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Two Former Employees Of A West Texas Auto Group Plead Guilty To Bank Fraud

September 20, 2019
Categories: 

U.S. Attorneys say Sheila Miller and Diana Urias with the Reagor Dykes Auto Group made the plea in Amarillo for their role in a$23 million check fraud scheme. 

Their chief financial officer, Shane Smith, already pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and a related floor plan fraud scheme. 

Miller and Urias admitted that the auto group - which was struggling with ballooning expenses due to aggressive growth, above market compensation and unnecessary overhead - engaged in widespread, systematic check kiting.

Both Miller and Urias said the company had an entire team designated to kite checks.

Both women face up to five years in prison and may have to pay at least $23 million in restitution. Mr. Smith faces up to 20 years in prison and more than $50 million in restitution.

Author: Josh.Clark
Posted: September 20, 2019, 7:49 pm

Fred Stewart, left, is helped to high ground by Splendora Police officer Mike Jones after he was rescued from his flooded neighborhood as rains from Tropical Depression Imelda inundated the area, Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019, in Splendora, Texas. (Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle via AP)

Imelda Leaves 2 Dead In Texas, Others Stranded And Trapped

September 20, 2019
The Associated Press
Categories: 

HOUSTON (AP) — Emergency crews in the Houston area took advantage of receding floodwaters Friday to begin to assess the damage from one of the wettest tropical cyclones in U.S. history, a storm that led to deaths of four men and displaced hundreds of people from their homes.

The aftermath from Tropical Storm Imelda, which drew comparisons to Hurricane Harvey two years ago, was blamed for major travel headaches as motorists slogged through water-swollen streets and air travelers faced flight delays and cancellations.

Nine barges broke free of their moorings, and Interstate 10 over the San Jacinto River was closed in both directions when two of the barges struck the bridges early Friday. Nearly 123,000 vehicles normally cross the bridges each day, according to the Texas Department of Transportation.

The heaviest rainfall had ended by Thursday night in southeast Texas, but forecasters warned that parts of northeast Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Louisiana could see flash flooding as Imelda's remnants shifted to the north.

Officials in Harris County, which includes Houston, said there had been a combination of at least 1,700 high-water rescues and evacuations to get people to shelter as the longevity and intensity of the rain quickly came to surprise even those who had been bracing for floods. The storm also flooded parts of southwestern Louisiana.

More than 900 flights were canceled or delayed in Houston on Thursday. Further along the Texas Gulf Coast, authorities at one point warned that a levee could break near Beaumont in Jefferson County. During Harvey, Beaumont's only pump station was swamped by floodwaters, leaving residents without water service for more than a week.

Imelda's remnants on Thursday led to the deaths of two men. A 19-year-old man drowned and was electrocuted while trying to move his horse to safety, according to a message from his family shared by the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office. Crystal Holmes, a spokeswoman for the department, said the death occurred during a lightning storm.

A man in his 40s or 50s drowned when he tried to drive a van through 8-foot-deep floodwaters near Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston during the Thursday afternoon rush hour, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said.

A third death was that of a man whose body was found in a ditch Friday north of Houston, Harris County sheriff's spokesman Jason Spencer said. Preliminary indications are that the unidentified man drowned.

Also on Friday police in Beaumont said the body of a 47-year-old man was found in a Toyota Prius that was discovered in a flooded canal after waters receded.

The National Weather Service said preliminary estimates suggested that Jefferson County was deluged with more than 40 inches (102 centimeters) of rain in a span of just 72 hours, which would make it the seventh-wettest tropical cyclone to hit the continental U.S.

"The issue is that you can't get 40 inches of rain in a 72-hour period and be fully prepared for that," Jefferson County spokeswoman Allison Getz told The Associated Press on Friday. "At this point we haven't been able to fully assess what's happened."

Getz said dozens of people have traveled to the county with boats in tow from Louisiana and other parts of Texas to assist with rescue efforts, an outpouring of support reminiscent of volunteer efforts during Harvey.

In nearby Chambers County, preliminary estimates indicate about 800 homes and businesses sustained some level of damage from floodwaters, county spokesman Ryan Holzaepfel said. Emergency personnel rescued about 400 people during the deluge, mostly from homes, he said.

Emergency crews on Thursday evacuated 87 residents from a nursing home in Porter, northeast of Houston, as floodwaters began to seep into the home, according to Meghan Ballard, spokeswoman for the Montgomery County Office of Emergency Management. The residents of Pine Shadow Retreat were taken to one of six separate nursing homes or senior living centers where they will be housed temporarily, Ballard said. No injuries were reported as part of the evacuation effort.

