March 4, 2015

Three arrested at youth basketball tournament in Storm Lake

Crime Scene TapeEmotions were running high at a youth basketball tournament in Storm Lake this weekend. Police were called after opposing coaches and fans started shouting profanities at one another and needed to be separated.

Officers were told that coaches from Sioux City and Le Mars were creating the trouble. Storm Lake Police seized video of the incident and arrested three men. Thirty-nine-year-old Trent Gosch and 33-year-old Richard Semple, both of Sioux City, and 62-year-old Steven Stratmeir of Le Mars are all charged with disorderly conduct.

No injuries were reported and police stayed at the gym for the remainder of the youth basketball tournament.

(Reporting by Dennis Morrice, KLEM, Le Mars)


Ankeny woman charged in another adoption scam

Tracey Leann Bess

Tracey Leann Bess

Police have charged a central Iowa woman in connection with another adoption scam. Ankeny police arrested 29-year-old Tracey Leann Bess-Thacker Friday on a charge of fourth-degree theft for accepting $200 from a DeWitt couple in February who had hoped to adopt a baby from her.

Detectives found she had filed a birth mother adoption request with Life Long Adoptions, a company that connects birth mothers with potential parents for adoption. Police say she used information from a previous pregnancy, including a sonogram and photos, to fool people into thinking she was pregnant.

Police say they were contacted in July by a Utah couple who thought Bess-Thacker was trying to run and adoption scam on them, but they had nothing to charge her with. The woman used the same scam in 2011 when she used 19 different aliases to connect with prospective adoptive parents in multiple states, including Nebraska, Illinois, Hawaii, Iowa and Kansas.

Bess-Thacker pled guilty to filing a false report and suborning perjury on August 22, 2011 in connection with that scam. During the 2011 investigation, detectives learned that many of the victims traveled to Iowa to visit with Bess and discuss the possibilities of adoption. Many victims were devastated to learn that the entire event was a hoax leaving them emotionally shattered.

Police are asking anyone who may’ve been contacted by Tracey Leann Bess or Tracey Lean Bess-Thacker to contact them. The Ankeny Police Department is asking for assistance from anyone in the process of adoption including adoption agencies to look at this information and a photograph of Bess to prevent further victimization.

“Tracy Bess is an internet predator who intentionally inflicts mental anguish and emotional distress on adoptive parents. This is a strong example of an internet bullying case that has not been considered in the law,” according to Ankeny Police Chief Gary Mikulec.


Lawmaker calls ‘performance-based’ funding for state universities ‘a shell game’

Zach Nunn

Zach Nunn

Legislators are raising questions about the new “performance-based” formula for directing tax dollars to the three state-supported universities.

The formula would shift more money to the University of Northern Iowa, where 90 percent of students are Iowa residents, and the University of Iowa would get less money because its enrollment is nearly half Iowans and half out-of-staters. Representative Zach Nunn, a Republican from Bondurant, said it seems like a “shell game” to him.

“I’m having a hard time appreciating where we’re giving (state tax dollars) to each of the Regents schools and then having one Regents school come back and plead that they, now, have been pillaged,” Nunn said after an appropriations subcommittee met with the presidents of the three univerisites.

In the formula’s first year of implementation, the University of Iowa would get about 13 million dollars less and legislators are being asked to give the university that much extra money to fill the shortfall. Representative Rob Taylor, a Republican from West Des Moines, told officials from all three universities he’s concerned community college enrollment will decline as Iowa, Iowa State and UNI get more aggressive in enrolling Iowa students.

“Is that just me being anxious or is that real?” Taylor asked.

University of Northern Iowa president William Ruud said the three state supported universities enroll a little less than 20 percent of the Iowans who graduate from high school every year.

“There is plenty of room, plenty of available opportunity for us to eduate Iowans who are looking for a certificate, looking for a two-year degree, looking for a four-year degree,” Ruud said.

Iowa State University president Steven Leath said he “has not seen a better model” than the new formula the Regents propose.

