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Headlines for Thursday, January 9, 2020

Lawrence Contractor Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy in Oread Hotel Tax Case

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) - A building contractor has pleaded guilty to conspiring to deprive the city of Lawrence of sales tax revenue in connection with the development of the Oread Hotel.  The Lawrence contractor, 54-year-old Thomas Fritzel (FRITZ-el), pleaded guilty today (THUR) to one count of criminal conspiracy. Fritzel is part owner and manager of the seven-story Oread Hotel.  In his guilty plea, Fritzel admitted that he and others caused false monthly sales tax returns to be submitted to the state of Kansas.  As a result, the city of Lawrence lost a portion of sales tax revenue it was due.  The city filed a civil lawsuit against Fritzel seeking the lost revenue and the parties settled that case in 2017.  Sentencing in the criminal case is set for May 4. Both parties have agreed to recommend a sentence of 12 months and a day in federal prison and a fine up to $250,000.  (Read the news release about this case from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Kansas.)

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New Kansas Proposal Breaks Deadlock on Medicaid Expansion

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - The Democratic governor of Kansas and a top Republican lawmaker have outlined a new proposal for expanding the state's Medicaid program. The deal between Governor Laura Kelly and Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning announced today (THUR) breaks an impasse that had allowed a handful of GOP leaders to thwart bipartisan legislative majorities. The plan would give Kelly the straightforward expansion of state health coverage that she has advocated and cover up to 150,000 additional people. Denning would get a version of a program that he has proposed for driving down private health insurance premiums to keep people from dropping existing private plans for Medicaid.

(earlier reporting)

Kansas Governor, GOP Leader Set to Unveil Kansas Medicaid Expansion Plan

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Democratic Governor Laura Kelly and a top Republican legislator are preparing to unveil a bipartisan plan for expanding Medicaid in Kansas. Kelly's office scheduled a Statehouse news conference this (THUR) morning with Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning. The governor and the Overland Park Republican have been working for weeks toward a compromise on extending Medicaid health coverage to as many as 150,000 additional people. Kelly has advocated a straightforward expansion of the state's $3.8 billion-a-year Medicaid program under the 2010 federal health overhaul championed by former President Barack Obama. Denning drafted an alternative in October. The Legislature opens its annual session Monday. 

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Crews Battling Several Grass Fires Across Kansas

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Crews are battling numerous grass fires across Kansas amid windy, dry conditions.KWCH-TV reported Wednesday that weather radar has picked up the smoke from fires in Cowley, Greenwood and Saline counties.The National Weather Service said a fire located east of Arkansas City is spreading north. The local emergency management agency has warned residents southwest of Dexter that they need to be aware of the fire and prepared to take action if needed.Grassfires are also located northwest of Eureka, east of Salina and South of New Cambria.Winds were gusting between 30 and 40 miles per hour Wednesday afternoon.

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Kansas Governor Wants to Merge Agency Faulted over Child Deaths

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The governor of Kansas plans to merge a state agency that's been under fire in recent years over deaths of abused children with another social services department. Democratic Governor Laura Kelly said Wednesday that her plan would allow the state to put more focus on preventing problems within potentially troubled families. Her plan would combine the department handling the foster care system for abused and neglected children with the agency providing services to the elderly and disabled. Kelly's announcement was short on specifics about how the change would address persistent problems and top Republicans in the GOP-controlled Legislature were wary.

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Kansas Teen Sentenced in Drug Deal That Led to Teen's Death

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas teenager has been sentenced to more than four years in juvenile corrections for his part in an $8 Xanax deal that led to another teen's shooting death. Seventeen-year-old Rolland Kobelo was sentenced Thursday. He faces 10 years in adult prison if he doesn't successfully complete his time in the juvenile system. Kobelo was originally charged with felony murder in the March 2019 death of 17-year-old Rowan Padgett outside a home in Olathe. Police say Padgett was shot by a man who wanted to buy the drugs.  Kobelo was accused of helping to set up the drug deal that led to Padgett’s death.

