Friday, November 30, 2007

Jury finds former Bank of America vice president guilty in bank, credit card fraud case

A federal jury found former Bank of America Vice President Robert Conner guilty of bank and credit card fraud today. That leaves two defendants in the case, including Rep. John Bowman, D-St. Louis:

When Bank of America Vice President Robert Conner filed for bankruptcy in May 2005, he said he had $50 in his pocket and $2 in his accounts.

But in June, he cooked up a scam that allowed him to find and spend $235,000 cash in the next six months, including $20,000 for a Yukon Denali SUV for his wife, $30,000 for a Mustang GT for his girlfriend and a $25,000 Hummer H2 for himself, Assistant U.S. Attorney Matt Schelp said in court Friday.

Schelp called Conner a "financial predator," who got the cash under the table by giving dozens of unqualified people credit cards with $25,000 limits in exchange for kickbacks of up to $5,000.

On Friday evening, a jury convicted Conner of all 36 charges against him — 17 counts of bank fraud and 19 counts of unauthorized use of an access device — after a five-day trial in federal court in St. Louis.

Bowman's trial is tentatively scheduled for January.

Former Social Services employee to plead guilty in identity theft case

The remaining defendants in an identity fraud case involving the use of fraudulently obtained cellphones by prisoners are scheduled to plead guilty next week in U. S. District Court in Jefferson City.
Court records indicate Robin Lynette Deardorff, a former employee of the Missouri Department of Social Services, will change her plea during a 9 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 5, hearing before Judge William Knox. Anna May Stephens' plea change hearing is set for Tuesday, Dec. 4.
Ms. Deardorff, 31, Jefferson City, was indicted by a federal grand jury June 1 for a fraud scheme in which she and six others allegedly used Social Security numbers, names and birth dates to set up cell phone and landline phone service to help prisoners make calls through the accounts. She faces one charge of fraud and four counts of identity theft.

At the time she was indicted, Mrs. Deardorff was a state employee, working for the Family Support Division of the Department of Social Services. The arrest was an embarrassment for Social Services, with officials claiming that it takes several weeks to conduct a background check and that is why no one had discovered any problems with Mrs. Deardorff's background.

In the June 14 Turner Report, I noted that it only took me a few minutes to discover enough information to keep Mrs. Deardorff from ever holding a job in which she dealt with taxpayer money:

Perhaps someone needs to give our state bureaucrats a lesson on how to do a simple background check. It only took The Turner Report five minutes (not one month or eight to 12 weeks) to uncover enough information to sound warning bells about the prospect of Mrs. Deardorff working for the state government, or in any position of responsibility, for that matter.

A simple check of shows eight listings for Mrs. Deardorff, including seven criminal charges. The oldest charge, dating back to 1993, was for misdemeanor stealing, for which she received five days in jail and was placed on probation.

Two years later, Mrs. Deardorff received 30 days in jail for endangering the welfare of a child, not exactly the type of activity that seems in keeping with the Family Support Division of the Department of Social Services.

The remainder of the criminal charges involve annual charges of driving while revoked from 2003 through 2006, with the last three times involving the use of electronic shackles in lieu of jail time.

In 2005, she also pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of passing a bad check.

It would not have taken long for a background check to uncover the news that Mrs. Deardorff's husband (and co-defendant) Clayton Deardorff, is an unwilling guest in a Missouri state penitentiary.

I uncovered more information about Mrs. Deardorff's background in the June 16 Turner Report:

A quick check of records under Mrs. Deardorff's maiden name, Robin Sidney, shows yet another conviction. On July 13, 1995, she pleaded guilty to misdemeanor stealing charges and was placed on supervised probation for two years. This was the second time she had pleaded guilty to a stealing charge.

The case also featured two Department of Revenue employees as defendants. Both of them have entered guilty pleas.

Graham DWI case to be heard in Callaway County

The DWI case of Senate Assistant Minority Leader Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, will be heard in Callaway County.
Graham's request for a change of venue was granted Thursday. The judge also granted a request for camera coverage, according to court records.
Graham was arrested Oct. 20 by the Columbia Police Department.

KODE: Rowan Ford's mother files for divorce from accused murderer

KODE reported during its 10 p.m newscast that Colleen Spears, 44, Stella, the mother of nine-year-old murder victim Rowan Ford, has filed for divorce in Newton County Circuit Court.
Her husband, David W. Spears, 25, is charged with first degree murder, forcible rape, and statutory rape, in connection with his stepdaughter's Nov. 2 death.
Court records indicate Mrs. Spears filed for divorce Tuesday. A 3 p.m. Jan. 14 conference has been scheduled.
An article was posted earlier today on the Joplin Globe website

Friday, Dec. 7 marks last day for Rhonda Justice

KOAM anchor Rhonda Justice has announced her last day on KOAM's 5, 6, and 10 p.m. newscasts will be Friday, Dec. 7:

In an e-mail sent out earlier today, Ms. Justice said:

It is with tears of sorrow and joy that I share this bittersweet announcement with you. My last day on the desk at KOAM-TV will be Friday, December 7th, 2007.

Let me first say, I have thoroughly enjoyed the last three years here at KOAM. One couldn't ask for a better co-worker than Dowe Quick.

I will miss seeing my KOAM co-workers on a daily basis. They are a great group of people who care about what they do and how they affect the community they serve. The Four States are lucky!!

I knew at age three that television journalism was what I wanted to do. I enforced that decision in high school, went on to Oklahoma State and never looked back.

Since then, I have interviewed presidents, death row inmates and all walks of life in between. I feel blessed to have learned so much about life from the very people I've interviewed for my stories. Make no mistake, everyone has a story. It has been a thrill to share those stories with so many throughout the years.

I have seen the worst in people. Some stories were so bad that it was a difficult task just to choke back the tears to be able to move on to the next story. However, I've also seen the best in people. Those are the ones that stay with me. I feel good about the humanity people have shown to others and I was fortunate to have a front row seat to that humanity because of a camera and a microphone. I have been truly blessed with a career where I love to go to work.

Journalism can be a demanding career. You start with little pay and long hours. I gave up many weekends, long nights and holidays to do what I loved to do and I don't regret a minute of it. I appreciate, love and respect my family for being so understanding of my career choice and the time we sacrificed with each other.

I am at a point in my life where I no longer wish to ask my family to sacrifice time away from their wife, mommy and daughter. I need to spend more time with my family.

I want to thank all of you who have supported and encouraged me through the years.

I will certainly miss the news biz. It's in my blood.

As for what I will be doing after December 7th, my husband and I own a business in Joplin.

We opened Girlfriends Women's Only Fitness Center at 22nd and Main in December 2006. On November 15th, 2007 we opened a second Joplin location at 7th and Duquesne.

This has been an adventure to open two businesses, take care of a family and hold down a full time career at the same time. I am looking forward to building a successful business and instead of sharing the news with you each night, I look forward to seeing you in person as we are out and about in our communities.


AP: Prosecutor may refile charges in McDonald County sex cult case

Associated Press reporter Marcus Kabel has been all over the sex charges involving members of the Grand Valley Independent Baptist Church in McDonald County and he has the beat on the latest development in the case.
Apparently, McDonald County Prosecuting Attorney Janice Durbin, who dropped charges against church pastor Raymond Lambert, Lambert's wife, Patty, and their sister-in-law, Laura Epling, is saying she may refile those charges in 2008:

David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, welcomed the decision to refile the case after earlier calling the decision to drop it inexplicable.

"The road to justice for child sex abuse victims is often rocky but usually, when victims can hang in there, some closure and healing and prevention happens at the end," Clohessy said.

Wendy Murphy, a victims' rights attorney, author and former prosecutor who teaches at the New England School of Law, said that dropping a case so close to trial when witnesses are still cooperating is "extraordinary."

The dropped charges had fueled some criticism from local law enforcement and concern by a state representative about how the prosecutor's office has been run since Durbin was elected to her first term a year ago.

Durbin said Thursday that she had to drop the charges because of a scheduling problem and that she always had planned to refile the case.

"It wasn't the facts of the case. It wasn't the witnesses. It was a technicality, a scheduling issue," she said in an interview at her Pineville office.

Durbin said she is "very actively" working on refiling the case.

It is amazing that it took Ms. Durbin this long to begin talking more specifically about the reasons why she dropped the charges, which involve ritual sex with children. Judging from Kabel's article, the law enforcement community in McDonald County has not been thrilled with her job performance:

Durbin's explanation comes amid criticism from local law enforcement and questions from Rep. Marilyn Ruestman, whose 131st District includes much of McDonald County.