Even when Houston was finally rid of the worst, downtown highways remained littered with abandoned cars submerged in water. Thousands of other drivers were at a practical standstill on narrowed lanes near flooded banks.

"The water kept rising. It kept rising. I couldn't believe it," said Ruby Trahan Robinson, 63. She uses a wheelchair and had a portable oxygen tank while getting settled into a shelter at City Hall in the small town of China, just outside Beaumont.

"It rolled in like a river," she said.

Turner, the Houston mayor, evoked the memory of Harvey — which dumped more than 50 inches (127 centimeters) of rain on the nation's fourth-largest city in 2017 — while pleading with residents to stay put. City officials said they had received more than 1,500 high-water rescue calls to 911, most from drivers stuck on flooded roads, but authorities described a number of them as people who were inconvenienced and not in immediate danger.

Ahead of the evening rush hour, Houston officials urged commuters to stay in their offices for an extra three to four hours rather than embark on flooded and already jammed highways. Turner made a similar appeal to parents of schoolchildren as the Houston Independent School District — Texas' largest with more than 200,000 students — did not cancel classes or shorten the day unlike neighboring districts in the path of the storm. The district canceled Friday classes.

Imelda is the first named storm to impact the Houston area since Harvey hovered for days and inundated the flood-prone Gulf Coast. That storm dumped more than 5 feet (1.5 meters) of water near the Louisiana border, and two years later, it looked in some places like Harvey was playing out all over again.

A massive Houston furniture store became a shelter for evacuees. Live television footage showed firefighters rescuing stranded truckers on major highways. On social media, people posted that water was quickly seeping into their home and asked for help.

In Winnie, a town of about 3,200 people 60 miles (95 kilometers) east of Houston, a hospital was evacuated.

Cory Stottlemyer, spokesman for Houston's Office of Emergency Management, said floodwaters in the city Friday were receding and that fewer 911 calls were being made. But even as the intensity of the storm weakened, Harris County officials warned that some of their 4.7 million residents might not see high waters recede in their neighborhoods until the weekend.

Following Harvey, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ordered a report warning that punishing storms would become more frequent because of a changing climate. Scientists say climate change is responsible for more intense and more frequent extreme weather such as storms, droughts, floods and fires, but without extensive study they cannot directly link a single weather event to the changing climate.

Climate change skepticism runs deep among Republican leaders in Texas, and Abbott has said it's "impossible" for him to say whether he believes manmade global warming is causing the kind of disasters the state is telling residents to get used to. Earlier this year, Abbott approved billions of new dollars to fortify the Texas coast and reduce catastrophic flooding.

The flooding from Imelda came as Hurricane Humberto blew off rooftops and toppled trees in the British Atlantic island of Bermuda, and Hurricane Jerry was expected to move to the northern Leeward Islands on Friday and north of Puerto Rico on Saturday. In Mexico, people in Los Cabos were preparing for Hurricane Lorena's arrival.

___

Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter: https://twitter.com/juanlozano70

___

Associated Press writers Diana Heidgerd, Terry Wallace and Jamie Stengle in Dallas; Clarice Silber and Paul J. Weber in Austin; and Jill Bleed in Little Rock, Arkansas, contributed to this report.

AP Editorial Categories: 
Author: ap.content
Posted: September 20, 2019, 7:37 pm
Texas Flooding

© Scott Clause/The Advertiser via USA TODAY

I-10 East In Houston Closed Indefinitely Due To Flooding

September 20, 2019
Categories: 

The flooding in Houston has forced the state to shut down Interstate 10 East indefinitely.

It's due to what appears to be major damage at the bridge along the San Jacinto River just east of Houston. 

A number of  barges broke loose on the river and struck the bridge.

Crews fear the barges in the water underneath may have combustible materials in them. So, tolls on the Sam Houston Tollway Bridge over the Houston ship channel are temporarily being waived if drivers want to connect to Highway 90 or Highway 225 to the Fred Hartman Bridge.

Author: Jeff.Burkett
Posted: September 20, 2019, 4:40 pm
Gas Pump, Gasoline

chutarat sae-khow/GettyImages

Texas AG Warns Against Price Gouging During Imelda

September 20, 2019
Categories: 

DALLAS (1080 KRLD) - The Texas attorney general is warning businesses against price gouging as Tropical Storm Imelda moves inland. The remnants of Imelda have led to flash flood watches and flood warnings for 19 counties in Southeast Texas.

During Hurricane Harvey, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton says his office received more than 5,000 complaints about price gouging. He says some stores charged ten dollars for a gallon of gas and $99 for a case of bottled water.

