will be offered to all eligible employees in Wichita as well as those in Tulsa and McAlester in Oklahoma.

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'Satanist' Soldier in Kansas Bomb Case Seeks to Change Plea

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) —Attorneys for an Army soldier who prosecutors say describes himself as a Satanist and who wanted to overthrow the U.S. government, have notified a court he intends to change his plea.  Prosecutors say Jarrett William Smith pleaded not guilty in September to charges of distributing explosives information and making a threatening interstate communication. A court notice posted today (MON) shows a change of plea hearing is set for February 10 in Topeka.  Smith was a private stationed at Fort Riley.  He's accused of providing information about explosives to an FBI undercover agent and threatening to burn down the house of an anti-fascist.

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1 Person Killed in Shooting in Kansas City, Kansas

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say one person has been killed in Kansas City, Kansas. Police said in a news release that officers responded to the shooting around 2:30 am Sunday and found the male victim suffering from several gunshot wounds. The victim was taken to a hospital, where he died. His name wasn't immediately released. The homicide is the first of the year in Kansas City, City. Last year, 37 people were killed there.

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Judge to Delay Ruling in Case of US Researcher Who Denies Chinese Work

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A federal judge plans to delay ruling on a motion to dismiss the indictment against a researcher in Kansas accused of secretly working for a Chinese university. During a motions hearing Monday for Fenglin “Franklin” Tao, government attorneys told U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson they plan to file a superseding indictment next week in the case. The government alleges that Tao, a visiting professor at the University of Kansas, failed to report that he was working for Fuzhou University in China while doing federally-funded research in Kansas. Tao's attorneys have asked Robinson to dismiss the indictment because they contend a visiting scholar at KU fabricated the allegations against Tao after unsuccessfully trying to extort him. 

(–earlier reporting–)

Judge Mulls Fate of KU Researcher Who Denies Working for Chinese

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A federal judge will hear arguments today (MON) on whether to toss out the indictment against a University of Kansas researcher accused of secretly working for a Chinese university. Attorneys for Feng "Franklin" Tao have accused a visiting scholar of fabricating the allegations after unsuccessfully trying to extort him. Tao wants the court to dismiss the indictment charging him with one count of wire fraud and three counts of program fraud. The government alleges the Lawrence man failed to report that he was working for Fuzhou University in China while doing research in Kansas on projects funded by the U.S. government.

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Kansas Officer Sorry for Faked Expletive on McDonald's Cup

HERINGTON, Kan. (AP) — A former Kansas police officer who made up a story that a McDonald's employee wrote an expletive and the word “pig” on a coffee cup has apologized. Herington Police Chief Brian Hornaday confirmed Monday that 23-year-old William Darling was the officer involved in the incident. Darling said in a statement to the Herington Times newspaper that was published Friday that he did not consider the “magnitude of the decision” and then “did not display the courage needed to end the situation before it got out of control.” Darling was not identified when his resignation from the Herington police force was announced last week. 

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Rural Kansas Struggles to Attract Psychiatrists

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Psychiatrists are so hard to come by in some rural parts of Kansas that out-of-state doctors now commonly treat patients through video conference. The Kansas News Service reports that Kansas is seeing an increase in patients seeking mental health treatment and the state can't find enough doctors, nurses and therapists to treat them. One measure from the federal government suggests only nine Kansas counties have enough psychiatrists, and they're mostly in or near populated areas. The state passed a law in 2017 adding psychiatry to the medical student loan program, but it's too early to tell how well it's working.

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Governor Kelly: Kansas Psychiatric Hospital Unit Needs Changes

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Governor Laura Kelly says a troubled unit within a state psychiatric  hospital for the mentally ill is "not a therapeutic environment" and promised changes. The Wichita Eagle reports that Kelly discussed the latest problems at Osawatomie State Hospital on Thursday after federal inspectors again threatened to pull Medicare funding. Kelly says the 60-bed Adair Acute Care unit is "way too small to have 60 people with some serious mental health issues in that one place." She says state officials are working on improvement plans to lower the number of patients in the unit and provide beds elsewhere.