Detective Jeff Sutherland wrote to the state's highest disciplinary body for attorneys this week to complain about Durbin's handling of two cases, including a plea bargain for a man charged with repeatedly molesting his 12-year-old stepdaughter.

The Office of the Chief Disciplinary Counsel, under its confidentiality rules, cannot confirm receipt of a complaint or whether it is investigating.

Ruestman said she had received a copy of Sutherland's letter. The detective's complaint and the dropped church case raise concerns about how a new prosecutor is running the office, she said.

Durbin said she had not heard from Ruestman or the disciplinary office. She declined to comment on the plea deal with Jeremiah Flanary, 33, who faces sentencing in January after pleading guilty to two counts of statutory sodomy.

The deal would give him five years probation and a 120-day sex offender program in prison. The maximum term for each count is seven years in prison.

One of the best jobs in delving into the background of this case was done by National Public Radio. Its report was noted in the Dec. 15, 2006, Turner Report.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Former Joplin city official takes position in Texas

Matthew Wojnowski, assistant to the Joplin city manager, has taken a similar position in Killeen, Texas, as of Monday, according to KWTX:

The assistant to the city manager is responsible for special projects, management analysis, program evaluation, performance management, and budgeting.

“We are very pleased to welcome Matt to Team Killeen,” says Connie Green, city manager. “The experience that he brings from working for other cities will be a valuable asset for Killeen.”

Wojnowski, an Oklahoma native, comes to Killeen from the city of Joplin, MO, where he served as the assistant to the city manager from July 2005 to November 2007. He has also worked for the city of Temple and the city of Grandview, MO.

He holds a Master of Public Administration from the University of Kansas and a Bachelor of Arts from Brigham Young University. He is married with two children.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Bond: Losses in first two states would not cripple Giuliani

Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., the head of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani's presidential campaign in this state, says that losses in Iowa and New Hampshire, if that occurs, would not cripple the Giuliani's presidential run. Information from Bond's MSNBC interview has been posted on KY3 Political Blog:

"I don't think it's a wounded position to lose two states," Bond said. "Obviously I'd prefer to see him winning in one, at least one of those states, but the fact of the matter is, we are putting together a good organization in Missouri. I understand they have good organizations in South Carolina in Florida, which is very important."

Missouri voters will join a bunch of states that will vote on their presidential nominees on February 5th. "I'm looking at the Midwest, where I believe that when Rudy Giuliani has the opportunity to get his message out, he's going to appeal to Republicans, from liberal to conservative and he's done a good job in my state, and I think he'll continue it," Bond said.

Accused murder's DWI hearing postponed

A pretrial hearing in the DWI case against accused child killer David Spears, 25, Stella, originally scheduled for Monday, has been postponed to Jan. 28, according to McDonald County Circuit Court records.
Records on the system indicate Spears' lawyer, Abe Paul, has withdrawn from the case.
Spears and his friend, Chris Collings, 32, Wheaton, are charged with the first degree murder, forcible rape, and statutory rape of Spears' nine-year-old stepdaughter, Rowan Ford.

GateHouse Media , Gannett in mix for Ottaway newspaper

GateHouse Media is considered a top suitor for Ottaway Newspapers, the Dow Jones subsidiary that is likely to be sold off now that Rupert Murdoch has control of the company.
But some observers say Gannett, owner of the Springfield News-Leader, is in a better position to buy the chain:

Yesterday's announcement was the company's first public acknowledgement that its Ottaway newspapers were up for sale.

In August, News Corp. owner Rupert Murdoch struck a $5 billion deal to buy Dow Jones. Murdoch told analysts the purchase centered on the company's flagship, The Wall Street Journal, and that the Ottaway group likely would be sold.

That's why yesterday's announcement wasn't much of a surprise, said Colby Atwood, a newspaper industry analyst at Borrell Associates.

Likely buyers? GateHouse Media or Gannett Co. Inc., Atwood said."Gannett probably has deeper pockets at the moment, and it would surprise me less if they decided to go for the deal," he said. GateHouse, which had been on a newspaper-buying spree, might have a harder time finding the cash to pay for the deal.

GateHouse Media owns The Carthage Press, Neosho Daily News, and numerous other publications in this area.

Nixon: I will not accept Sinquefield money

Jason Rosenbaum in Columbia Tribune Political Blog reports Attorney General Jay Nixon says he will not accept any contributions from retired billionaire Rex Sinquefield:

“I am proud to respond to your courageous call on all candidates for Missouri public office to reject contributions from millionaire Rex Sinquefield. I have never accepted money from Mr. Sinquefield or any of his Political Action Committees, and I certainly never will," Nixon said in a letter to the Missouri Education Roundtable. "Not only do I strongly oppose Mr. Sinquefield’s anti-public school agenda, I also oppose the manner in which he’s chosen to advance that agenda. Instead of competing with the merits of his ideas, Mr. Sinquefeld has chosen to circumvent the spirit of the campaign finance system by establishing 100 PACs that all have the same objective: funneling contributions to candidates who support a pro-voucher agenda.”

"Along with you and your members, I fought to defeat the voucher provisions of House Bill 808 earlier this year – provisions that Gov. Blunt and Lt. Gov. Kinder lobbied for personally in the House Chamber," Nixon added. "Those provisions failed because a majority of the legislators in Missouri – like the majority of Missourians – understand that vouchers will weaken our public schools and hurt our children. But last year’s voucher battle wasn’t the first time Gov. Blunt stood with Rex Sinquefield, and after accepting more than $100,000 from Sinquefield in this race already, it’s fair to assume it won’t be the last."

But seriously, was there ever any possibility that Rex Sinquefield was going to contribute to Nixon's campaign?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

From The Turner Report book: A failed effort to gut nursing home reform

Exactly one year has passed since a tragic, preventable fire occurred at the Anderson Guest House, taking 11 lives. It is a subject that has been addressed numerous times in this blog. I have noted the shortcomings of the media, and most especially the state government, in the continued ability of convicted felon Robert Dupont to continue to run group homes in Missouri.
As happens many times following times of tragedy, we see what our state legislators are made of.

Much praise has been given to Rep. Kevin Wilson, R-Neosho, and he deserves every bit of it, for his bill requiring group homes to install sprinklers.

Unfortunately, as Rep. Wilson and others have battled to make sure that those who are least capable of caring for themselves are protected, other legislators have stood in the way of legislation designed to make group homes and nursing home safer...and one of those legislators is from this corner of the state.

In my recently published book, The Turner Report, I noted the extraordinary steps taken by Rep. Bryan Stevenson, R-Webb City, to throw a roadblock into reforms that were passed during the 2006 legislative session. This passage is taken from the book:

As some legislators were pushing for Kevin Wilson’s bill, efforts were already underway to undercut safety requirements for nursing homes and group homes that were passed in 2006, only this time the efforts were taking place behind closed doors.
Fortunately, for the public and for those who cannot take care of themselves and must rely on the kindness and compassion of state legislators, one elected official saw what was going on and leaked the information to David Catanese of KYTV in Springfield, author of the KY3 Political Blog.
In his Jan. 22, 2007, post, Catanese wrote about the backdoor machinations of Rep. Bryan Stevenson, R-Webb City:
“Stevenson is pushing a motion in a committee to strip close to two dozen Department of Health and Senior Services rules from legislation designed to regulate the residential facility industry.
“Stevenson, the vice-chair of the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR), said his motion, ‘in no way reflects his opinion of the legislation.’

" ‘Our committee has a very narrow focus, and that is to ensure rules and regulations fit within our guidelines. There were 120 pages of regulations. A few went beyond statutory limits allowed,’ Stevenson said. ‘They didn't fit in the framework of the statute.’
" ‘But this is not a policy debate. If a Representative or Senator wants to introduce legislation to allow these changes, that is a different story," he added.
“Stevenson's motion includes stripping language requiring background checks for workers in facilities, specific responsibilities for workers during an emergency, immunizations for residents and staffing provisions.”
Catanese’s exposure of Stevenson’s gambit saved the regulations as the Webb City Republican backed down and cast his vote in favor of the changes, but the question remained. Why would Stevenson try to throw a monkey wrench into regulations that would improve safety and perhaps save lives?
Perhaps Stevenson is simply a stickler for detail, but there could be another explanation. An examination of campaign finance documents filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission shows Stevenson has an extremely friendly relationship with the nursing home industry.
That is evident in the disclosure report filed eight days before the 2006 general election. In this report, which was issued when campaign contribution limits were still in effect for Missouri candidates, Stevenson received maximum $325 contributions from the Missouri Health Care Association, the most powerful group representing the nursing home industry, District C of the Missouri Health Care Association, and Cornerstone Healthcare, Rogers, Ark.
Even more telling were nine contributions, totaling $2,275, received by Stevenson on Oct. 20, 2006. These included $325 contributions from the Health Care Association Good Government Fund, Missouri Assisted Living PAC, Residential Care Facility PAC, MORESPAC, Burlington Northern Railway, and the Rural Telecommunications PAC. Two hundred fifty dollars contributions were received from the Missouri Pharmacy PAC and the Missouri Community Pharmacy PAC.
Many of those names are not associated with the nursing home industry, but they have one thing in common- they are represented by one of the most powerful lobbying firms in Missouri- Gamble & Schlemeier, headed by William Gamble and Jorgen Schlemeier.
All of those contributions came one day after Gamble & Schlemeier signed the Missouri Health Care Association as a client. One of the major skills of the lobbying firm over the years has been its ability to deliver large number of bundled contributions for its biggest clients through the use of its apparent minor clients.
Two months after receiving more than $3,000 in contributions that can reasonably be connected to the nursing home industry, Bryan Stevenson, behind closed doors, made a considered, though unsuccessful, effort to gut nursing home reform.

