- The GoFundMe campaign that raised funds to build President Donald Trump’s southern border wall began construction over memorial day weekend.
- The group behind it, We Build The Wall, said it built a half-mile-long stretch of the wall in three days.
- On Tuesday, the group said it received a cease and desist from Sunland Park, New Mexico, where the wall is being built.
- The city claims that the group did not receive proper permits, did not have a complete application, and was in violation of city ordinance.
- We Build The Wall claims they have everything they need for construction.
We Build the Wall Starts Construction
We Build The Wall, a privately funded effort to construct a wall on the southern border, was hit with a cease and desist on Tuesday after completing a half-mile of construction.
In December 2018, veteran Brian Kolfage launched a GoFundMe to raise money to build a border wall after President Donald Trump’s plans saw continuous blocks. Kolfage set a goal of one billion dollars for his project.
GoFundMe ended up offering contributors a refund after Kolfage edited his fundraising pitch to say that the funds go to a nonprofit that he founded called We Build The Wall. Still, as of now, the page has raised over 23 million dollars.
Over Memorial Day weekend, the group began construction in Sunland Park, New Mexico. On Monday, Kolfage tweeted that the first segment of the wall was nearly complete, along with a video showcasing the building process.
The wall is being built on private property, which is owned by a brick company. According to We Build The Wall, the nearly half-mile stretch that has been built cost between 6 and 8 million dollars.
Former White House Strategist Steve Bannon, who is now a chairman for We Build The Wall, told CNN that this stretch is meant to connect two separate sections of existing fencing. CNN, however, says they were unable to verify this claim.
Cease and Desist Ordered
On Tuesday, We Build The Wall ran into complications with construction when the City of Sunland Park issued a cease and desist against them. The city claims that the group did not have proper permits to build and says that their construction did not comply with city ordinance.
Sunland Park’s mayor, Javier Perea said that the city was denied access to the site on Thursday. The city then received an application for the wall’s construction on Friday. However, he says those documents were not approved before building.
“The staff has been reviewing those particular documents and have determined that at this point it is incomplete,” Perea said in a press conference on Tuesday. “And that construction on the wall at this point is in violation of city ordinance.”
Mayor Perea also added that the group did not submit a site plan or survey to the city and says that this wall exceeds the six-foot limit Sunland Park allows on wall construction.
New Mexico’s Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham released a statement to the New York Times, criticizing the need for a privately-built wall.
“To act as though throwing up a small section of wall on private land does anything to effectively secure our southern border from human- and drug-trafficking or address the humanitarian needs of the asylum seekers and local communities receiving them — that’s nonsense,” she said. “It takes us farther away from where we all need to be.”
We Build the Wall Responds
We Build The Wall, however, maintains that despite Mayor Perea’s claims, they have followed city rules.
“We Build The Wall has done everything they need to do to be in compliance with all regulations,” they said in a statement to ABC-7 in El Paso.
We’ve had members from Sunland Park city government out to inspect the site and to witness the first concrete pour. We believe this is a last ditch effort to intimidate us from completing this historic project by a local government with a long history of corruption problems.”
Kolfage also took to Twitter to express his frustrations with the cease and desist. He claimed the city had already green-lighted the project.
He then accused the city of having involvement with drug cartels, and brought up the Sunland Park’s history with corruption.
He also claimed that his legal team knew more about city ordinances than the mayor and said that the Trump Administration called The International Boundary and Water Commission to authorize building.
Meanwhile, the donations have continued to pour in. According to Kolfage, the GoFundMe page saw a million dollars in donations in just 24 hours.
Mayor Perea has addressed the accusations of local government corruption by acknowledging the city’s past.
“Yes, there was corruption in the past in the city of Sunland Park, but we maintain clean audits with the city of Sunland Park,” he said to ABC-7. “That image is a whole lot different than it was, six or seven years ago.”
Mayor Perea says that the next step is for this situation to be turned over the courts.
