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Jamie Dupree's Washington Insider

    While leaders of both parties in the U.S. House have made clear they are open to giving members of Congress their first pay raise in ten years, the Senate's top Republican said Thursday that his side of the Capitol will not go along with such a plan, throwing a rather large hurdle in the way of the effort to raise the current lawmaker salary of $174,000 for the first time since 2009. 'We’re not doing a COLA adjustment in the Senate,' Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, referring to the 'Cost-of-living-adjustment' which lawmakers are supposed to receive each year under current law, but have been blocked routinely for the last ten years. But even as McConnell made clear his opposition, the top Republican in the House wasn't giving up on the change in lawmaker pay. 'My position on this is the same,' said House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). 'I do not believe Congress should be a place only for millionaires.' At a news conference, McCarthy acknowledged to reporters that McConnell's opposition 'does complicate the path' for a Congressional pay raise, as House leaders may bring the issue to the floor as early as next week. 'This is good news,' Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) said of the public opposition to a pay raise by the Senate Majority Leader.  'No reason Congress should get a pay raise. Now it’s time to pass my bill that would end automatic pay raises entirely,' Scott tweeted. House leaders had planned earlier this month to bring forward a funding bill for the Congress - with no language to block the yearly pay raise - but the bill was yanked from a package of spending bills after concerns were raised by rank-and-file lawmakers. The plan for now is to try that maneuver next week, which could still create a situation where all House members have to go on the record about pay increase. Lawmakers earn $174,000 a year; under the plan for a COLA increase, their pay would go up by around $4,500 under this plan. If they had received yearly increases as provided for under current law for the past ten years, their salaries would be over $200,000.
  • As a federal judge on Wednesday sentenced a former aide to Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-NH) to four years in prison for posting personal information on the internet about a group of GOP Senators during the height of the confirmation debate over Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, federal prosecutors unveiled new charges against a second former employee of Hassan's office, for aiding and abetting that crime. The new charges came in the broader case against Jackson Cosko, who pleaded guilty to stealing private, personal information about a series of Republicans from a Senate computer system, and then posting that on Wikipedia, in an effort to pressure them to oppose Justice Kavanaugh's nomination. As Cosko on Wednesday was given a four year prison term followed by 36 months of supervised release, the feds unveiled a new set of charges against former Hassan aide Samantha DeForest Davis, as she was charged with aiding and abetting Cosko's crimes, as well as trying to help Cosko conceal his crime. Prosecutors said on October 3, 2018, Davis attempted to conceal evidence which might link Cosko to the computer crimes, by 'wiping down computers...and restarting said computers' in Hassan's office, 'with the intent to impair the integrity and availability' of evidence which might show Cosko's involvement. The news of the charges against Davis came as Judge Thomas F. Hogan sentenced Cosko to 48 months in prison on Wednesday; that was slightly less than the 57 months recommended by prosecutors, who said the 27 year-old former staffer deserved stern punishment. 'The United States submits that the defendant deliberately and maliciously committed serious crimes directed at United States Senators and the Senate; that the defendant’s crimes imposed significant harm on individual Senators, their families, staff, and the Senate; and that his crimes call out for a significant sentence,' the government's sentencing memo read. During the highly charged battle over Justice Kavanaugh's nomination in 2018, Cosko publicly posted personal information on Wikipedia about Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). Prosecutors told a federal judge that Cosko's 'burglary and computer hacking campaign...represented the largest known theft of electronic data from the Senate.' 'The defendant’s doxxing offenses imposed similarly significant harms, not only by causing substantial fear and distress among the family members of the targeted Senators, but also by requiring the U.S. Capitol Police, as well as local police agencies, to conduct directed uniformed patrols of the residences of affected Senators,' the judge was told. The crimes happened several months after Cosko was terminated in May 2018 by the office of Sen. Hassan, where he had served as a computer systems administrator. At least four times in 2018, Cosko returned to Hassan's Senate office on Capitol Hill, and not only accessed data from the Senate computer system, but also 'surreptitiously installed 'keylogger' devices' on at least six computers in Senator Hassan's Office.' Cosko was then able to obtain login credentials for other staffers in the office, allowing him to get at other information in the Senate system, and from Sen. Hassan's office. 'The defendant also obtained contact information for numerous sitting U.S. Senators, which included their home addresses and private phone numbers,' prosecutors said, as Cosko built up to his attacks during the Kavanaugh confirmation fight. As for Davis, it was immediately clear when she would appear in court to face the new charges filed on Wednesday. The new federal court docket only contained the criminal information complaint against her, and the notice of her attorney, but not any date for a court appearance.