Fortunately, Stevenson's attempt to gut much-needed legislation was unsuccessful, but as long as the nursing home industry continues to pour money into lobbying legislators and continues to pour big bucks into political campaigns, it is a sure bet the care and safety of residents of group homes and nursing homes will continue to be compromised.

More information about The Turner Report book, including how to order it, can be found at its website. A book signing is scheduled for 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 8, at Hastings Books, Music and Video in Joplin.)

Donnelly: Give Sinquefield's money back, Chris

Attorney General candidate Chris Koster, D-Harrisonville, has agreed to give up any contributions he received over the $1,275 limit, but that is not enough, his primary opponent Rep. Margaret Donnelly said in a news release issued today:

Now that Chris Koster has finally agreed to follow the law and return all
contributions over the voter imposed limits, its time for him to return his
sham contributions from the Republican money machines,² said Donnelly. ³If
you are running in a Democratic primary, you should not be financed by a
Blunt administration crony whose agenda is to end public education.²

Koster has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in questionable bundled
contributions from Blunt ally Rex Sinquefield. These contributions were
washed through campaign committees with the clear intent of circumventing
campaign finance laws.

³Candidates for Attorney General should be held to a higher ethical
standard. His actions and those of his supporters should raise serious
doubts amongst Democratic voters² concluded Donnelly.

Jetton provides assessment of GOP presidential candidates

We already know that Missouri Speaker of the House Rod Jetton supports former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for president, but in his latest column, Jetton provides his assessment of the top Republican candidates:

For the last three weeks I have written about my support of Mitt Romney for President. The first week I covered Mitt's business and family background. Then I talked about the changes and reforms he made in Massachusetts while Governor. Last week I talked about his message for strengthening our families, the military and our economy as well as some of the specific proposals he has put forward to address these concerns.

This week I want to write about the current political situation and give my opinions on the other candidates in the race. We are just 38 days away from the Iowa caucuses and 43 from the New Hampshire primary. In Missouri we are just 71 days away from being one of the 22 states voting on "Super Duper" Tuesday on February 5th. Most experts think that is the day the nominee for President will be chosen because the states voting by February 5th contain 75% of all delegates.

I meet voters everyday who say they haven't paid much attention to the presidential campaigns, but they need to realize we are just a few short days away from having our two nominees set. These last 71 days will be your only opportunity to effect who the parties will nominate for President.

There are five main contenders left in the Republican primary including Giuliani, Romney, McCain, Thompson and Huckabee. I think they are all good candidates, but here is my opinion on why I think Mitt is best.

Like most Americans I think Rudy did a great job reforming New York City, and I think he handled the 9-11 tragedy wonderfully. On many fronts he would make a great president, but I have to disagree with his support of gay rights and abortion. As a lifetime NRA member I totally disagree with his anti-gun position, although I was glad to hear he has pledged to appoint good conservative Supreme Court judges. However, in the end, he is just too liberal for a Missouri boy like me.

Way back in 2000 I liked John McCain. I guess it's the Marine in me who thinks a guy who served his country like he did deserves my support, or maybe it was his way of telling it like it is and speaking his mind. Either way I liked him, but this is 2007 and McCain is getting older. He seems too caught up with politics as usual in Washington and unwilling to be the reformer I think we need. I also didn't think the McCain Feingold campaign finance law was good nor did I appreciate him bolting from his leaders during the Supreme Court filibuster by the Democrats. Finally, his stance on immigration is a major concern, and to me he just doesn't seem like the same guy who ran in 2000.

Then there is Fred Thompson. At first I thought here is a guy who can make it happen. What our party needs is someone who not only will do the right thing, but can also explain it to the American people. I thought an actor like Fred would be great. Then he started campaigning and ruined that image. I watched him give a speech and I saw that he really can't communicate very well.

Plus as a former Washington lobbyist he wasn't very conservative and it will be hard for him to carry a reform and change message to Americans next November. On top of everything he waited too long to enter the race and once in he hasn't hit it very hard. If we are going to beat Hilary we need a candidate who can communicate and work harder than ever. Fred is showing us all he's just not that guy.

Mike Huckabee was someone early on I really liked. I read his book on losing weight and fitness and thought he was right on. It's an issue I have worked on here in Missouri. Also he was a Baptist preacher (just like my dad) who was elected in a very Democrat leaning state. I waited and watched and he campaigned and campaigned but he never seemed to get anywhere. He just doesn't seem able to build an organization, raise money or communicate a clear vision for where he wants to take America. I'll be honest I was a bit disappointed.

Then I saw him in the debates. He was great. He was funny, humble, seemed smart and showed he cared. By this time I had already endorsed Romney but Huckabee was impressive. I thought it was too bad he couldn't build a winning organization. Since the debates he has gotten more attention and with that attention I learned more about his time as Governor. I was very disappointed to learn that as Governor he supported giving welfare benefits and college scholarships to illegal aliens. I was also shocked to learn how much he raised taxes in Arkansas. I still like Huckabee and I understand Governors have to do things in their states that may be the right thing for their state but not other parts of the nation. With companies like Tyson and Wal-Mart I'm sure he didn't have much choice on the immigration issue. The bottom line is Huckabee is running a much better campaign in Iowa now, but that is still the only place he is running one. You can't win the nomination by only winning one state.

It seems to me we have two well-funded and organized campaigns with candidates (Mitt and Rudy) who have a proven track record as reformers. We also have two candidates (McCain and Thompson) who are Washington insiders and are dropping in the polls. Then we have one late bloomer (Huckabee) with no money, a small one state organization, and no real chance of competing in a multistate primary with the new condensed schedule.

So here is the problem for many voters. Only Rudy and Mitt have a real chance at winning the nomination, and some voters are not totally happy with either one. Rudy and Mitt are leading all the other candidates in fundraising support by very large margins and they are first and second in most state polls. Fred is dropping daily in the polls, and McCain has been dropping in all states for several months. Huckabee is moving up in Iowa but that's the only state and his campaign is barely raising enough money to keep him afloat there.

Next week I will finish this series by running down all the polling information from several of the early states and some of the big states on Super Duper Tuesday. I will also talk about the strategies of the top campaigns and what I feel the top issue of the general election will be.

Former KOAM reporter working in Big Apple

Megan Vega, who began her broadcasting career as a general assignment reporter at KOAM, has hit the Big Apple.
Ms. Vega has been working at WWOR in New York since the summer of 2003. This information about her is provided on the station's website:

From Missouri, Megan moved to Connecticut where she worked as a freelance reporter for six months. In April of 2003, Megan began working as a reporter at WNYW Fox-5 and was transferred to My9 WWOR in the summer.

Megan was born in Brooklyn and was raised in Bergen County, New Jersey. Being a storyteller is all that Megan has ever wanted to do. She decided to become a journalist in fifth grade and after attending Ridgewood High School in New Jersey she attended the University of Massachusetts. She has her degree in Journalism from UMass.

YouTube clip features look at Maddox, Siedlecki

Those who remember Malorie Maddox and Jim Siedlecki from their days as KODE evening news anchors can get a glimpse of them in their current environment through a clip that has been placed on YouTube.

Ms. Maddox and Siedlecki are the co-hosts of the Daybreak program at WOWT in Omaha, Neb.

Candidates must release more information concerning credit card bills

In another victory for open government, the Missouri Ethics Commission has ruled that detailed information on credit card bills must be provided on campaign finance reports:

The interpretation, which had been requested on behalf of Republican Gov. Matt Blunt, means that Democratic Attorney General Jay Nixon will have to start releasing more credit card details for his gubernatorial campaign.

Blunt and Nixon are expected to face each other in the November 2008 governor's race.