“There’s certainly nothing wrong with Iowa tax money following Iowa kids,” Leath said. “But it also puts emphasis on degree attainment, progress towards graduation, economic development — all things that we should all value.”

Officials say 300,000 hours of credits earned by Iowa community college students were transferred to the state universities this past year. And about one-third of the new students at Iowa State last fall were community college transfers.

Restitution begins for mother who faked daughter’s cancer to collect donations

Leatha Slauson

Leatha Slauson

A restitution hearing was held this afternoon in the case of a southwest Iowa woman who falsely claimed her 5-year-old daughter had cancer and then raised money for her treatment.

Fourth District Court Judge Greg Steensland presided over the hearing for 30-year-old Leatha Slauson of Atlantic. Slauson was unable to make it to attend due to the weather, but she was represented by her lawyer, Jay Mez.

Six people testified at the hearing and provided evidence to the judge of how much they had contributed to Slauson, or the “Super Riley Fund” set up for her daughter. Most presented photocopies of checks, but one woman presented credit card statements. The amounts claimed ranged from $200 to over $3,000. Judge Steensland, Mez and Cass County Attorney David Wiederstein agreed to accept the claims. Now it’s up to the judge to determine how much each person or organization will receive.

Wiederstein noted the total victim restitution amounts to $35,964 and $3,000 has been returned in the form of an RV that was used, leaving a balance of $32,964. But, the amount of funds available to distribute equals just $15,920. Judge Wiederstein said since the amount of claims exceed the available funds, it puts him in a a predicament.

“We’ve already had a situation where we’re trying to figure out what to do with money that shouldn’t have been given out in the first place. As a judge, I cannot exacerbate that by giving out funds that I can’t track,” Wiederstein said. He said he would reimburse those funds that he thinks are provable, in the form of a court order.

Slauson was sentenced to 5 years probation in January and was ordered to continue mental health treatment and not have contact with her 5 children unless requested by her therapist. In November, she pled guilty to charges of child endangerment, administering harmful substances, theft and unlawful possession of a prescription drug.

(Reporting by Ric Hanson, KJAN, Atlantic)


Cold air seeping into not-yet-opened Fort Madison prison

Tom Courtney

Tom Courtney

State officials say the water has been shut off to sections of the new state prison in Fort Madison as contractors work to figure out why cold air is leaking into the recreation building and “mechanical alleyways.”

Senator Tom Courtney, a Democrat, lives about 20 miles from the not-yet-opened prison and prison officials briefed him on the situation Tuesday. “First off, they said that the pipes never froze,” Courtney said this afternoon. “They said they turned them off because they thought they would freeze.”

A written statement issued by the Department of Corrections early this afternoon indicated the situation was uncovered as the prison’s new heating and cooling system was being tested. The prison was supposed to open nearly a year ago, but problems with the heating and cooling system as well as the system for ventilating smoke out of the prison have delayed the opening indefinitely.

Bobby Kaufmann

Bobby Kaufmann

Representative Bobby Kaufmann, a Republican from Wilton, has been heading a House Oversight Committee investigation of the prison delays and Kaufmann said today he’s getting “conflicting reports” about this latest glitch.

“Some are saying it’s because the geothermal system isn’t actually fully functional in times of duress. Others are saying there is potentially leakage on the roof,” Kaufmann said this afternoon “Either way, this is absolutely unacceptable and insane that we’re continuing to have new issues.”

Kaufmann said legislators “aren’t getting straight answers” about the entire prison project.

“This is a boondoggle,” Kaufmann said. “It really is.”

Courtney said he’s at least relieved the water pipes didn’t freeze and break.

“They say nothing froze, nothing was hurt. They’re trying to poo poo it, saying it’s kind of normal,” Courtney said. “…I guess I kind of halfway believe that.”

But Courtney, like Kaufmann, indicated legislators are growing more and more frustrated by the situation.

“There’s been a lot of falsehoods told on this thing and now nobody wants to believe anything,” Courtney said.