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Capital Murder Charges Filed in Fatal KCK Bar Shooting

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Two men charged in shooting at a Kansas bar that killed four people and injured five others are now charged with capital murder. Wyandotte County District Attorney Mark Dupree announced amended charges Wednesday. Dupree says he now has  the option to seek the death penalty against Hugo Villanueva-Morales and Javier Alatorre, although he has not made that decision. The two men are accused of going to a crowded Kansas City, Kansas, bar in early October and opening fire. Police have said the shooting apparently stemmed from an earlier dispute inside Tequila KC bar. Alatorre was arrested shortly after the shooting but Villanueva-Morales wasn't arrested until December 12 in Mexico.   

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Capital Murder Charge Filed in Kansas House Fire that Killed 3

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A man charged with setting a fire that killed his estranged girlfriend and two of her children in Kansas has now been charged with capital murder. Wyandotte County District Attorney Mark Dupree announced the upgraded charges Wednesday against Ismael Caballero in their deaths in Kansas City, Kansas. He is now charged with capital murder, second-degree murder and arson. Prosecutors allege Caballero set the Dec. 30 fire that killed 32-year-old Yazmine Rodriguez-Santilla, 14-year-old Amerikha Rodriguez and 10-year-old Jean Carlos Rodriguez. Dupree says the upgraded charges allow him to consider seeking the death penalty but he has not yet made that decision.  

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Suspect in After-Hours Wichita Club Shooting Arrested

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A man suspected of fatally shooting an innocent bystander last month during an argument at an after-hours club in Wichita is now in custody. Twenty-five-year-old Terrance Nigel Johnson was extradited Tuesday to Sedgwick County from Oklahoma County, Oklahoma, where he was arrested last week. He is jailed on $500,000 bond on suspicion of first-degree murder in the December 2 shooting of 19-year-old Sonya Brown at the 511 Club in Wichita. Police say Johnson had been involved in a disturbance with someone else and that Brown was an unintended victim.

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Court Revokes Incorporation of Company for Masquerading as Well-Known Kansas Company

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) —  Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt says a judge has revoked the articles of incorporation of a company who used a similar name and its corporate status in Kansas to masquerade as a Koch Industries subsidiary in order to provide credibility to counterfeiting activities of its affiliate in China. Johnson County District Judge James F. Vano entered a default judgment for abuse of corporate powers against Koch Membrane Systems Inc., a Kansas corporation affiliated with the Chinese counterfeiter Koch (Beijing) Membrane Technology Co., Ltd. The  company failed to respond to a lawsuit filed by the attorney general's office in July.

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Grounding of 737 Max Takes Growing Toll on Kansas Suppliers

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The suspension of production of the Boeing 737 Max is taking a growing toll on suppliers in Kansas, where more than 40 aerospace companies provide parts and services for production of that aircraft. Wichita bills itself as the “Air Capital of the World” for its concentration of aerospace manufacturers. It is home to parts maker Spirit AeroSystems Holdings Inc., the city's largest employer, which this week asked employees if they would take voluntary buyouts. Dozens of smaller aerospace companies, mostly clustered in south-central Kansas, are also beginning to shed jobs.

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District to Pay $165K to Settle Student's Sex Crimes Suit

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — A federal judge has approved a $165,000 settlement between a large suburban Kansas City school district and a student who was sexually assaulted by a middle school classmate. The Kansas City Star reports that the Shawnee Mission School District in Johnson County, Kansas, agreed to settle in September, but the amount wasn't disclosed until it was approved this week. The lawsuit alleged that school officials didn't act when a male student was repeatedly accused of sexual offenses before he assaulted the victim in 2017 in an eighth-grade study hall at Westridge Middle School.

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Olathe Man, Parolee in Double Homicide, Admits to Drug Trafficking

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Kansas man who spent nearly four decades in prison for a suburban St. Louis bar robbery in which an off-duty police officer and a chemist were killed has pleaded guilty to trafficking drugs in central Missouri while he was on parole. Sixty-seven-year-old Robert Lucious Toney, of Olathe, pleaded guilty Wednesday in federal court in Jefferson City to distributing methamphetamine, possessing methamphetamine with the intent to distribute and crossing state lines in aid of a racketeering enterprise. Toney was released on parole in 2010 in the double homicide case. He faces between 10 years and life in prison for the new conviction.