Blunt's campaign has attached the details of its credit card bills to his campaign finance reports. But Nixon's campaign has listed only the amounts paid to credit card companies, not what each of those bills included.

In an advisory opinion dated Nov. 9, the Ethics Commission essentially said that campaigns must treat credit card bills as they would cash expenditures.

State law requires expenses of more than $100 to be itemized on finance reports. So if a hypothetical credit card bill for $200 included a $150 hotel charge and several other smaller amounts, the hotel charge would have to be reported in detail while the other items could be categorized in general as going to food, or parking or whatever.

Public defender appointed for Rowan Ford's stepfather

Various media outlets are reporting that public defender Michael King, Carthage, has been appointed to represent David W. Spears, 25, who is charged with first degree murder, forcible rape, and statutory rape in connection with the Nov. 2 death of his stepdaughter, nine-year-old Rowan Ford of Stella.
Court records do not indicate that a public defender has been appointed yet for Spears' co-defendant, Chris Collings, 32, Wheaton.

Dec. 11 hearing scheduled in Isle of Capri case

A request by two Missouri lawmakers and a lobbyist for a change of judge and change of venue in the Isle of Capri case will be taken up during a 3 p.m. Dec. 11 hearing in Cooper County Circuit Court.

Sen. Jeff Smith, D. St. Louis, Rep. Joseph Aull, D-Marshall, and lobbyist Lynne Schlosser, did not show for a Nov 20 hearing, according to court records. Only Aull was represented by an attorney, Robert Walker Russell, at the hearing, which was primarily was to determine if there should be a continuance for a scheduled Nov. 28 hearing.

Smith, Aull and former Isle of Capri lobbyist Lynne Schlosser pleaded not guilty during their Nov. 6 arraignments. According to authorities, Smith, at Ms. Schlosser's suggestion, used Aull's identification to gamble, a violation of state law.

As noted in the Sept. 25 Turner Report:

Smith, Aull, Aull's wife Candee, Sen. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, Sen. Wes Shoemyer, D-Clarence, Sen. Jolie Justus, D-Kansas City, and Rep. Judy Baker, D-Columbia, were having a night out on the town at the expense of a lobbyist representing a special interest with a stake in numerous bills that will come before the legislature during the 2008 session.

Chris Liese, a former state representative from St. Louis, and now a lobbyist for Isle of Capri spent $910 wining and dining the legislators and Mrs. Aull on July 31, according to Missouri Ethics Commission documents. A total of $130 was spent on "meals, food, and beverage" for each person, the documents indicate.

Ms. Schlosser was fired by Isle of Capri shortly after the incident.

Smith is being represented by lobbyist and longtime Missouri Democratic Party powerhouse Joe Bednar, a partner with the powerful Armstrong Teasdale law firm.
Bednar served as chief counsel to Governors Mel Carnahan and Roger Wilson and is also a registered lobbyist representing Ameren UE, Centene Corporation, St. Louis University, Devry, and BJC Health Systems, as well as Armstrong Teasdale.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Sources: Diamond superintendent interested in Lamar post

Sources close to the Lamar R-1 Board of Education have indicated one of those being considered for the superintendent position is Lamar High School graduate Mark Mayo, currently superintendent of the Diamond R-4 School District.
The Lamar position will become vacant June 30 when Mike Resa's resignation takes effect.

Blunt, Nixon, Koster to return excess contributions

In what is shaping up as one of the biggest non-stories of the year, Governor Matt Blunt, his Democratic challenger Attorney General Jay Nixon, and attorney general candidate Chris Koster, D-Harrisonville, have announced they will return excess campaign contributions (those collected during the time when it was not against the law).

Is there anyone who really believes the candidates are not going to be able to make up the lost money through numerous campaign committees and bundling tactics? Instead of removing all campaign contribution limits, our state legislature needs to do what Missourians wanted done when the limits were first approved in the mid-90s- put firm limits in place and eliminate the loopholes.

Supreme Court to hear Memorial Middle School shooter's arguments Feb. 28

The Missouri Supreme Court has scheduled Feb. 28 for the date it will hear arguments from a public defender that Memorial Middle School shooter Thomas Gregory White should be tried as a juvenile and not as an adult.
White, 14, was 13, and a seventh grader at Memorial when he brought an assault rifle into the school Oct. 7, 2006, fired the weapon into the ceiling, then pointed the gun at Principal Steve Gilbreth and allegedly attempted to pull the trigger. Authorities say the weapon jammed.
White was charged with two counts of assault and single counts of armed criminal action, unlawful use of a weapon, and attempted escape.
Jasper County Circuit Court Judge David Mouton ruled that White would be tried as an adult. The case has been put on hold until the Supreme Court makes its decision.

Trial of former Bank of America official to begin today

The trial of former Bank of America Vice President Robert Conner on bank and credit card fraud charges is scheduled to begin today in U. S. District Court in St. Louis.

Conner's is the first trial in this case, which initially had 17 indictments, including Rep. John Bowman, D-St. Louis. Only three defendants are left, including Bowman, whose trial is tentatively scheduled to begin in January.

Today's St. Louis Post-Dispatch offers some background on the case, which has been followed extensively by this blog:

Although Connor is the alleged mastermind and the first to go to trial, Bowman's prominence has drawn public attention to the case.

And his trial could be embarrassing for the former head of the legislative Black Caucus and budget committee member, as it may feature revelations about prior arrests on bad check and stealing accusations, a bankruptcy and a trip to Florida with a female mayor.

He bought airline tickets for himself and Berkeley Mayor Kyra Watson for a Feb. 17 trip to Tampa, Fla., during which he spent $778 shopping and $395.22 on the Wyndham Harbour Island hotel, according to his credit card statement.

Investigators asked about that trip.

"Who is Kyra Watson?" Kerns asked.

"Mmm. She is a friend," Bowman replied, according to a video of the interview. He said he ran her mayoral campaign, and the trip was for fundraising.

But Watson's campaign finance reports show neither expenditures nor contributions for that period.

Asked about it this month by a reporter, Watson said, "No, it wasn't a campaign trip for me." She also said, "I don't think that that was the entire statement that Mr. Bowman made. That was just what was recorded." She declined to comment further.

During the initial portion of the interview with agents, Bowman said he had never been arrested. But the agents' memorandum says Bowman was arrested in Cole County for passing a bad check and in St. Louis County for misdemeanor stealing. State court records do not show any criminal court cases in either county, or statewide, involving Bowman.

In 2004, Bowman petitioned for bankruptcy, facing debts that included more than $30,000 in unpaid federal and state taxes from as far back as 1999. A judge tossed out his petition, however, when he failed to make scheduled payments to a trustee.

In the 2006 interview, agents accused Bowman of failing to pay anything toward the approximately $27,000 balance of the credit card. Bowman said the balance was only about $2,200, and that he had made arrangements to pay. Agents said bank representatives denied that Bowman had contacted them.

Bowman also was questioned about financial information on his application.

Although he initially told the agents he had filled out the application, he later said that he didn't fill in certain portions.

Globe explores aftermath of Anderson Guest House fire

Tuesday marks the one-year anniversary of the Anderson Guest House fire, and Sunday's Joplin Globe included an examination by reporters Derek Spellman and Melissa Dunson of what, if anything, has changed during the last 12 months:

Two days after the fire, Gov. Matt Blunt ordered the health department to work with the Department of Mental Health to examine oversight of homes such as the one in Anderson. The departments turned in a report and recommendations last December. It was used to encourage legislative action.

Laws have been enacted tightening regulations for residential-care homes like the Anderson Guest House. The health department also added staff, cracked down on noncompliant homes, and changed its annual review and complaint policies.

(Department of Health and Senior Services Director Jane) Drummond said the department will file additional regulations in December or January to enforce new sprinkler legislation for homes with more than 20 residents and other requirements regarding fire-alarm systems. She said the department also is working to better identify consistently noncompliant homes or managers.

And, in the wake of the fire, the agency started checking all managers and owners against the federal list of those excluded from such positions. It makes those checks a part of the department’s regular procedure when granting or renewing a license.

Drummond said no other federally excluded individuals have been found running Missouri homes since the fire.

The state stripped Joplin River of Life Ministries, which operated the Anderson Guest House and three centers in Jasper County, of all operating licenses in December 2006

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Messenger: Blunt should apologize to Eckersley

As the saga of deleted e-mails and the dismissal and savaging of the governor's former lawyer Scott Eckersley continues to build, Springfield News-Leader Editorial Page Editor Tony Messenger, whose digging into political e-mails sent out from the governor's office started the situation, says it is time for Governor Matt Blunt to apologize to Eckersley:

There should be no confusion about the pain that Eckersley and his family have endured.