The attorney general's office says it also received complaints about prices for hotels, batteries, generators and medical supplies.

“Any person or business selling goods must be aware that they are prohibited by law from engaging in price gouging during or after a disaster. My office will work aggressively to prevent disaster scams and stands ready to prosecute any price-gouger who takes advantage of rebuilding and recovering Texans," Paxton wrote in a statement.

He says penalties for price gouging are increased when the governor issues a disaster declaration. Governor Greg Abbott has issued the declaration for 13 counties in Southeast Texas.

Author: Jeff.Burkett
Posted: September 20, 2019, 3:24 pm
Texas Teaching Abstinence-Only Sex Education

Credit: Chris Fox, 1080 KRLD

Report Challenges Texas Teaching Abstinence-Only Sex Education

September 20, 2019

AUSTIN (1080 KRLD) - With the teen birth rate in Texas continuing to rank among the highest in the nation and the majority of high school seniors saying they are already sexually active, the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund and the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States today released a report calling for an overhaul of the state’s failed abstinence-only approach to sex education.

“It’s past time for Texas to teach students the truth about sex education,” said Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund. “That means teaching them not just about abstinence, but also how to protect themselves from disease and unintended pregnancy when they decide at whatever point in their lives not to be abstinent. This common-sense approach will help students make healthy, responsible decisions based on facts as well as their own and their families’ values.”

“If we truly want sex education to benefit our young people, we need to base curricula off of what works – and that shouldn’t be up for debate,” said Jennifer Driver, the state policy director for SIECUS. “Comprehensive sex education is rooted in evidence whereas Texas’ current abstinence-only approach is driven purely by ideology. It's 2019….We are failing our young people when we provide them with anything less than what they deserve: sex education that is accurate, inclusive, and empowering.”

The State Board of Education has just begun a major revision of health curriculum standards, which include sex education, for grades K-12. This is the first revision of the health standards in more than two decades. The board in 2004 adopted abstinence-only health textbooks that are still in Texas classrooms.

The vast majority of Texas school districts – 83 percent in 2016 – teach abstinence-only or nothing at all about sex education.

Online: Texas Freedom Network Education Fund Report

Author: Jeff.Burkett
Posted: September 20, 2019, 1:13 pm

Splendora Police Lt. Troy Teller, left, Cpl. Jacob Rutherford and Mike Jones pull a boat carrying Anita McFadden and Fred Stewart from their flooded neighborhood inundated by rain from Tropical Depression Imelda on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019, in Spendora, Texas. (Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle via AP)

Imelda's Deluge Won't Let Up Over Texas And Louisiana

September 19, 2019
The Associated Press
Categories: 

CHINA, Texas (AP) — The slow-churning remnants of Tropical Storm Imelda flooded parts of Texas on Thursday, leaving at least two people dead and rescue crews with boats scrambling to reach stranded drivers and families trapped in their homes during a relentless downpour that drew comparisons to Hurricane Harvey two years ago.

By Thursday night, floodwaters had started receding in most of the Houston area, said the city's mayor, Sylvester Turner. Law enforcement officers planned to work well into the night to clear freeways of vehicles stalled and abandoned because of flooding, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said.

Officials in Harris County, which includes Houston, said there had been a combination of at least 1,700 high-water rescues and evacuations to get people to shelter as the longevity and intensity of the rain quickly came to surprise even those who had been bracing for floods. The storm also flooded parts of southwestern Louisiana.

More than 900 flights were canceled or delayed in Houston. Further along the Texas Gulf Coast, authorities at one point warned that a levee could break near Beaumont in Jefferson County. During Harvey, Beaumont's only pump station was swamped by floodwaters, leaving residents without water service for more than a week.

Imelda's remnants Thursday led to the deaths of two men. A 19-year-old man drowned and was electrocuted while trying to move his horse to safety, according to a message from his family shared by the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office. Crystal Holmes, a spokeswoman for the department, said the death occurred during a lightning storm.

A man in his 40s or 50s drowned when he tried to drive a van through 8-foot-deep floodwaters near Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston during the Thursday afternoon rush hour, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said.

The National Weather Service said preliminary estimates suggested that Jefferson County was deluged with more than 40 inches (102 centimeters) of rain in a span of just 72 hours, which would make it the seventh wettest tropical cyclone in U.S. history.

Even when Houston was finally rid of the worst, downtown highways remained littered with abandoned cars submerged in water. Thousands of other drivers were at a practical standstill on narrowed lanes near flooded banks.

"The water kept rising. It kept rising. I couldn't believe it," said Ruby Trahan Robinson, 63. She uses a wheelchair and had a portable oxygen tank while getting settled into a shelter at City Hall in the small town of China, just outside Beaumont.