  • As a Senate spending panel approved $4.6 billion on Wednesday to help with humanitarian needs along the southern border with Mexico, the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said he would delay action set for this week on a package of legislative changes to U.S. immigration laws, to allow more time for Senators to forge some sort of bipartisan compromise in Congress. 'So we're going to take a couple of weeks to see if we can find a compromise to see if we can shut down this flow,' Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said of the recent surge of migrants to the border. Graham told his colleagues that bipartisan talks had already been underway with the White House, which have included Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL), the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate. 'I am willing to deal with DACA,' Graham said, addressing an issue which Democrats say would have to be part of any deal.  'I am not willing to continue the practice that our laws are generating, which is to tell everyone in Central America, the door is open,' Graham added. Both sides know that any compromise may include items which are anathema to many of their own supporters; one example would be a legal status for those covered under DACA and so-called 'Dreamers,' as Democrats want them to have a chance at a 10-to-12 year pathway to citizenship. For many Republicans, that type of plan spells only one word: Amnesty. Just over a month ago, Graham floated a bill which included asylum system changes, and urged President Trump to get on board with an immigration compromise. 'To get what you want, you've got to give something,' Graham said in mid-May. Graham has tried repeatedly in public to make the case to fellow Republicans and the White House that an immigration deal is in their best interest - otherwise nothing will get done in terms of legislative changes, and the number of people flowing to the border will continue to grow. At a hearing last week, the acting DHS Secretary said Graham's 'Gang of 8' immigration bill from 2013 - which drew furious opposition in conservative circles and on talk radio, and was never voted on by the GOP House - would have certainly helped prevent the current situation at the border. 'We would have a very different situation at the border,' said Acting DHS chief Kevin McAleenan, as he noted the plan would have bolstered the number of agents for the Border Patrol, ICE, and included other immigration enforcement improvements, such as up to 700 miles of new pedestrian fencing along the border, and high tech sensors. But the 'Gang of 8' bill foundered among House Republicans in 2013 because of the provisions dealing with the DREAM Act, and a pathway to citizenship for some of those already in the U.S. illegally. And it was quickly obvious in the halls of Congress that the same type of concerns could doom any new effort to strike a deal in 2019. The 2013 'Gang of 8” bill would have granted immigrants a provisional legal status in the U.S. for six years, and renewable for another six years, with a $500 fee. After ten years, immigrants could then apply for a green card, and permanent resident status, as they would not be allowed to jump straight to citizenship. Before any of those immigrants could even start getting a new legal status, the bill required that border security and fencing plans be in place first. But that wasn't enough for Republicans - one reason many labeled the South Carolina Republican, Lindsey 'Grahamnesty' for his efforts. The Gang of 8 bill would also have ended the Diversity Visa Lottery Program - a frequent target of President Trump.
  • Even with no agreement as yet between the White House and Congress on budget levels for 2020, the House on Wednesday approved a package of four funding bills worth nearly $1 trillion for next year, and started work on five other spending measures for the operations of the federal government, with no clear idea of what President Donald Trump would accept for next year's budget. The first spending 'minibus' included $713 billion for the military, and nearly $270 billion in funding covering a range of health, education, labor, energy, and water programs, along with foreign aid, and money for the State Department. The 226-203 vote was mainly along party lines, as all Republicans were joined by seven Democrats in opposing the bill, even though it included funding for the military, a top GOP priority. Republicans though objected to provisions in the bill which would prevent the President from shifting money from the Pentagon to construction of a wall along the southern border with Mexico. The House then moved on to a second funding package - this one combines five different spending bills for an array of government agencies, from the Department of Justice to NASA, agricultural programs, the EPA, National Park Service, military construction, the VA, transportation, housing, and more. 290 different amendments were made in order to the second 'minibus' plan, as House Democrats try to get as many of 12 funding bills passed this summer, in an effort to prevent a government shutdown when the new fiscal year begins on October 1. But there's one problem with that effort - no agreement has been reached with the White House on exactly how much should be spent in 2020 - meaning all of this work could be for naught. 'This bill is going nowhere,' said Rep. Steve Womack (R-AR), the top Republican on the House Budget Committee. 'It is a waste of time,' Womack said on the House floor, as Republicans protested the lack of a budget agreement for next year. The action on next year's spending bills came as Capitol Hill talks involving top lawmakers and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin produced no agreement on how to deal with current budget 'caps' which limit how much can be spent in 2020. If there is no deal, automatic spending cuts known as the 'sequester' would kick in, slashing billions from the military and non-defense spending programs, a politically unpalatable choice for both parties. For example, total military spending in 2019 is $716 billion; President Trump wants $750 billion in 2020. But under the spending limits from a 2011 bipartisan budget deal, the cap on defense spending in 2020 would be $576 billion, down from the current spending levels of $647 billion, a reduction of $71 billion. The sequester would cut domestic spending less, because it has had a smaller rate of increase over the last two years when compared to the defense budget; non-defense spending would have to be reduced to $542 billion, a cut of $55 billion. 'While we did not reach an agreement, today’s conversation advanced our bipartisan discussions,' said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer in a statement, as they urged the President to stay on the sidelines. 'If the House and Senate could work their will without interference from the President, we could come to a good agreement much more quickly,' the top Democrats added.