Given the opportunity this week to pin the blame for that pain on (former chief of staff Ed) Martin, Blunt refused.

"I'm the governor, I'm responsible for what happens in state government," he said.

So end the confusion, governor. Be responsible.

Apologize to Scott Eckersley.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

And Associated Press helped, too

Over the years, I have seen many daily newspapers take Associated Press stories, localize them and give a small credit to the wire service either at the beginning or end of the article. Localizing state and national stories is one of the duties of a daily newspaper and, after all, it does pay AP for the use of its articles.

That being said, a Branson Daily News reporter apparently has taken a different approach to this time-honored practice.

In an article posted online earlier this morning, featuring reporter Darrin Miller's byline, it appears an AP article posted four days earlier was simply rewritten, with no localized Branson content added, and passed off as original work.

As far as I can determine, the only information that did not come from the AP story, came from a news release issued by Governor Matt Blunt's office. The article began with the following quote taken from the news release and made to appear as if it was obtained through the work of the writer:

“Trish is a competent administrator and a dedicated public servant - she knows how to lead and manage people. In her new role as Chief of Staff, Trish will be charged with managing my office, staff and cabinet and helping me move Missouri forward.”

Hopefully, this was just an oversight by the Branson newspaper. Occasionally, an editor adds a byline to an article submitted by a reporter, but readers need to have an idea where their information is coming from, whether it be from original reporting by the local newspaper, a wire service, or from a publicity release.

Press editorial: Children must be protected

The recent revelation of the brutal rape and murder of nine-year-old Rowan Ford of Stella and other similar incidents has spelled out the need for more diligence in protecting children, according to a Carthage Press editorial:

The responsibilities of parenthood and in fact the responsibilities of adulthood now are larger and more critical than ever before.

So all of us need to keep watching and reporting instantly to authorities any suspected threatening behavior with the potential to shatter their emotional systems and possibly even take their lives.

Meanwhile, we also need vigorous steps toward development of better diagnostic techniques on the part of every person who strives to assist emotionally and mentally malfunctioning individuals to the end that the dangers of tragedy can be reduced and hopefully soon eliminated from our experience.

Let s get to it even as we shed the tears and plan our memorials for the children already damaged or destroyed by perverted enemies.

Republican pundit: Edwards has clear shot at Democratic nomination

The talk about the race for the Democratic presidential nomination has primarily centered around senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, but Republican columnist Douglas McKibbon says former Sen. John Edwards has a clear path to the nomination...thanks to the baser instincts of some in the electorate:

While Democrats won't talk about it publicly as it goes against their vow of political correctness, behind the scenes, a number of them wonder if the America of 2008 will be "open-minded and mature enough" to actually elect a woman or an African American. Former Rep. Harold Ford dealt with this question during his run for the Senate in Tennessee in 2006. What pollsters discovered is that whatever number of voters said they were going to vote for Mr. Ford, they had to subtract about 10 percentage points from that number to get close to the truth. Will such a scenario plague Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama? Recent history indicates it could.

If the Democratic primary voters get skittish with regard to the overall electability of Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama, who will be the natural beneficiary? Politics of the day seem to point toward Mr. Edwards.

Lobbyists not welcome at Obama fundraiser

When it comes to contributing to Barack Obama's presidential campaign, lobbyists need not apply.
Syndicated columnist Robert Novak reports Obama turned away a lobbyist who wanted to attend an Iowa fundraiser:

When a prominent Washington lobbyist expressed a desire last week to attend Sen. Barack Obama's next fundraiser, he was politely told: "Thanks, but no thanks."

The lobbyist had been impressed by Democratic presidential aspirant Obama's moving speech to the Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Des Moines. But he was informed registered lobbyists are not welcome at the senator's events, even if no financial contribution is involved.

Obama's campaign to finish ahead of front-running Sen. Hillary Clinton in the Iowa caucuses depends on showing he is removed from the corruption of Washington, as she is not.

Monday court appearance set for accused killer on DWI charge

David W. Spears, 25, Stella, the man who is accused of the brutal rape and murder of his nine-year-old stepdaughter Rowan Ford, has a pre-trial hearing set for 10 a.m. Monday before Judge John LePage in McDonald County Circuit Court on a DWI charge.

According to McDonald County Circuit Court records, a Missouri Highway Patrol trooper arrested Spears Feb. 22 on charges of driving while intoxicated and driving without a valid driver's license.

Justice has not been swift for David Spears in this case, according to court records. After his April 2 arraignment, Spears has yet to appear in court. An April 30 pre-trial conference was rescheduled due to a conflict for Spears' attorney, Abe Paul. The hearing was also rescheduled on May 17, May 21, June 18, July 16, July 30, Aug. 29, Sept. 25, and Oct. 30. On some of those dates, it was postponed because Paul had conflicts. On other dates, no reasons are given on the files.

McDonald County Circuit Court records also show that Spears, again represented by Paul, filed a civil action against the Missouri Department of Revenue on Feb. 3, 2005, appealing the revocation of his driver's license. Eventually, he lost the case, the records indicate.

Monday's hearing is likely to be postponed due to the security that would be necessary both to transport Spears from Barry County where he is awaiting trial on first degree murder, forcible rape, and statutory rape charges, and to hold the hearing in the McDonald County Courthouse.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Top three officials resign at GateHouse paper

The top three officials at GateHouse Media's State Journal Register in Springfield, Ill., resigned one week after the company offered voluntary buyouts to half of its staff:

In a memo e-mailed to State Journal-Register employees today, publisher Sue Schmitt said she, editor Barry Locher and managing editor Robert Pope were not asked to leave.

In excerpts of her memo published on the paper's Web site, Schmitt doesn't give a reason for the resignations. But she says they weren't because the three saw "something catastrophic just over the horizon."

The resignations come weeks after the newspaper offered a voluntary severance program to half its staff. It cited the need for flexibility as the newspaper adjusts to rapid changes in the industry.

GateHouse Media purchased the paper earlier this year and the severance offer was made last month.

GateHouse Media owns The Carthage Press, Neosho Daily News and numerous other Missouri publications, and recently purchased the Pittsburg Morning Sun.

Nixon schedules Neosho visit

Attorney General Jay Nixon will bring his campaign for governor to Neosho 9:30 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 8, according to a mailing sent out this week by his campaign staff.

Nixon will be at the Neosho Inn Ballroom, 2500 S. Highway 71. Refreshments will be provided, according to the notice, Twenty dollar contributions are suggested and those planning to attend are asked to RSVP to Colleen at 417-451-5342.

Turner Report book available in Neosho

The Turner Report book is now available at Books N Java on the Neosho square. The book sells for $16.95.

The next scheduled signing is scheduled for 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 8 at Hastings Books, Music and Video in Joplin.

Government releases exhibit list in bank, credit card fraud case

A list of exhibits scheduled to be used by the government when the bank and credit card fraud case against former Bank of America Vice President Robert Conner begins Monday was filed in U. S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri Friday.

Conner was one of 17 defendants when the case was originally filed. Only three of those, including Rep. John Bowman, D-St. Louis, remain. Most of the others have entered guilty pleas and the exhibit list indicates many will testify against Conner. Bowman's trial is not expected to take place before January.

The exhibit list included 60 credit card account documents, including some from Bowman's Consulting. Also included were business address photos, what was referred to as "miscellaneous documents," such as Conner's resume and hiring document, his bankruptcy documents and tax returns from 2001-2005.

A witness list was also filed Friday, but not was available through the court's electronic system.

Conner and Bowman were indicted in January by a federal grand jury, which said Bowman and his co-defendants agreed to a scheme in which Conner took a bank lending program which provided money to small businesses by offering a $25,000 credit limit. Conner then arranged with the other defendants to apply for the loans, often with fictitious companies, then give Conner kickbacks ranging from $2,500 to $5,000 on each loan.
According to the indictment, Conner approved $1,213,970 in fraudulent loans.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

KOMU compares coverage of Graham, Kinder DWIs

KOMU in Columbia has an interesting comparison of the DWI arrests of Sen. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, and retired judge Byron Kinder:

Two public officials. Two arrests for driving while intoxicated. Two very different news judgments. State Sen. Chuck Graham was on the air night after night, with his mug shot to tell the stories. His DWI arrest received a lot of air time. But Judge Byron Kinder, the Cole County judge arrested earlier this week for DWI, got only two nights of coverage with no mug shot. So what is the difference?

"In the case of Sen. Chuck Graham and the addition to the actual arrest, he was involved in an accident which two other vehicles were damaged. After the accident when he was at the hospital, for an injury he seemed to get into a confrontation with police over some evidence collection. That again seems to take the story in another direction.Finally, all of this is against the backdrop that he is running for re-election," KOMU Executive Producer Holly Edgell said.