"It rolled in like a river," she said.

Turner evoked the memory of Harvey — which dumped more than 50 inches (127 centimeters) of rain on the nation's fourth-largest city in 2017 — while pleading with residents to stay put. City officials said they had received more than 1,500 high-water rescue calls to 911, most from drivers stuck on flooded roads, but authorities described a number of them as people who were inconvenienced and not in immediate danger.

Ahead of the evening rush hour, Houston officials urged commuters to stay in their offices for an extra three to four hours rather than embark on flooded and already jammed highways. Turner made a similar appeal to parents of schoolchildren as the Houston Independent School District — Texas' largest with more than 200,000 students — did not cancel classes or shorten the day unlike neighboring districts in the path of the storm. The district canceled Friday classes.

Imelda is the first named storm to impact the Houston area since Harvey hovered for days and inundated the flood-prone Gulf Coast. That storm dumped more than 5 feet (1.5 meters) of water near the Louisiana border, and two years later, it looked in some places like Harvey was playing out all over again.

A massive Houston furniture store became a shelter for evacuees. Live television footage showed firefighters rescuing stranded truckers on major highways. On social media, people posted that water was quickly seeping into their home and asked for help.

Even as the intensity of the storm weakened, Harris County officials warned that some of their 4.7 million residents might not see high waters recede in their neighborhoods until the weekend.

In Winnie, a town of about 3,200 people 60 miles (95 kilometers) east of Houston, a hospital was evacuated. Chambers County Sheriff Brian Hawthorne said emergency workers completed more than 300 rescues overnight and some residents were up on their roofs because of rising floodwaters.

Albert Livings, 73, was rescued from his apartment and said at least half of the 116 units in his complex were flooded. Water started seeping into his place before sunrise.

"It came from the front door and it didn't stop rolling until it hit the back wall," Livings said.

Following Harvey, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ordered a report warning that punishing storms would become more frequent because of a changing climate. Scientists say climate change is responsible for more intense and more frequent extreme weather such as storms, droughts, floods and fires, but without extensive study they cannot directly link a single weather event to the changing climate.

Climate change skepticism runs deep among Republican leaders in Texas, and Abbott has said it's "impossible" for him to say whether he believes manmade global warming is causing the kind of disasters the state is telling residents to get used to. Earlier this year, Abbott approved billions of new dollars to fortify the Texas coast and reduce catastrophic flooding.

The flooding from Imelda came as Hurricane Humberto blew off rooftops and toppled trees in the British Atlantic island of Bermuda, and Hurricane Jerry was expected to move to the northern Leeward Islands on Friday and north of Puerto Rico on Saturday.

___

This story has been corrected to show that Gonzalez is Harris County sheriff, not judge.

___

Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter: https://twitter.com/juanlozano70

___

Associated Press writers Diana Heidgerd, Terry Wallace and Jamie Stengle in Dallas; Clarice Silber and Paul J. Weber in Austin; and Jill Bleed in Little Rock, Arkansas, contributed to this report.

AP Editorial Categories: 
Author: ap.content
Posted: September 20, 2019, 3:43 am
Heavy Rain, Flooding

Credit:Marcin Kilarski/GettyImages

Governor Abbott Declares State Of Disaster For 13 Texas Counties

September 19, 2019
Categories: 

DALLAS (1080 KRLD) - Texas Governor Greg Abbott has issued a state of disaster for 13 counties that are currently experiencing widespread flooding from tropical depression Imelda.

The flood emergency continues this afternoon in portions of southeast Texas, thanks to the torrential rains from Imelda. 

Forecasters say some areas could see up to three feet of rain by the time this is over.

In accordance with the authority vested to Governor Abbott, by Section 418.014 of the Texas Government Code, he declared a state of disaster in the counties of; Brazoria, Chambers, Galveston, Hardin, Harris, Jasper, Jefferson, Liberty, Matagorda, Montgomery, Newton, Orange, and San Jacinto.

In a statement from the Governor's office: "Pursuant to Section 418.017 of the code, I authorize the use of all available resources of state government and of political subdivisions that are reasonably necessary to cope with this disaster.

Pursuant to Section 418.016 of the code, any regulatory statute prescribing the procedures for conduct of state business or any order or rule of a state agency that would in any way prevent, hinder, or delay necessary action in coping with this disaster shall be suspended upon written approval of the Office of the Governor. However, to the extent that the enforcement of any state statute or administrative rule regarding contracting or procurement would impede any state agency’s emergency response that is necessary to protect life or property threatened by this declared disaster, I hereby authorize the suspension of such statutes and rules for the duration of this declared disaster."