  • After weeks of negotiations over a White House request for extra money to deal with a surge of illegal immigrants along the southern border with Mexico, Senators on a key spending panel voted 30-1 on Wednesday to approve a $4.59 billion spending package to insure that various federal agencies have enough money to address what President Donald Trump has said is a crisis at the border. 'This situation as most of us realize is past the breaking point,' said Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL). 'I believe we must act.' 'The fact is that we do have a humanitarian crisis on the border that does need to be addressed,' said Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT), who recounted crowded holding facilities for illegal immigrants. 'We've seen big numbers in the past, but we're going to exceed that this year,' said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO). 'This bill is absolutely necessary,' said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV). 'There are families and children who need our support.' The only 'no' vote in the Senate Appropriations Committee came from Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR). The bill only deals with money to help address the humanitarian needs along the border - it does not address any changes in U.S. immigration laws desired by President Trump. On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee had been scheduled to start work on a bill which would make some of those immigration reforms, but that work will be delayed into July in search of a bipartisan agreement. “This is not a crisis - this is a disaster,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who is leading President Trump's charge to change immigration laws. 'Our immigration laws are a disgrace and the Democrats can get together with the Republicans and solve the problem quickly,' the President told his campaign kickoff rally on Tuesday night in Orlando, Florida. It's expected the full Senate could vote on the package next week. It is not clear if the House would follow suit before lawmakers leave town at the end of June for a break during the week of July Fourth. The text of the Senate bill can be found here. A section-by-summary of the legislation from committee Republicans is here.
  • Even as President Donald Trump and top Republicans in Congress call on Democratic leaders in the U.S. House to allow a vote on a new trade deal with Mexico and Canada, the President's top trade negotiator told Senators on Tuesday that there's still no set date for when the agreement would be submitted to the Congress 'I believe we're on track, I believe we are making progress,' said United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. Asked by a GOP Senator about discussions with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Lighthizer gave no public hint about any problems. 'My hope is that over the course of the next several weeks, that we can make substantial progress,' Lighthizer added, as he said talks with Pelosi had been 'constructive.' Democrats have been pressing the Trump Administration over the enforcement of new labor reforms in Mexico, worried that the government won't adequately enforce the changes. Asked by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) when to expect a vote in Congress, Lighthizer gave no concrete date - as the trade agreement has not yet been formally submitted to the Congress. At a hearing of the Senate Finance Committee, Lighthizer faced some verbal slings and arrows from both parties about the President's trade policies. 'I do not agree that tariffs should be the tool we use in every instance to achieve our trade policy goals,' said Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA). 'China's market is now more closed off to American goods and American agriculture than before the trade war began,' said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), as he complained about the impact of the President's tweets on trade policy. For the most part, Lighthizer did not engage in pitched battles with Democrats over trade matters, repeatedly stressing common ground over trade disputes with China and final talks over the USMCA trade deal. As for China, Lighthizer made clear that President Trump isn't bluffing when it comes to additional tariffs on Chinese goods, acknowledging to Senators that the next round could have a bigger impact, to include items like laptop computers and cell phones. Lighthizer could have a somewhat more partisan reception on Wednesday, when he testifies on the same issues before the House Ways and Means Committee.
  • Five weeks after announcing his intent to nominate Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan for the top job at the Pentagon, President Donald Trump abruptly announced Tuesday that Shanahan was no longer under consideration, and would be replaced by the Secretary of the Army. 'Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, who has done a wonderful job, has decided not to go forward with his confirmation process so that he can devote more time to his family,' the President said, announcing that Army Secretary Mark Esper would be named as the new Acting Secretary of Defense. President Trump had announced on May 9 that he intended to nominate Shanahan to the post; he had been acting Secretary since the start of 2019, replacing former Secretary James Mattis, who resigned at the end of December. The move by the President came hours after reports by news organizations that Shanahan's FBI background check had been delayed because of an issue involving a domestic dispute with his ex-wife in 2010. Shanahan had been meeting with Senators in recent weeks as a prelude to his confirmation hearings - but no date for those hearings had been set by the Senate Armed Services Committee, and no formal nomination had been made by the President. It had led to speculation that Shanahan's nomination could be in jeopardy. The move comes at an awkward time for the Pentagon, as Shanahan had been serving as Acting Defense Secretary since January 1, after taking over for ex-defense chief James Mattis. Mattis resigned at the end of 2018 after a dispute with President Trump over U.S. troop levels in Syria and Afghanistan.It means the U.S. will go well over a half year without a Senate-confirmed Secretary of Defense, a point noted by lawmakers on Capitol Hill. “This job should be filled in a matter of a few weeks, not months,” said Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX), the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee. “We urgently need a Secretary of Defense that has the confidence of the President, the Congress, and the country,” Thornberry said.