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Kansas Man Dies After Falling Through Ice While Fishing

RUSSELL, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say a Kansas man died after falling through ice while fishing. The Russell County Sheriff's Department says 72-year-old James Schoenberger of Russell died Saturday afternoon after he was pulled from the river and taken to Russell Regional Hospital. The sheriff's office says Schoenberger was fishing in an area just south of Russell when he fell through the ice. The Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks conducted a boat accident investigation into the death. 

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Kansas Computer Programmer Sentenced for Cyberattack Threat

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A computer programmer who offered “reputation management services” to a Wichita lawyer was sentenced Monday to three years of probation and a $2,000 fine for threatening cyberattacks against two websites that criticized that attorney's work. The U.S. attorney's office said in a news release that VIRAL Artificial Intelligence co-founder David Dorsett pleaded guilty in October to two counts of making extortionate threats via the internet. The 37-year-old Wichita man admitted that he contacted lawyer Brad Pistotnik in 2014 offering his services. Dorsett sent an email barrage to Leagle.com and Ripoffreport.com demanding they remove the information and threatening to target advertisers.

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Work Underway in Kansas, Missouri on Wind Farm Project

JOPLIN, Mo. (AP) — Work is underway on a 600-megawatt wind project in southwest Missouri and southeast Kansas. On the Missouri side, construction has started on the North Fork Ridge Wind Farm about 20 miles north of Joplin and is expected to begin in the next month around Golden City on the King’s Point Wind Farm. The Joplin Globe reports that both of those farms will consist of 69 wind turbines that will generate a total of about 300 megawatts. On the Kansas side, construction began in September on the Liberty Utilities-Empire District’s Neosho Ridge Wind Farm north of Parsons. The 139 turbines being built there will generate the other 300 megawatts of electricity.

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Firefighter Dies After Falling Through Floor of Burning Home in Western Missouri

PECULIAR, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri firefighter died Sunday after falling through a floor while battling a house fire.  Officials have identified the victim as 30-year-old Chuck McCormick, who had been working with the West Peculiar Fire Protection District for just three weeks. He is survived by a wife and three children.  The fire was reported shortly after 11 am Sunday in the laundry room of a home in Peculiar, Missouri, which is about 30 miles south of Kansas City.  Grandview Fire Chief Ron Graham says the firefighter fell through the floor near the front door of the home as firefighters entered the home. The firefighter fell into the basement and was critically hurt. The injured firefighter was taken to a hospital where he died. The family that lives in the home was able to escape before firefighters arrived.

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Suburban Kansas City Police Sergeant 1 of 2 Killed in Crash

GLADSTONE, Mo. (AP) — Police in the Kansas City suburb of Gladstone say an Independence police sergeant and another motorist have been killed in a head-on crash. The Kansas City Star reports the crash happened Thursday night in Gladstone, killing 48-year-old Sgt. Jason Young, who was driving a car that crashed head-on with a pickup truck. The driver of the truck also died. Police have not released that driver's name. Young was a 20-year veteran of the Independence department. He was off duty when the crash happened.

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Kansas Highway Patrol: 1 Dead, 1 Seriously Injured in Crash

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Highway Patrol says one person is dead and another has been seriously injured in a crash just west of Topeka in Shawnee County. The Capital-Journal reports that the single-vehicle crash happened Friday night on eastbound Interstate 70, when a vehicle drove into the median, went airborne and hit a creek embankment and a bridge pillar. A passenger, 29-year-old Carlos Colon-Medina of Topeka, was killed. The 23-year-old driver was taken to Stormont Vail Hospital with serious injuries. The cause of the crash remains under investigation.

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Driver Flees Fatal Crash in Kansas City, Missouri

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Police are looking for a driver that fled the scene of a fatal crash in Kansas City before officers arrived. Kansas City, Missouri, Police say the crash happened shortly before 4 am Sunday near 18th Street and College Avenue in central Kansas City.  Authorities say the driver of a Nissan Sentra lost control of the car before it left the road and struck a utility pole. Police said the woman who was driving the car ran away before officers arrived. A 57-year-old male passenger in the car was taken to a hospital where he died.