A spokesman for the Department of Corrections said he would prefer not to be interviewed for this story.

Branstad approves gas tax hike; 10-cent-per-gallon increase takes effect Sunday

Governor Terry Branstad.

Governor Terry Branstad.

The price for gas in Iowa will go up at least 10 cents a gallon Sunday morning. Governor Terry Branstad has approved the bill increasing the state’s gas tax by a dime a gallon.

“This is a bill that’s been developed with both the Republicans and Democrats working together,” Branstad told reporters this morning. “I know it’s not easy and I know that there are also people who feel strongly on the other side, but there is a critical need for additional funding for our roads and bridges in the state of Iowa.”

Since the beginning of the year Branstad met personally with legislative leaders at least five times to discuss options for dealing with a $215 million shortfall in meeting the critical needs of Iowa’s transportation infrastructure. The outcome of those meetings was the bill that cleared the Iowa Senate, then the House on Tuesday in a span of less than two-and-a-half hours.

“Leadership deserves credit for working together on a bipartisan basis to pass a piece of legislation that I think will be very beneficial to meeting the needs of the counties and cities as well as the state transportation network,” Branstad said at about nine o’clock, around the time a formal copy of the bill was delivered to his desk.

Branstad’s staff announced at 11 a.m. this morning that the governor had signed the bill.

Critics like Senator Brad Zaun say the greatest needs are in rural Iowa, but only a third of the extra money that will be raised will go to rural roads and bridges.

“To say to rural Iowa that this 10 cent increase is going to fix your bridges and roads is just simply not true,” Zaun said during Senate debate Tuesday.

Others, like Representative Mary Gaskill, a Democrat from Ottumwa, argue the financial impact will be felt most by the “poorest of the poor” who often drive long distances to work at low-paying jobs.

“The gas tax is one of the most regressive taxes that the state imposes,” Gaskill said during House debate Tuesday.

Motorists who fill up with 10 gallons of gas on Sunday morning will pay a dollar more for a tank of gas than they would have paid Saturday night. Branstad said having the tax hike go into effect March 1 means the state will collect more fuel taxes than expected in the last four months of the state fiscal year — and the starting date for some road and bridge projects may be moved up.

“Highway 20 is one of those that has been around for a long time and we want to see that completed and moved up,” Branstad said, “and this is a way that hopefully that and other key projects can get priority and be expedited.”

The project to expand all 300 miles of the Highway 20 route from Dubuque and Sioux City into a divided four-lane highway began 50 years ago. Branstad told reporters this morning that he’s recently talked with the Iowa DOT’s director about speeding up the Highway 20 project. DOT plans currently call for completing a 12-mile stretch between Moville and Correctionville in 2018. The final segment of 29 miles that hasn’t been scheduled yet for expansion is in Sac and Ida Counties. That stretch of Highway 20 is a link between Iowa Highway 31 and U.S. Highway 71.

Students restore vintage Iowa Highway Patrol car (video)

James Nelson shows off the car his students are restoring.

James Nelson shows off the car his students are restoring.

An 80-year-old vehicle will soon be returned to duty by the Iowa State Patrol. The 1935 Ford Tudor was the first vehicle used by the Iowa Highway Patrol, which was founded that same year.

The car is back up and running, thanks to some high school students, after spending several decades in the basement of the State Historical Building. James Nelson is director of the automotive technology program for Des Moines Schools.

“We found there were several problems in the drivetrain and suspension, we have taken the rear differential out and it’s needing rebuilt, the brake are going to be done all around it, and we’ve also replaced some suspension components,” Nelson said. Students at Des Moines Area Community College will do some body work before the interior is fixed-up and the vehicle is returned to the Iowa State Patrol.

“It’s going to be used for parades around the state of Iowa,” Nelson said. Although the vehicle was in bad shape, Nelson and his students were surprised to find the siren on the car was still in working order.

The 1935 Iowa Highway Patrol vehicle might be ready for appearances around the state later this year.