  • It was one year ago this week that I returned to the radio after a two year absence, with a new computer generated voice which we call 'Jamie Dupree 2.0' - a high tech invention which has allowed me to continue my radio news work, even after an unknown medical problem took away my voice. After doing your job one way for over thirty years, it has taken a little time for me to get used to operating the controls of Jamie Dupree 2.0, which produces a voice that sounds like me, but no matter how advanced it is, it can also go haywire in a split second and sound like a bad robot. 1. First, a recap for those who might not know the story. In the Spring of 2016, I was covering the race for President. Everything was fine. I took an Easter vacation with my family, got a stomach bug, and suddenly my voice started having problems. It's now to the point where I can barely talk, with the diagnosis being a neurological dystonia - the signals from my brain to my tongue and throat are getting messed up somewhere along the way, and my mouth just won't work correctly to form words and sounds associated with speech most of the time. My company found a firm in Scotland, CereProc, which built a computer version of my voice from my audio archives, using tapes from my old radio news stories. 2.  Jamie Dupree 2.0 just isn't just typing some words. It would be nice if I could just type my radio scripts, hit a button, and magically have a perfect audio file for my next radio newscast. But it's a bit more complicated than that, as the field of computer generated voices is still in its infancy. Luckily, there are special computer commands which can be employed with the Text-to-Speech program that runs with my special voice. Those commands allow you to slow words at the end of sentences, mimic the more natural ways that we speed up and slow down during regular speech, and find ways to make the overall sound less robotic. It makes for some clutter on screen, but this is what one of my typical radio news scripts might look like: 3. Some Jamie Dupree 2.0 words just don't sound right. For whatever reasons, there are some words and phrases which don't come out right when you type them in. The last name of Rudy Giuliani works perfectly, but the last name of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross does not - I have to use 'Ros' instead. Robert Mueller's last name came out as 'Myoo-ler,' so I had to spell it as 'Muller' to get it to sound right. Those are just a couple of examples of how, over the last year, I've had to do a lot of experimenting to figure out how to sound out certain things, which can be frustrating when you need to get a story done for the next newscast. Like one of the Democratic hopefuls for President, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg. That's hard for most people to say, let alone for me to try to figure out how to get my computer voice to say it. So far, I've settled on this: Pete Budda jidge. Here are some other names and words that I have to get creative with: 4. Stumbling on ways to make the 2.0 sound more real. As I did more and more work over the last year with my new voice, one of the most obvious problems was trying to figure out how to mimic our own real voices, as we speed up and slow down certain words and sounds. XML commands dealing with 'emphasis' didn't really work. I tried using my audio editor program to add some emphasis to my words, but that only was a minimal success. By accident, I found that by repeating a word or phrase, it would sound different - sometimes I would get exactly the right feel and emphasis. In the following example, I wanted a little more 'oomph' for the phrase, 'President Trump tweeted from Air Force One.' When you watch the video below, you will hear the original version of the audio produced by Jamie Dupree 2.0, followed by the version where I had it say the same phrase five times in a row. Then the two are compared at then end of the 30 second video. For some reason, the repetition creates a little more emphasis. Why? I don't know. I don't really care.  All I know is that I found a shortcut which makes it sound better. 5. The reaction to 2.0 continues to be mostly positive. Remember, these are the days of social media, so it's not difficult to make your voice heard, and tell me that you never liked me in the first place, and you're happy that my real voice doesn't work.  But those messages only spur me to keep going and to work harder at being heard on the radio.  I don't want to be using this computer voice technology, but thankfully for my family, it's available, and it has allowed me to continue in my career as a radio reporter covering Capitol Hill.   As I have detailed above, it's not a simple process to get a story on the air.  It takes time to mold the words into the correct sounds, and get that into our radio newscasts.   It would be much quicker to just open my mouth, hit the record button, and start talking.  For whatever reason, my brain won't allow that to happen.