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Court Documents: Kansas City Man Charged in Mother's Killing

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Authorities have charged a Kansas City man in the shooting death last week of his 51-year-old mother. The Kansas City Star reports that 20-year-old Joshua Thompson has been charged with second-degree murder and armed criminal action in the December 27 shooting death of Lisa Powell. Powell's body was found on a pathway between two homes in the Northland neighborhood with several gunshot wounds. Investigators say shell casings and bullets found at the scene match those later found in Thompson's room in his mother's home. Thompson is being held in the Clay County Jail on $1 million bond. His next hearing is set for Tuesday.

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Hutchinson Man Sentenced to Life in Fatal Shooting During Drug Deal

HUTCHINSON, Kan.  (AP) — A Hutchinson man has been sentenced to life in prison for fatally shooting another man during a drug deal. Brennan Trass won't be eligible for parole for 51 1/2 years under the sentence imposed Friday for first-degree murder in the August 2015 shooting death of 24-year-old Jose Morales. He also was ordered to serve another 20 months for being a felon in possession of a firearm. Investigators say Morales was shot three times in the back as he removed drugs from a safe. Investigators testified Trass fired off other rounds as he ran from the house.

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Motive for Kansas City-Area Crime Spree Still Unknown

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Investigators are still trying to determine what prompted a man to steal a gun at a suburban Kansas City store before driving to a car dealership and shooting a salesman. The man, who was identified as 26-year-old Jeffery Millsap, died Thursday after he led authorities on a chase and was shot by a Clay County sheriff's deputy near Holt. Missouri State Highway Patrol Sgt. Bill Lowe says a gun found near Millsap after he was shot was the same gun stolen earlier Thursday from a sporting goods store in Liberty. It is still unclear if Millsap fired at officers before he was shot.

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Missouri Man Sues Federal Public Defenders Office

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri man whose conviction was overturned after he spent more than two years in prison is suing the federal public defender's office. Thirty-year-old Aaron Winters says in his lawsuit that his public defender told him to plead guilty even though he was innocent. Winters was sentenced to 30 months in prison after his arrest in 2012 for being a felon in possession of a firearm. However, Winters later learned that he was not banned from having a gun because he had been sentenced to less than a year on an earlier conviction for possessing marijuana without a tax stamp. Federal prosecutors then recommended Winters conviction be overturned.

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Humboldt Water Plant Reopens After Chemical Spill Scare in Southeast Kansas

HUMBOLDT, Kan. (AP) — Residents of a southeast Kansas town are able to once again use the city water after a water plant that was shut down reopened. Humboldt officials urged residents on Thursday to conserve water because of a chemical spill in the Neosho River. State health officials gave the all-clear and residents were told they could go back to regular water use after  3 pm Friday. The chemicals were spilled during a fire at Mid-West Fertilizer in Iola.

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Man Admits Shooting Fake Attack Ad in Wichita Mayor's Race

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The lawyer for a man who shot a false attack ad against Brandon Whipple during the Wichita mayoral race says his client did not act alone. Whipple, who won the mayor's race, is suing unknown people and 21-year-old Matthew Colborn, a video producer who admits shooting an ad that falsely suggested that Whipple had been accused of sexual harassment at the Kansas Statehouse. In court filings, attorney Ross Hollander wrote that Colborn made the video at the direction of others, who are not identified in court records. It's still unclear whose idea the video was and who financed it.

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Kansas Official Sells Trophy Deer Antlers in Closed Auction

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas officials have sold a set of trophy antlers from an illegally shot buck for $16,001 in a closed auction. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the 14-point rack had prompted legislation and years of wrangling before Thursday's sale. A poacher shot the buck in a rural area south of Topeka in 2011 and fled with its head. After state wildlife officials seized the antlers the next year, a man whose family owned the land where the buck was shot claimed rights to the rack. He prevailed in the auction, where he and Bass Pro Shops were the only invited bidders.

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Gonzaga, Duke, KU Remain Atop AP Top 25 Men's Basketball Teams, Butler Climbs Up to No. 6

(AP) — Gonzaga, Duke and Kansas remain atop The Associated Press men's college basketball poll. The Bulldogs received 54 first-place votes from a 65-member media panel. The Blue Devils had nine first-place votes and the Jayhawks two. No. 4 Baylor moved into the top five for the first time in three years and undefeated Auburn was up to No. 5. Butler climbed five spots to No. 6 for the program's highest ranking ever.

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