See what others are saying: (ABC-7) (Washington Post) (CNN)
Miami Man Gets 6 Years in Prison After Using COVID Relief Funds To Buy Lamborghini
- A Florida man was sentenced to more than six years in prison after fraudulently obtaining $3.9 million in COVID-19 relief funds and using that money for personal purchases.
- Authorities said David Tyler Hines falsified federal applications to secure loans from the Paycheck Protection Program loans, which were meant to help small businesses struggling during the pandemic.
- After receiving the funds, Hines began blowing it on jewelry, resort stays, dating websites, and even a $318,000 Lamborghini Huracan.
Hines Defrauds Government
A man in Miami, Florida, has been sentenced to more than six years in prison this week for fraudulently obtaining millions of dollars in coronavirus relief funds and using that money for personal expenses.
David Tyler Hines, 29, is accused of falsifying federal applications to secure $3.9 million in Paycheck Protection Program loans, which were meant to help small businesses stay afloat during the pandemic.
The Justice Department claims he actually requested $13.5 million in paycheck protection loans for various companies using false and fraudulent IRS forms last year. At the time, he stated the money would ensure his employees would continue to get paid throughout the state-mandated lockdowns.
According to a federal complaint, however, those employees either never existed or earned only a fraction of what he claimed to pay them.
“Collectively, Hines falsely claimed his companies paid millions of dollars in payroll the first quarter of 2020. State and bank records, however, show little to no payroll expense during this period,” the complaint adds.
Hines Makes Luxury Purchases With Funds
Authorities said that within days of securing the nearly $4 million from the federal government, Hines began blowing it on extravagant personal purchases, including jewelry, resort stays, and a $318,000 2020 Lamborghini Huracan. Two payments totaling $30,000 were also documented as going to “mom,” according to the criminal complaint, while some money also went to dating websites.
Investigators became aware of the scam after the Lamborgini was involved in a hit-and-run incident back in July. The vehicle was ultimately linked back to Hines, which kick-started the investigation.
In February, Hines pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud in connection with the scheme. As part of the sentencing, he was ordered to forfeit the $3.4 million, as well as the Lamborghini
See what others are saying: (Orlando Sentinel) (Complex) (HuffPost)
Trial for 3 Ex-Officers Charged in George Floyd Murder Pushed To March
- A Minnesota judge ruled Thursday that the August trial for three officers charged with aiding and abetting the murder of George Floyd will be postponed until March 2022 so a recently filed federal case can proceed first.
- Ex-officers Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng, and Tou Thao were indicted on federal civil rights charges shortly after Chauvin was convicted of murder and manslaughter by a state jury last month.
- In Thursday’s announcement, the judge also argued the postponement was necessary to create “some distance from all the press that has occurred and is going to occur this summer” regarding Chavuin’s case and upcoming sentencing.
- No date has been scheduled for the federal trial yet, and experts have said it is unclear if it will happen before March 7, the new date set for the state case.
Judge Cahill Postpones Trial
The trial of three former Minneapolis police officers charged for their involvement in the murder of George Floyd will be pushed from August to March 2022, a judge ruled Thursday.
Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng, and Tou Thao were previously facing state charges of aiding and abetting manslaughter and murder, but last week, they were indicted on additional federal civil rights charges.
The federal indictment charges Kueng and Thao with willfully failing to intervene in unreasonable use of force deployed by their fellow former colleague Derek Chauvin, who was convicted of murder and manslaughter last month for kneeling on Floyd’s neck for over nine minutes.
All four ex-officers face charges for failing to provide medical care to Floyd, “thereby acting with deliberate indifference to a substantial risk of harm to Floyd,” according to the indictment.
In his decision, Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill said he moved the Minnesota trial so the federal case could proceed first. Notably, Cahill also cited his desire to create more distance between the state trial and the widely publicized legal proceedings against Chauvin.
“What this trial needs is some distance from all the press that has occurred and is going to occur this summer,” he said in court on Thursday.
A date for the federal trial has not yet been scheduled, it is uncertain if it would happen before March 7, the new date set by Cahill for the state trial.