  • Unable to fulfill one of his central campaign promises - a repeal of the Obama health law - President Trump is again talking about releasing a plan to replace the current system which forces Americans to buy health insurance coverage, as the President continues to dangle the possibility of setting out a new health care package. In an interview with ABC News broadcast in recent days, the President said that he would unveil a new plan in the next month or two. 'And we already have the concept of the plan, but it'll be less expensive than Obamacare by a lot. And it'll be much better health care,' Mr. Trump said, adding that 'we'll be announcing that in about two months.' 'Obamacare has been a disaster,' the President said, again bemoaning the last second change by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) which defeated a bare bones effort to pass any kind of GOP health care plan in the U.S. Senate in July of 2017. The sudden talk about unveiling a new plan caught Capitol Hill Republicans by surprise - just as the President had surprised the GOP by saying earlier this year that he wanted the GOP to act on health care reform. 'The Republican Party will become the party of Health Care,' Mr. Trump tweeted back in March. But after a few days, the President backed off, and said he would not try to press for major changes in the Obama health law until after the 2020 elections - and only if Republicans take back control of both houses of Congress. 'It will be truly great HealthCare that will work for America,' the President tweeted back in early April. At the time, there seemed to be little appetite on Capitol Hill for tackling the issue again, as the GOP is all for doing something different on health care - but does not have an agreement on what that 'something' should be, in terms of the fine print. Democrats were skeptical that anything has changed. 'Someone tell the President that ripping health care away from 20 million Americans isn’t called a “plan,” it’s called a catastrophe,' said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA).
  • With rules that make it difficult for lawmakers to steer taxpayer dollars into home state projects - that doesn't mean less money is being spent for such items - as instead billions of dollars in grants are being handed out by the Executive Branch each year, with federal bureaucrats taking the place of lawmakers in deciding how to dole out money approved by Congress for a variety of programs. A decade ago for example, Congress would have approved a highway bill filled with pages and pages of specific projects to be funded back in their states - but now, Congress funds billions in generic grants for the Department of Transportation, and then watches as the money is handed out by the feds. Experts say voters probably don't understand that what some would deride as 'pork barrel spending' just been shifted from the Legislative Branch to the Executive Branch. 'Presidents — and their appointees — engage in pork-barrel politicking (earmarking) in the same way Congress does,' wrote John Hudak of the Brookings Institute, who argues that budget 'earmarks' should be brought back in the House and Senate. Here are some examples of money sent out for highway and transit projects by the feds: Some lawmakers say they should be the ones deciding where that money goes - not a bureaucrat who maybe has never been to their state. 'We all should be able to stand behind the work that we do and advertise to our constituents and everybody around the country as to why this is a priority,' said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). 'If people think we are quote saving money,' Murkowski told reporters, 'they are fooling themselves, because those dollars are still going out the door.' But there are also Republicans who think Congress should just stay away from pork barrel spending. 'Earmarks grease the skids for bigger government,' said Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE). But regardless of complaints about how big the federal deficit might be, and how much is being spent overall, lawmakers of both parties trumpet the arrival of money for the folks back home - with federal agencies joining in those announcements as well. There are so many grants offered by the U.S. Government that a special website was set up to help people find out more information about what's available. Going through many of the grants, what one notices right away is the wide swath of money available for all sorts of matters: + Integrating the Healthcare Enterprise (IHE) USA Cooperative Agreement Program + Invasive and Noxious Plant Management  + Forest and Woodlands Resource Management + Cultural Landscape Inventory for the Navajo Settlement  + Longitudinal Research on Delinquency and Crime  One grant available right now from the National Institutes of Health deals with research into dementia, 'to conduct new research on automobile technology for signaling early signs of cognitive impairment in older drivers.' In recent weeks, President Trump has made it clear that he's ready to use support for specific home-state spending matters to his electoral advantage, too. The focus on local spending is not new - almost ten years ago, I wrote about the proliferation of grants, and how the executive branch was handing out the pork. And it's still happening today.