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Former Sheriff's Deputy Pleads Guilty in Wife's Beating

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — A former Johnson County sheriff's deputy has pleaded guilty to aggravated battery after his wife was beaten in May. In his plea on Wednesday, 38-year-old Eric Leon Walker admitted he beat his wife in May. As part of the plea, prosecutors agreed to recommend that Walker be sentenced to probation. Walker was placed on administrative leave after his arrest and has not worked for the department since Nov. 22. According to court records, Walker beat his wife and threatened to kill her during an argument at their home. Their son was home for part of the altercation.   

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Proposed Bill in Kansas Seeks More Transparency After Police Shootings

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A bill that will be introduced in the Kansas Legislature this year would change how law enforcement agencies handle police shootings. The bill would require all law enforcement agencies to have written policies for investigations when police kill someone, and would mandate that outside agencies investigate the shootings. If a prosecutor doesn't charge officers after a fatal shooting, the bill would require the investigating agency to release its report to the public. The Kansas City Star reports the mother of a 17-year-old killed by Overland Park police in 2018 help Representative David Benson, of Overland Park, draft the bill.

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Emaciated Dog Found in Locked Cage in Dumpster in Wichita

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — An animal rescue group says an emaciated dog is recovering after he was found in a locked kennel that was thrown in a Dumpster. The Wichita Animal Action League said in a Facebook post that the Pit bull was found Wednesday at an apartment complex and taken to a veterinarian, where he is “eating food as fast as it's put in front of him." The dog is around 2 years old and weighs about 20 pounds (9.07 kilograms), about half the amount he should weigh. The post described the dog as “very sweet and loving." 

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Kansas TV Pitchman for Used Cars Arrested After Search Yields Drugs

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas used car dealership pitchman has been arrested on suspicion of several drug crimes. The Wichita Eagle reports that Sedgwick County Jail booking records show that 37-year-old Aaron Christian Wirtz was arrested Tuesday and released Wednesday. Wirtz is well-known in the Wichita area as the over-the-top Super Car Guys pitchman in the used car dealership’s TV commercials. Wichita Police Department spokesman Officer Charley Davidson said the arrest came after officers served a search warrant as part of an ongoing narcotics investigation.

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U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Tries to Make More Space for Missouri River Runoff

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers doesn't expect to eliminate from its reservoir system all the leftover water from last year's near record runoff that led to massive flooding along the Missouri River. Officials are raising the current releases in expectation of high spring runoff again this year. The Corps' John Remus told the Omaha World-Herald the system needs to make as much space as possible in light of forecasts for warmer than normal weather and higher than normal runoff. He says the Corps normally doesn't release more during the winter because of the potential for ice jams and dams upriver.

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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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Wichita to Resume Chalking Tires After Temporary Suspension

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita is reinstating the legally contested practice of marking tires with chalk to enforce parking rules. The city suspended chalking after a federal appeals court found that the practice was unconstitutional, likening it to entering a property without a search warrant. But city spokeswoman Megan Lovely told The Wichita Eagle that the case wasn't binding in the city because it was decided by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. Kansas is part of a different circuit. She says enforcing parking restrictions is "crucial," noting that businesses depend upon the public "having quick and convenient access to their locations."

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WVU's Huggins Fined for Referring to Refs as '3 Blind Mice' Following KU Game

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — The Big 12 Conference has fined West Virginia coach Bob Huggins $10,000 for referring to an officiating crew as “three blind mice” after a recent loss at third-ranked Kansas. The league announced the fine in a statement that also issued a public reprimand. Commissioner Bob Bowlsby says the fine and reprimand were appropriate because it was Huggins's third such incident. Huggins made the comments in a postgame radio interview Saturday after the 60-53 loss to the Jayhawks in Lawrence. 

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