The decision to file the civil rights charges against Lane, Kueng, and Thao came as surprise to many legal experts as federal indictments are not usually brought until after state cases are concluded.
The move is also unusual because Chauvin had already been convicted of murder in Minnesota. By contrast, the federal government normally only files charges in cases where they believe justice was not served at the state level.
For example, the four officers who were accused of beating Rodney King in Los Angeles in 1991 were only indicted on federal charges after they were acquitted in California.
Uncertainty Around Sentencing
Defense attorneys for Kueng, Lane, and Thao agreed with the judge’s decision, but state prosecutors did not support the delay, a fact that experts said could mean the three former officers are seeking a plea deal.
“One can infer that the defense attorneys are hoping that the federal case will offer lower penalties for their clients and a dismissal of the state charges,” Mark Osler, a former federal prosecutor told the Associated Press.
Under Minnesota law, aiding and abetting is treated the same as the underlying crime. If the ex-officers are convicted, the state’s sentencing guidelines for people without previous criminal histories would recommend prison sentences of 12 and a half years for the murder counts and four years for the manslaughter counts.
Cahill, however, has the flexibility to increase the sentences if he finds aggravating factors, as he did with Chauvin in a ruling Wednesday.
In the decision, Cahill agreed with prosecutors that Chauvin abused his power, acted “particularly cruel” to Floyd, and committed the crime in front of children with at least three other people.
Experts say the judge is likely to give Chauvin a 30-year sentence for the second-degree murder charge, which carries a maximum of 40 years.
See what others are saying: (The Associated Press) (The New York Times) (NPR)
Ohio Will Give 5 People $1 Million for Getting Vaccinated
- Ohio is launching a lottery program that will give five people ages 18 or older $1 million each if they receive at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
- Five vaccinated people between 12 and 17 years old will win full four-year scholarships to one of the state’s public universities under a similar giveaway program.
- Some have criticized the move as a waste and misuse of federal coronavirus relief funds, but others applauded it as a strong effort to boost slumping vaccination rates.
- Gov. Mike DeWine (R) addressed critics on Twitter, writing, “The real waste at this point in the pandemic — when the vaccine is readily available to anyone who wants it — is a life lost to COVID-19.”
Ohio Announces Vaccine Lottery
Several states and cities across the country have been rolling out different incentives to help boost COVID-19 vaccination rates. Some are offering $100 savings bonds, $50 prepaid cards, and even free alcohol, but Ohio’s Republican Gov. Mike DeWine took it a step further Wednesday, saying that five people in his state will each win $1 million for getting vaccinated.
DeWine said that the lottery program, named “Ohio Vax-a-Million,” will be open to residents 18 and older who receive at least one dose. Drawings start May 26 and winners will be pulled from the state’s voter registration database.
The Ohio Lottery will conduct the drawings, but the money will come from existing federal coronavirus relief funds.
Younger people will also have a chance to win something. That’s because DeWine said five vaccinated people between 12 and 17 years old will be eligible to win a full four-year scholarship to one of the state’s public universities under a similar lottery program. The portal to sign up for that opens May 18.
DeWine Defends Lottery
Reactions to the giveaway have been mixed. Some echoed statements from State Rep. Emilia Sykes, the top House Democrat, who said, “Using millions of dollars in relief funds in a drawing is a grave misuse of money that could be going to respond to this ongoing crisis.”
DeWine, however, seems to have anticipated pushback like this.
“I know that some may say, ‘DeWine, you’re crazy! This million-dollar drawing idea of yours is a waste of money,'” he tweeted. “But truly, the real waste at this point in the pandemic — when the vaccine is readily available to anyone who wants it — is a life lost to COVID-19.”
Despite some backlash, a ton of other people have applauded the plan as a smart way to encourage vaccinations across all age groups. So far, about 36%of Ohio’s population has been fully vaccinated — compared with 35% nationally.
Still, the number of people seeking vaccines has dropped in recent weeks, with an average of about 16,500 starting the process last week, which is down from figures above 80,000 in April.