The Latest News Headlines

  • A California woman kept her 11-year-old son with special needs locked away in a closet for three years, a secret from his stepfather, until he wasted away to just 34 pounds and died of multiple drug intoxication, according to testimony in the mother’s preliminary hearing.  Veronica Aguilar, 41, is charged with first-degree murder with the special circumstance of alleged torture and child abuse causing death, according to the Los Angeles Times. A Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled Wednesday that there is “overwhelming” evidence for Aguilar to stand trial in the death of her son, Yonatan Daniel Aguilar.  Court records obtained by the Times in 2016 suggest that Yonatan may have been on the autism spectrum. Veronica Aguilar’s attorney, Summer McKeiver, argued that her client was not abusive, but a loving mother ill-equipped to handle her son’s special needs.  “This is a case of a woman who didn’t speak the language, didn’t know her rights,” McKeivier said outside the courtroom, according to the Times. “She didn’t know how to help and the help she sought failed.”  Aguilar is being held in lieu of $2 million bond.  Warning: The following story, which contains graphic descriptions of a child’s death, may be disturbing to some readers.  Police officers were called on Aug. 22, 2016, to a suspicious death at the family’s home in Echo Park, according to a news release from the Los Angeles Police Department.  LAPD officials said the boy’s stepfather, Jose Pinzon, had found Yonatan’s drugged, emaciated body wrapped in a blanket inside a closet after Aguilar told him the boy was dead. Pinzon testified this week that he immediately ran two blocks to a 7-Eleven store on Sunset Boulevard to call 911 because his cellphone wouldn’t work inside the house.  Paramedics pronounced Yonatan dead at the scene, authorities said.  “The investigation revealed that the victim suffered from signs of malnutrition and physical abuse and had been deceased for a few hours,” police officials said at the time.  LAPD Detective Abel Munoz testified that Pinzon was “hysterical” and hyperventilating when he found him at the convenience store. NBC Los Angeles reported that, according to Pinzon’s testimony, he had moved in with Aguilar and her oldest two children in 2005. Yonatan and a sister arrived from Mexico in 2007 and 2008, Pinzon testified, according to the news station. Pinzon and Aguilar married in 2014. Munoz testified that when he and other officers went to the family’s home, they found Aguilar walking on the street, carrying a small dog, the NBC affiliate said. “She was very calm and she had, like, a blank stare on her face,” Munoz testified. Munoz said he initially thought the dead child was much younger after unwrapping the blanket found around his thin body.  “I saw a very gaunt, frail-looking child who, at that time, to me looked like a 5-, 6-, or 7-year-old boy,” the detective said, according to ABC7.  The Times reported that court documents show the boy’s body was covered in pressure sores from lying on the tile floor of the closet, which was so small he could not stretch his legs out. He had foam coming from his nose and medicine measuring cups containing traces of pink and red liquids were found near his body. Yonatan was also going bald, the documents say.  The Los Angeles County Medical Examiner-County Coroner’s Office found that the boy, who weighed less than half of what a typical 11-year-old weighs, ultimately died of the combined effects of multiple drugs. According to court records and testimony in this week’s hearing, Aguilar was dosing Yonatan with alcohol-based cough medicine and sleeping aids to keep him quiet.  A doctor who specializes in pediatric child abuse testified that Yonatan was severely malnourished and chronically dehydrated over the span of several years and had grown just two inches since the age of about 7. “He was deprived of food for a very long time,” Dr. Janet Arnold-Clark said. ‘Purple jarabe’ Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services records indicate that the day before Yonatan died, Pinzon went to a dollar store to buy school supplies for his wife’s other three children. She asked him to buy purple jarabe, or “syrup” in Spanish, the Times reported.  “He said that any time he would go to the store, the mother would ask him to bring the syrup,” DCFS records reviewed by the Times allege. “He would ask her why she was buying syrup if they did not have money.” Testimony further indicated that Aguilar and her other three children managed to keep Yonatan’s presence in the closet a secret for the entire three years he was hidden away. Court documents obtained by the Times showed that the boy’s siblings, two of whom slept on a bed just outside the closet where he was hidden, knew he was there, but were told by their mother to keep quiet.  The oldest child slept in a shed in the backyard of the one-bedroom house on Santa Ynez Street, court documents allege. Aguilar and Pinzon slept in the living room.  Yonatan’s siblings were 14, 16 and 18 at the time of his death, according to the Times. Two of the children testified in court this week that they saw their brother in the days before he died, eating and looking healthy. Superior Court Judge M.L. Villar, who presided over Aguilar’s preliminary hearing, said the children’s testimony was not credible, the newspaper reported.  Pinzon testified Aguilar told him three years before Yonatan died that she had sent the boy, the youngest of her children, to Mexico for treatment of his medical and behavioral issues, the Times reported.  Pinzon, who testified through interpreters, told the court that his wife spoke often of sending Yonatan to Mexico for treatment because working with U.S.-based psychologists had not helped his behavior. According to ABC7, Pinzon said his wife was an undocumented immigrant and felt helpless because her son’s treatment was not working.  “She would cry a lot because she would say she didn’t know what to do,” Pinzon testified, according to the news station.  >> Read more trending news Pinzon said he never saw any sign of his stepson in the house. He testified he worked 18-hour days, from 5 a.m. to about 10 p.m., and slept on the floor separate from his wife and the other children, NBC Los Angeles reported.  