"On the other hand, with Judge Kinder we have someone who is semi-retired, not very much in the public eye. Once the aspect of the DWI was over, we didn't hear anything else from police about that case. Basically they arrested him on probably cause on DWI, and that is where it rested," Edgell said. "So really, you had two different men, two different types of stories with two different types of circumstances."

As the KOMU story notes, though, the major difference is that Kinder quickly pleaded guilty and apologized, which almost immediately ended his arrest as a news story. And the fact that Graham is someone who is constantly in the news makes his arrest newsworthy.

Graham charged with DWI

Sen. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, was charged today with driving while intoxicated. It took the Boone County Prosecuting Attorney four weeks and three days to file the charges since Graham was arrested Oct. 20. According to the Columbia Tribune:

Bob Murray, Graham’s attorney, has filed a motion for a change of venue, stating that the defense and Cole County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Richardson, special prosecutor in the case, have agreed to move the case to Callaway County, according to court records. Murray previously had waived formal arraignment for Graham and entered a plea of not guilty.

Driving while intoxicated is a Class B misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail. Richardson, Murray and Graham could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon

Turner Report book available in Carthage

As of this afternoon, my first non-fiction book, The Turner Report, is available at Pat's Books in Carthage. It can also be purchased from Always Buying Books, Hastings Books, Music and Video, and the Changing Hands Book Shop in Joplin.

A signing is scheduled for 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 8, at Hastings. The store has ordered a limited number of books for the signing, so anyone who wants to make sure a copy is available, should call the store at 417-659-9828, to place an order. Anyone who wants a copy but cannot be at Hastings Dec. 8 can also pre-order, leave the name, and I will be happy to sign the book.

The book is also available through the, BooksAMillion, Barnes and Noble, IUniverse, and other websites.

Blunt lauds veto of bill which included numerous Joplin-area projects

An article just posted on the Washington Post website indicates that while Seventh District Congressman Roy Blunt was praising President Bush's veto of a pork-laden appropriations bill...projects Blunt had placed in the bill were among those that bit the dust:

House Republican Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) roundly assailed the "Democrats' Labor-H Spending Nightmare" in a news release that preceded Bush's veto of the labor, health and human services and education spending bill last week. Blunt decried the "spending spree" hidden in the transportation, housing and urban development bill. House Republican Conference Chairman Adam H. Putnam (R-Fla.) dismissed the now-vetoed labor, health and education bill as a "billion-dollar earmark bonanza."

But while Blunt and Putnam fired away, they may have quietly ached for the sorry fate of those two bills. The dear, departed "Labor-H" nightmare included more than $1.4 million in projects secured by Blunt, including $400,000 for the purchase of equipment by Joplin, Mo.'s Freeman Health System, $100,000 for the Joplin School District and another $100,000 for a college preparatory pilot program at Missouri State University.

Putnam's central Florida district was due for $1.25 million in federal largess, including advanced manufacturing training programs for Polk Community College in Winter Haven and funding for Florida Southern College in Lakeland to "digitize holdings and create an online exhibit."

Blunt has nearly $2 million in pet projects -- or earmarks -- socked away for Missouri in the transportation and housing bill that Bush has vowed to veto, including $1 million to bolster midfield terminal construction at Springfield-Branson National Airport and $350,000 for streetscape improvements in Joplin.

Champion to seek statewide office?

Perhaps it is just a way of keeping contributions coming in to use for favored candidates and causes, but documents filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission indicate Sen. Norma Champion, R-Springfield, is raising money to run for "statewide office" in 2012.
Her campaign committee, formerly called "Champion for Senate" is now Friends of Norma Champion." Ms. Champion will be 79 in 2012.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Bearden adds another client to his roster

Former Rep. Carl Bearden, who has spent most of his brief lobbying career pushing the interests of pro-voucher billionaire Rex Sinquefield, has added an expected client to his list.
Missouri Ethics Commission records indicate that as of Nov. 9, Bearden is the lobbyist for Americans for Prosperity. Bearden recently announced that he is the state director of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation.

According to the organization's website, this is what it does:

Americans for Prosperity Foundation is a national not-for-profit organization committed to educating citizens about economic policy. Bearden’s first priority will be organizing grassroots leaders and engaging Missouri citizens to advocate public policies that support entrepreneurship and fiscal and regulatory restraint. Some issues AFPF supports are:

·Cutting taxes and government spending in order to halt the encroachment of government in the economic lives of citizens by fighting proposed tax increases and pointing out evidence of waste, fraud, and abuse.

·Tax and Expenditure Limitations to promote fiscal responsibility.

·Removing unnecessary barriers to entrepreneurship and opportunity by sparking citizen involvement in the regulatory process early on in order to reduce red tape.

·Restoring fairness to our judicial system by stemming the tide toward "over-criminalization" of economic activity spurred by over-active attorneys general.

Star editorial: Repair flaws in campaign finance system

In an editorial in today's edition, the Kansas City Star suggests the only reasonable response to Missouri's continuing problems with campaign financing...and it is not removing all contribution limits:

Meanwhile, some Missouri lawmakers are talking about writing a new law that would once again allow unlimited individual contributions.

Some legislators point out that one big contributor, Rex Sinquefield, a retired St. Louis businessman, has worked around campaign finance limits by creating 100 different political action committees that can funnel money from him and other donors to candidates.

Many candidates already benefit from district committees that gather and distribute big donations without much sunshine on the sources of the money.

The holes in the system should be repaired. Missouri needs a law that both sets individual donation limits and requires that all sources of the funding be clearly identified.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Murder victim's mother deletes accused killer from MySpace friends

Colleen Spears, Stella, the mother of nine-year-old murder victim Rowan Ford, wasted not time today during her first visit to her MySpace page since Rowan's disappearance 17 days ago.
She deleted accused killer Chris Collings, 32, Wheaton, from her friends list. She did not have to do that with the other man charged with Rowan's rape and murder, her husband, David Spears. His MySpace site has apparently been deleted, as first noted in the Nov. 17 Turner Report.
More information about the content of Collings' MySpace page can be found in the Nov. 10 Turner Report.

Flag vigil dedicated to slain Neosho soldier

Scott Air Force Base officials dedicated their second annual 24-Hour Flag Vigil held Friday and Saturday to Master Sgt. Thomas Crowell, a Neosho native who was killed by a roadside bomb Nov. 2 in Iraq:

"We are dedicating this event to special agent Thomas Crowell, who lost his life in Iraq last week," said Master Sgt. Jill Hudkins.Crowell was killed Nov. 2 by an improvised explosive devise while working for the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. It was the base's first death in the Iraq war since it started in 2003.

"As you run, remember his service and remember all the folks who have served in the past," said Col. Curtis Connell, Operations Group Commander of the 375 Airlift Squadron.

(Flag vigil photo by T. L. Witt of the Suburban Journals, St. Louis Today)

Joplin soldier preparing for duty in Iraq

Today's Rocky Mountain News features interviews with Fort Carson soldiers who are scheduled to deploy to Iraq in two weeks, including Pvt. Tim Hudson, 19, Joplin:

Pvt. Tim Hudson, 19, was more nervous than excited about his upcoming deployment.
"I have a six-month-old at home and maybe another on the way," said Hudson of Joplin, Mo. "My wife has told me not to do anything crazy."

Turner Report book available in electronic format

The Turner Report book, my first non-fiction effort, is available in e-book format, as well as in paperback. For more information, check out the book's page at IUniverse. The cost is $6.

The next book signing for The Turner Report will be 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 8, at Hastings Books, Music, and Video in Joplin. Those wanting to buy books for themselves or as Christmas gifts should call the store to reserve copies.

Lawsuit filed in Texas over Swift Boat supporter's contributions; Texas governor expected to bypass Blunt for head of RGA

Bob Perry, the biggest contributor to the Swift Boat campaign that derailed the presidential aspirations of Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, also spreads his considerable wealth around in his home state of Texas.

As noted in the July 19 Turner Report, Perry and his wife contributed $350,000 to Governor Matt Blunt's campaign earlier this year. That money, of course, is part of the money the governor may have to return, thanks to recent rulings by the Missouri Supreme Court and the Missouri Ethics Commission.

Perry's oversized contributions are just as controversial in Texas, according to an article in the Nov. 15 Houston Chronicle. The laundry system works just as well in Texas as it does in Missouri, the article indicates.