 

 

Author: Jeff.Burkett
Posted: September 19, 2019, 7:35 pm
T. Boone Pickens

AP Photo/Jason DeCrow, File

Governor Abbott To Speak At T. Boone Pickens' Funeral

September 19, 2019
Categories: 

DALLAS (AP) — Speakers at a funeral in Dallas for T. Boone Pickens will include Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.

The service for family and friends will be Thursday afternoon at Highland Park United Methodist Church. The public can view the service from a hall in the church and it will be livestreamed on Pickens' website .

The brash and quotable oil tycoon who grew even wealthier through corporate takeover attempts died Sept. 11 at the age of 91 at his Dallas home.

There will be a public memorial Sept. 25 in Stillwater, Oklahoma, at his alma mater, Oklahoma State University. Pickens donated hundreds of millions of dollars to OSU.

A message Pickens wrote before his death was posted online Wednesday. He recalled lessons he'd learned throughout his life.

You can watch the funeral online at BoonePickens.com

Author: Jeff.Burkett
Posted: September 19, 2019, 5:45 pm
Health

© Designer491 | Dreamstime.com

Healthcare Activists Target Lawmakers After Texas Tops Uninsured List

September 19, 2019

AUSTIN (1080 KRLD) - Texas leads the nation in the number of uninsured, and the number has risen over the past 2 years.

According to the latest Census data Texas jumped from 4.8 million uninsured up to 5 million. This has prompted a coalition of 17 healthcare advocacy groups to band together to lobby State Lawmakers. The campaign is called #SickofitTX.

One of the advocacy groups is the Center for Public Policy Priorities. Anne Dunkelberg says this news should be a wake-up call for state leaders. “The stakes are too high. That’s why we are working with partners and activists across the state to make health coverage the key issue for Texas policymakers and candidates in the 2020 elections and the 2021 legislative session.”

The campaign will officially kick-off in November with Neighborhood Walk parties in Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Austin.

More information can be found at www.sickofittx.com

Author: Jeff.Burkett
Posted: September 19, 2019, 12:17 pm

Credit: State of Texas

Lt. Gov. Patrick Fights Back After Being Target Of Conservatives On Twitter

September 18, 2019
Categories: 

AUSTIN (1080 KRLD) - Lt. Governor Dan Patrick on Tuesday found himself the target of a former Republican ally.

Empower Texans CEO Michael Quinn Sullivan called out Patrick on social media for his new position on tightening the background check system on gun sales to include stranger-to-stranger sales.

Sullivan tweeting “it is sadly evident too many politicians are all too willing to betray our Constitution in the name of their own political power.

Whether it is @BetoORourke wanting to outright seize your firearms, or @DanPatrick trying to manage what you do with them, it is sadly evident too many politicians are all too willing to betray our Constitution in the name of their own political power.

— Michael Quinn Sullivan (@MQSullivan) September 17, 2019

Patrick fired back a response challenging Sullivan on two different issues.

Patrick defended his background check plan saying, “Apparently you are fine with selling your guns to total strangers who can’t pass a background check because they could be a violent felon or someone bent on mass violence.” Patrick went on to say, “BTW, release the tape. You are destroying our party.”

You know my plan exempts family and friends, so apparently you are fine with selling your guns to total strangers who can’t pass a background check because they could be a violent felon or someone bent on mass violence. BTW, release the tape. You are destroying our party.

— Dan Patrick (@DanPatrick) September 17, 2019

This last part of the tweet refers to the secretly recorded audio tape of a meeting between Sullivan with House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and then-GOP Caucus Chair State Rep. Dustin Burrows.

Sullivan claims Bonnen and Burrows offered him media credentials in exchange for help defeating incumbent House Republicans who oppose Bonnen. The two are being investigated by the Texas Rangers for campaign finance violations and bribery stemming from the meeting. Bonnen initially denied offering Sullivan a deal, then eventually apologized for the “terrible things” he said about his colleagues in the meeting.

The tape has been turned over to the Texas Rangers, and played for selected members of the House GOP Caucus, but not released to the public.

Rice University Political Scientist Mark Jones says the issue is dividing the Texas GOP. “This tape is doing the (Republican) party more harm than good and that Tweets like his, all that they’re going to do is insure that the Republican Party becomes irrelevant.” Jones believes the tape and tweets from Sullivan continue to sew dissent creating a caustic relationship to exist within the Texas GOP. This could mean trouble for Texas Republicans heading into the 2020 Elections.

Author: Jeff.Burkett
Posted: September 18, 2019, 5:27 pm