The court records reviewed by the Times indicate Aguilar told Pinzon the boy was dead when he came home from work on Aug. 22, 2016. She also asked him to take care of her other children. Pinzon thought she meant she would be going to Mexico to bury her son. Instead, the documents allege, she took him into a bedroom and opened the closet door to show him the boy’s body.  “I took care of the problem by ruining my life,” Aguilar told him, according to the records.  Yonatan’s oldest brother, then 18, told police the family had been at their Echo Park home for a short time before the boy’s death. The Times reported that the teen said his mother was able to keep his brother hidden in a closet at their previous home, as well.  The older brother described Yonatan as a “troublemaker” who was “very smart” and “knew what he was doing.” He accused his deceased brother of acting out in school and pointed to a social worker in the interview. “You guys know about it. He has done so many crazy things,” the teen said, according to the Times.  ‘I’m the only one that cared for him’ DCFS records obtained by the newspaper following Yonatan’s death show child welfare workers were called at least six times with reports of possible abuse and neglect in Aguilar’s home, beginning in 2002, two years before Yonatan was born. According to ABC7, four of the incidents involved Yonatan. Just prior to Yonatan’s final interaction with the agency in 2012, the boy showed up at school with a black eye.  He was also hoarding food, the records show. The Times reported that 2012 was the last time Yonatan attended school in the Los Angeles Unified School District.  Aguilar had told the boy’s therapist that she left him with her mother in Mexico from the time he was an infant to the age of 3, and that she was concerned his food hoarding was because he may have been denied food during that time.  She also tried to deflect blame for scratches found on her son’s face in 2009 by telling police she had heard he was “locked in closets and just treated badly” while he was in Mexico as a toddler, the Times review found.  Villar said in court that Yonatan had apparently not seen a doctor in the four years prior to his death. The judge also said she found Aguilar’s claims to investigators that she planned to take the boy to the doctor prior to his death “self-serving.” “The fact that she medicated him over a prolonged period of time was alarming,” Villar said, according to the Times.  Pinzon never faced charges in Yonatan’s death. The documents obtained by the newspaper show detectives put Pinzon and his wife’s surviving children in a room together to gauge the man’s reaction when he saw them. Pinzon immediately confronted the children about the deception. “How can you do this to me?” Pinzon demanded to know, according to the records.  “You were always at work, so you didn’t know,” one of the children said.  Pinzon began crying, investigators said.  “I carry a photo of him in my wallet,” Pinzon told the children, according to the Times. “I’m the only one that cared for him.”
  • One of two suspects believed to be involved in a shooting in the Baymeadows-area late Wednesday night has now been arrested. According to the arrest report WOKV obtained from the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, the suspect has been identified as 22-year-old Steve Browder III.  His arrest report shows he was taken into custody in the parking lot of the InTown Suites off Baymeadows Way, shortly after the shooting at the Motel 6 on Philips Highway.  In the report, the officer said Browder matched the description of the suspect they had been looking for. Additionally, a witness from the shooting was brought in to see the suspect. What she said is redacted from the report.  WOKV told you early Thursday that two suspects were being sought by police, after a man in his 40's was shot. We're told that his injuries are not life-threatening. Browder’s arrest report shows he’s now facing charges of burglary and armed burglary.
  • Update 3:32 p.m. EDT June 20: Former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore has announced he is running for U.S. Senate in 2020. Original story: Former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore is expected to announce Thursday whether he will be running for the U.S. Senate, a job he lost in a 2017 special election amid allegations of sexual misconduct. Moore said he will make an announcement from Montgomery on Thursday afternoon. The website Politico obtained a copy of a draft email that was expected to be sent to Moore’s supporters earlier this week asking them to attend the event on Thursday to hear the announcement.  'Judge has spoken with most all of you on the phone over the past few weeks and is appreciative of your warm support,' Kayla Moore, Moore’s wife, wrote in the draft note.  'We will be making an official announcement regarding the (Senate) race in Montgomery this Thursday,” the draft memo read. Moore lost a 2017 special election by a narrow margin to Doug Jones, a former federal prosecutor. Jones was the first Democrat elected to the U.S. Senate from Alabama in more than 25 years. The election was held to fill the seat vacated by Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, after Sessions was confirmed as U.S. attorney general. Sessions resigned as attorney general last year. As of yet, he has not said if he is considering running for his former seat. >> Alabama Senate race: Doug Jones defeats Roy Moore U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne, former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville and state legislator Arnold Mooney have all said they will run in the Republican primary for the seat.  If Moore announces he is running, he will likely not be able to count on support from President Donald Trump. Trump, who was once a strong Moore backer, backed off on that support amid allegations of sexual misconduct by Moore. Eight women came forward in 2017 to say Moore had acted inappropriately toward them when they were in their teens and he was in his 30s. He has denied the allegations.  Last month, Trump tweeted that Moore “probably won’t” win the race. He also said he “had nothing against” Moore. Moore has also taken to Twitter, slamming Republican Sen. Richard Shelby, of Alabama, on Wednesday by saying that, if Shelby “would have stayed out of the 2017 race, Doug Jones would not be in the Senate now!”