Perry contributed $1 million to the campaign of Gov. Rick Perry (no relation) by laundering it through the Republican Governors Association. The contributions are the subject of a lawsuit filed by a Democrat:

Bob Perry, who isn't related to the governor, donated $500,000 to the RGA on Oct. 31, 2006, according to RGA reports filed with the federal Internal Revenue Service. The very next day, the RGA made a $500,000 donation to Gov. Perry's re-election campaign. In October, Bob Perry gave $1 million to the RGA. Later in the month, the RGA donated a separate $500,000 to Gov. Perry's campaign.

The RGA, a Perry aide and a spokesman for Bob Perry all denied the money was earmarked for the governor.

The article also contains the tidbit that Gov. Perry is expected to bypass Matt Blunt (though Blunt is called by his father's name Roy in the article) to become chairman of the Republican Governors Association. The reason given is the time Blunt will have to dedicate to his re-election campaign against Attorney General Jay Nixon.

Website names Spears, Collings among five most creepy MySpace criminals

Australian website has named David Spears and Chris Collings, the accused killers of nine-year-old Rowan Ford of Stella among their Five Most Creepy MySpace Criminals:

Recently Chris Collings, along with David Spears, were accused of raping and murdering nine-year-old Rowan Ford. Spears was Ford’s stepfather, and Collings a friend of Spears. Both men had MySpace profiles, though only Collings’ was open to the public. The site caught the eye of investigators because it featured images of grim reapers and sexual acts, and also made references to drug taking. According to KOLR/KSFX, which talked to a forensic psychologist, the MySpace page could be considered a ”rehearsal of a fantasy”:

“It’s something many sexual offenders do before they commit a crime. While some people will stop at the fantasy stage, others can only fantasize for so long before they act out what they’ve rehearsed.”

Both men are charged with one count each of first degree murder, forcible rape and statutory rape.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Southeast Missourian: Remove campaign contribution limits

In an editorial in today's edition, the Cape Girardeau Southeast Missourian rips into the Missouri Ethics Commission and says it is time to remove all campaign contribution limits. The editorial notes that the Ethics Commission created chaos when it failed to make a decision on whether campaign contributions that were over the limit should be returned:

This mess is yet another indication that the Missouri Legislature needs to try again on removing the campaign limits, this time overcoming the problems that resulted in the Supreme Court's ruling. And, while they're at it, the legislature might look for ways to create an ethics commission with some guts.

It's time for a stronger Sunshine Law

It's time to obliterate two of the myths that have surrounded the Sunshine Law since its inception:

1. The only people who benefit from the law are the media.

2. Elected officials should not have to pay for violating the law if they so unwillingly.

Let's deal with the first myth. While it is true that the media use the Sunshine Law more frequently than the general public, let us remember that the media is serving as the public's representative, asking questions that the public usually does not have the time or access to ask. That being said, I have run into numerous occasions when taxpayers have attempted to obtain information from the government, whether it be budget documents, salary and benefits for employees, etc., and have run into roadblocks. As long as elected and appointed officials know they have nothing to fear if they violate the law, they will continue to do so to keep the public from potentially embarrassing or even incriminating information. And in some cases, it has nothing to do with either, but is simply because the people who are supposedly there to serve the taxpayers, are too lazy.

As for the second reason, as Springfield News-Leader Editorial Page Editor Tony Messenger notes in a column today, as he suggests that the General Assembly put some teeth into the Sunshine Law:

First, they'll get rid of the burden of proof that makes violations of the Sunshine Law provable only if lawmakers "knowingly" break the law. Media organizations have pushed for years to lower that standard so that ignorance of the law is no defense. It would be awfully tough in Missouri right now to believe lawmakers in this state are ignorant of the law.

One of the conceits that a wide majority of our elected officials seems to hold is that they should be the final arbiters of what information the public gets to know. It is time to develop a Sunshine Law that truly sheds light on the way the public's business is conducted.

News-Leader editorial: Use anger over Rowan Ford's death wisely

An editorial in today's Springfield News-Leader suggests that the anger over the death of nine-year-old Rowan Ford of Stella needs to be channeled in a positive direction:

But we believe the best advice for southwest Missourians upset over another senseless death because of our community's problem with child abuse is to not quite let go of our anger but to redirect it.

We should be angry.

We should be angry that such deaths continue to occur around us with too much frequency. We should be upset that even calls to the child abuse hotline don't protect our children. We should be mad that after Dominic James, DJ Parker and Rowan Ford, little changes.

We should be so horrified over the fact that child abuse rates — and domestic violence rates, as well — are higher in our region than other parts of the state that we don't stop fighting for justice until those rates come down.

We're not looking for blame here. We're confident the courts will properly assign the blame for Rowan's death.

But if we don't do something about our rates of violence in southwest Missouri, then we are all to blame.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Accused killer's MySpace page vanishes

The MySpace page of David Spears, 25, Stella, has apparently been deleted.
Spears has been charged with first degree murder, forcible rape, and statutory rape in connection with the death of his nine-year-old stepdaughter Rowan Ford.
The existence of MySpace pages for Spears and his friend Chris Collings, 32, Wheaton, who has also been charged with the same crimes, was first revealed in the Nov. 10 Turner Report. While Collings' page was accessible by the public, Spears' page was private.
If the page was deleted, it had to be done either by MySpace or someone with access to Spears' password since he is being held without bond. Collings' MySpace page is intact.

Gibbons: Rowan Ford's murderers should receive maximum punishment

Senate President Pro Tem Michael Gibbons, R-St. Louis County, told a GOP gathering at the Newton County Fairgrounds in Neosho Thursday night that Rowan Ford's killers should receive the maximum punishment, according to Wes Frankin's article in the Neosho Daily News. Gibbons is a candidate for attorney general:

Gibbons drew his loudest applause of the night when he declared that the murderers of nine-year-old local girl Rowan Ford should be given the maximum punishment allowed by law.

"We also have an obligation to communicate to the people of this state that when those things happen, those crimes will be aggressively prosecuted and the sentences imposed and performed," Gibbons said.

Why is it important for government to be open

There is a certain type of hardheaded person who cannot understand logic when it is waved right in front of his face and a perfect example of that type of person can be found in the comments to a Joplin Globe editorial concerning the reluctance of Missouri Southern State University Board of Governors President Dwight Douglas to provide the media with the packet of information that is being discussed at the board meeting.

A commenter named "Leroy" issued a lengthy tirade against the Globe, which included this passage:

The information will be made public when the topic is discussed during the meeting and EVERYONE will hear the topic. I have an idea on what the real issue is. The Globe wants it for selfish reasons. (((By obtaining that packet we learned in ADVANCE about the creation of a new major program.))) There are dozens and dozens of board meetings going on across the area. The Globe does not have dozens and dozens of education reporters to cover them. So, they want to take the easy, lazy way, and SEE what is important and then decide which board meeting they should send a reporter to. It has nothing to do with open meetings, the packets will be open to the public when the gavel comes down. Stop bothering us with petty issues.

It appears Leroy is the docile type who prefers to believe that every decision made by a governmental body is made for the betterment of society as a whole. If the media wait until a subject has been discussed at a meeting, it may be too late to provide readers or viewers with the information they need to have to be fully informed.
When the media receives information in advance, they can use it for the following purposes:

-First and foremost, they will have a better understanding of what is being discussed and will be able to write or air a more knowledgeable story

-They can do research on a proposed policy to see if it has worked in other places.

-They can let the public know about an action for which citizens might want to have some input before a decision is made.

-They can check to see if there is some hidden motivation for a proposal, such as a councilman or board member owning a business that will benefit from a proposal.

Considering the shroud of secrecy MSSU's Board of Governors, under the direction of Dwight Douglas, has used through the removal of former President Julio Leon, and the formation of the search committee to find Leon's replacement, the Globe's continued pursuit of openness is correct and laudable.

And even when such secrecy issues have not existed, it is not just the media that benefit from having advance information, it is the public. Except perhaps for Leroy, who doesn't want to be bothered.

Sunday Globe to feature columns on Rowan Ford

The brutal murder of nine-year-old Rowan Ford of Stella continues to be a major topic in Joplin-area media, and it will be the focal point of the opinion page in Sunday's Joplin Globe.

Editor Carol Stark's column is combined with Internet Editor Dave Woods' weekly roundup of Globe website comments with Rowan Ford's murder as the topic:

From the moment we reported Rowan’s Nov. 2 disappearance from her home up through last Wednesday, the day she was buried, this story has sparked letters, online comments and phone calls.

It has not been an easy story for our reporters to cover. Those reporting and editing the stories are uncles, sisters, fathers, mothers and grandparents. We have all been touched by this story.

Veteran reporter Wally Kennedy remarked this week: “Sometimes it’s OK to cry while you type.”