  • An active search is underway for three suspects after a business robbery in Callahan.  The Nassau County Sheriff's Office says the Cyber Center located off US 1 in Callahan was robbed early Thursday morning, at around 2:45 AM.  According to deputies, the three suspects were inside the business playing on the machines. Once all the other patrons left, deputies say the three pulled out handguns and robbed the business clerk, taking $6,500.  The three were seen fleeing in a small, black four-door vehicle.  All three suspects are described as black men, between the ages of 18 and 20-years-old, and 5'9'' feet tall. Two were described as having slender or medium builds, with the other was described as slim.  If you have any information about the robbery or who these suspects are, you're urged to contact the sheriff's office at (904) 548-4034 or First Coast Crime Stoppers at 1-866-845-TIPS.
  • An Alabama sheriff has agreed to plead guilty to federal charges alleging that he kept $400,000 in funds designated to feed the inmates in his custody while defrauding his church by using its food pantry to feed them instead.  Pickens County Sheriff David Eugene Abston, 68, of Gordo, was arrested Friday on seven counts of wire fraud and two counts of filing a false tax return, according to Jay Town, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama.  According to The Tuscaloosa News, Abston resigned Friday. Pickens County Coroner Chad Harless was sworn in as acting sheriff until a new appointment is made by Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey.   >> Read more trending news A plea deal in the case will allow Abston, who served as sheriff for 32 years, to plead guilty to a single count of wire fraud and one count of filing a false tax return, Town said in a news release.  “A sitting county sheriff is alleged to have defrauded a food bank and a church for his personal gain at the expense of the underprivileged that the food bank serves,” Town said. “Our office will continue to aggressively pursue and prosecute public officials who violate the public trust for their own personal gain.” Abston is due in federal court in Birmingham July 23 for a change of plea hearing, court records show. According to a May 29 indictment unsealed Friday, Abston received a set amount of money per day from the state and other government agencies to feed the inmates in the Pickens County Jail, located in Carrollton. The inmates included those awaiting state trials, as well as pretrial federal inmates.  Read former Pickens County Sheriff David Abston’s federal indictment below. Between 2014 and 2018, he received more than $400,000 for that purpose.  “During that same period, Abston -- like many sheriffs in Alabama -- had a practice of keeping for himself any food allowance money that he did not spend to feed inmates,” the news release said. While receiving the government funds to feed Pickens County’s inmates, Abston talked leaders at Highland Baptist Church of Gordo, where he was a member, into allowing him to set up a bank account to establish a church food pantry, in partnership with the West Alabama Food Bank. According to Town, the Tuscaloosa-based food bank collects donations of food and distributes it to its partners, which include churches, food pantries and soup kitchens in nine of Alabama’s western counties.  “The criteria for a church’s partnering with WAFB include a requirement that the church use the food it receives solely to serve the ill, needy or infants,” Town’s news release said. “In turn, WAFB provides food to its partner agencies for a nominal fee to help cover the costs of food maintenance and storage.” The indictment against Abston states that he set up the account for the food pantry, assigning himself as the sole signatory for the account. Between 2014 and 2018, he wrote more than $50,000 in checks from his own bank account to that of the church food pantry.  In turn, he wrote more than $50,000 in checks from the food pantry account to the food bank in exchange for food. Abston used a significant portion of that food to feed the inmates at the jail -- not the ill, needy or infants, as the food bank’s policy required, the indictment states.  He was charged with filing false tax returns because he failed to report all of his income for the 2015 and 2016 tax years, Town said.   Read former Pickens County Sheriff David Abston’s plea agreement below. As part of his plea agreement, Abston agreed to immediately resign from his position as sheriff of Pickens County, court records show. He also agreed to pay restitution to the victims, as determined by the court at sentencing.  He also agreed to pay restitution for taxes due for 2015 and forfeit a total of more than $51,000.  Abston faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 on the wire fraud charge. The false tax return charge comes with a maximum of three years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.  Harless, who was sworn in as sheriff as soon as Abston resigned Friday, told the News one of his first priorities in his new office would be to call for an audit of the department’s finances.  “To make sure the public knows what’s going on and we’re not trying to hide anything,” Harless told the newspaper.  Abston is not the first Alabama sheriff to face scrutiny in recent years over taking advantage of the state law allowing sheriffs to pocket excess funds from jail feeding coffers. Last year, former Etowah County Sheriff Todd Entrekin became known nationwide as the “Beach House Sheriff” after an AL.com investigation into his department’s finances showed that, over three years, Entrekin had kept more than $750,000 worth of local, state and federal funds allocated to feed inmates in the Etowah County Jail, located in Gadsden.  Entrekin and his wife bought a beach house in Orange Beach in September 2017 worth $740,000.  Entrekin, who lost his bid for reelection in November, found himself under federal and state investigation last summer over his pocketing of the funds, AL.com reported.   While Alabama law allowed Entrekin to keep excess funds, lawyers and law professors told the news site in December that the former lawman likely broke federal law by keeping the jail food money.  The Alabama Legislature has since passed a law prohibiting sheriffs from keeping funds set aside to feed state inmates. 

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