But, because we at the Globe have a responsibility to the communities we serve, especially to those who no longer have a voice, we will continue to provide the details of this brutal rape and murder.

Rowan Ford's murder is also addressed by Sunday columnist Cindy Dagnan:

I’ve never met her, but I know this: she was 9 years old. She was abused. She was murdered. She was tossed away in the depths of a sinkhole like so much human garbage. She was the age of my third daughter.

She was beyond precious. A little girl who could ride bikes, swim, read and play with baby dolls. That’s exactly as it should be. She’s also a little girl whose innocence was cruelly stolen; that’s a mockery of all that childhood should be

Column: GateHouse Media strategy has not worked as well as expected

Boston Globe columnist Steven Syre says GateHouse Media's "hyperlocal" strategy which was appealing to investors when the company went public does not seem to be panning out as well as expected, but the company is still doing better than much of the industry:

"Our thesis that a focus on small, hyperlocal markets would serve as a counterweight to cyclical and secular pressures negatively impacting newspaper industry revenue performance has proven only partially correct," wrote Goldman Sachs analyst Peter Appert when he downgraded Gatehouse shares from "buy" to "neutral" yesterday. He cut his price target from $16 to $10 per share.

Another analyst, John Janedis of Wachovia Capital Markets, cut his Gatehouse forecast but still likes the hyperlocal business model. "It's really hard to argue those papers and groups are not outperforming the industry today," he said.

The weakest parts of Gatehouse's business were some of the same sources of revenue under long-term pressure at all newspapers, namely real estate and auto classifieds.

The column noted that much of GateHouse's problem is with its newspapers in the Boston area, but it provided a telling comment about the way in which the company is using its money:

Gatehouse borrows heavily to buy newspapers and spends almost all its profit paying out a big dividend. As the stock has fallen, the yield on the dividend now stands at 15.6 percent. That's a sign investors fear declining business may force the company to cut its payout.

GateHouse Media owns numerous papers in this area, including The Carthage Press, Neosho Daily News, Neosho Post, and the Big Nickel.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Missouri State graduate signs on as KSPR weekend sports anchor

Missouri State University graduate Mike Scott, the weekend sports anchor at KTTV in Rochester, Minn., will serve in the same capacity at KSPR in Springfield beginning Dec. 3.
According to to the KTTV website:

A native Missourian, Mike Scott joined the Newscenter Sports team as weekend anchor in November 2004.
He received his degree from Southwest Missouri State University, now Missouri State. (Go Bears!) Mike and his wife Shannon were married in June of 2005 and now live in Rochester with their 3 year old cat Mr. K.

Scott told the Rochester Post-Bulletin, "I grew up in Springfield and went to school there, too. It's always been a goal of mine to someday work there. I really love everything about my job here and Rochester, too, except for maybe the cold weather, but moving back home is something I've always wanted to do. It's like a dream come true."

Jury convicts Granby man in Texas strip club murders

A Bell County, Texas, jury found Timothy Doan Payne, Granby, a 2004 graduate of East Newton High School guilty Thursday on two counts of first degree murder:

While the jury was out, deliberations became so heated within the jury chambers that voices could be heard inside the courtroom. Bell County sheriff's deputies cleared the courtroom so that the content of those discussions could remain private.

Payne, a former soldier at Fort Hood, was charged with capital murder in the Nov. 26, 2004, deaths of Mohammed-Amine Rahmouni, 28, and Haitham Zayed, 25, and faces an automatic life sentence.

Payne's Granby background was employed by his attorney in an attempt to sway the jury:

"He's a farm boy from Missouri," Lee said. "He had graduated in May and found himself in Fort Hood in September. His own father was murdered. He had every reason in the world not to do it. There is no way that my client ever acted with the intent to aid in the commission of capital murder. This is a bad case."

Defense attorney Paul LePak painted a picture of Tabler as a criminal mastermind who planned every element of the operation, and attempted to pin the murders on Payne, who was young and naive.

"This is the benchmark, this kind of case. There are no greater stakes than capital murder," he said. "I'm glad KPD did such a good job on this case because there would be a lot more people dead. And it would have been Richard Tabler that killed them."

McWilliams argued that the charge sheet detailing the crime provided multiple avenues for the jury in the event they found Payne guilty. He said Payne made the decision to associate himself with Tabler, and that decision led to a chain of events that left two men dead.

McWilliams said Payne's guilt was clear. He used Payne's own testimony, namely the search for Rahmouni, to show that Payne helped Tabler bring the victims together.

Rowan Ford child service calls involved head lice

Calls made to Child Services about Rowan Ford involved head lice and not abuse, according to documents released by the Children's Division of the Missouri Department of Social Services Thursday:

The first of the two calls was placed in March 2000, when Rowan was living in Neosho with her mother, Colleen Spears, then Colleen McLeod, and her husband at the time, Adam Chicanowski. The second call was placed in January 2006, when Rowan, her mother and David Spears were living at the family’s current address in Stella.

After both of the hot-line calls, state investigators met with Rowan and her parents, and did not find evidence of any intentional neglect, according to the documents.

The names of the people who placed the calls were redacted for confidentiality purposes.

In the March 2000 report, the investigator attributed the presence of the lice in Rowan’s hair to the family’s “limited lack of resources” and limited “knowledge of existing services in the area.”

In the January 2006 case, the state was contacted because Rowan had “chronic head lice” and her last five absences from Triway Elementary School in Stella were because of lice. The person who made the report acknowledged that Rowan’s family usually had the problem resolved so that she could be back at school the next day.

The investigator also noted that the family was closely bonded, had good communication skills and two working parents. Both David and Colleen Spears worked at the Wal-Mart in Jane at the time, according to the report.

David Spears, of course, along with his friend, Chris Collings, are charged with raping and murdering Rowan Ford on Nov. 2.

Government E-mails must be retained

Governor Matt Blunt finally came to the right decision (albeit under considerable pressure) that all government e-mails should be retained.
In this day and age when the traditional letter is fast becoming obsolete, historians, media, and the general public will have no way of keeping track of what elected and appointed officials are doing if these all-important records are not maintained.

In his most recent column, Springfield News-Leader Editorial Page Editor Tony Messenger reveals that despite the governor's decision, Matt Blunt's chief of staff and deputy chief of staff are still sending out contradictory signals:

The other thing that's clear is that (Chief of Staff Ed) Martin and Deputy Chief of Staff Chuck Pryor still don't understand the very laws they proclaim to be following.

During the call, state Sen. Norma Champion, R-Springfield, asked the two men how public officials could determine which e-mails are public and which ones aren't. Pryor offered this answer:

"The transitory e-mails back and forth to your assistants, your research people, constituents just asking questions, those are basically considered transitory which are not required to be retained under the Sunshine Law."

Sounds OK. But wrong again.

First, the Sunshine Law says nothing about transitory e-mails. It's the state's records retention policy maintained by the Secretary of State's office that defines what is or is not a transitory e-mail. According to that policy, transitory e-mails which can be deleted by state officials include: "Documents of short-term interest that have no documentary or evidentiary value ..." Examples include: " ... quasi-official notices including memoranda and other records that do not serve as the basis of official actions, such as holiday notices, charitable campaigns, etc."

That's not what Pryor and Martin told lawmakers on the phone. In fact, Pryor described a situation in which officials e-mailed with staff and constituents in the process of putting together a "white paper" on official state policy. He suggested the final product would be a public record, but not all the work leading up to it.

Indeed, the state's policy doesn't say that at all.

The kind of records Pryor referred to are absolutely related to public business and they're supposed to be kept for three years, according to the state's general retention policy. In fact, those are the same sorts of documents the Republican Party sought this week in a wasteful Sunshine Law request sent to most Democratic lawmakers in Missouri.

It is important that Missourians, the media that covers the governmental process, and historians who will give the final verdict at a later date have access to everything, especially in a business where it is so easy for special interests and back room deals to play a huge role in the final result.

But the importance of maintaining all documentation goes beyond just uncovering scandal and corruption. Fourteen years ago, when I interviewed former Congressman Gene Taylor about the five presidents, with whom he had worked, I pored through the Congressman's records on file at Missouri Southern. Some of the most fascinating materials were the congressman's letters to constituents concerning the events of the day, especially around the time of Watergate and President Nixon's eventual resignation.

Just as fascinating were the everyday details of Congressman Taylor's attempts to help constituents with seemingly minor problems. From those documents, I had a much more complete view of the service that Gene Taylor provided to his constituents and to his country.

That kind of portrait would not have been possible if his correspondence had not been saved. The last people who should be making decisions about what letters and documents should be maintained are people who are trying to put the best spin on issues that affect the public.

Government e-mails should not be deleted.