District Attorney Defends 10-Month Sentence for Cancer Patient Over $109 Theft
- Ashley Menser, a 36-year-old Pennsylvania woman with advanced cancer, was sentenced to at least 10 months in prison for stealing $109 worth of groceries from a Weis Markets store.
- Upon hearing of the case, Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman wrote a series of tweets condemning the court for their decision.
- District Attorney Pier Hess Graf responded to the criticism, saying Menser’s sentence was based on her extensive criminal record that Fetterman did not mention in his tweets.
- Fetterman still plans to urge Weis Markets to publically back the reconsideration of Menser’s sentence.
A Pennsylvania district attorney defended the 10-month sentence of a cancer patient who stole $109 worth of groceries after facing criticism from another local official.
Ashley Menser, 36, who is battling uterine cancer as well as cervical cancer, pleaded guilty to the 2018 crime she committed at a Weis Markets store in Lebanon, Pennsylvania. She was ultimately sentenced for the crime on January 22 of this year. Her sentence was especially crushing for her family, as they claimed Menser’s sickness has reached a critical level.
Stephanie Bashore, Menser’s mother, told The New York Times that her daughter is in need of surgery to remove her uterus and the tissue surrounding it. Bashore said that a medical professional recently told Menser, “If you don’t get this done, you will die. It is eating you up inside.”
Bashore also told the Times that on the day of her daughter’s sentencing, she had a medical appointment scheduled to discuss options moving forward.
Menser’s lawyer, Scot Feeman, conceded that the sentencing was aligned with his client’s criminal history, though he still expressed disappointment. He told The New York Times that Menser has a history with opioid use but has been clean for a while.
Feeman also told the newspaper that Menser had been on powerful psychiatric medication to help her manage her post-traumatic stress disorder, which was partly induced by the death of her child.
“With the psychiatric medicine, she has trouble discerning what’s real and what’s not,” Feeman told the Times.
“She is in a lot of pain, and very ill,” Feeman added. “She’s very concerned about her health prospects going forward.”
Feeman had asked the judge to consider punishing Menser with house arrest so she could continue to receive treatment at the Penn State Cancer Institute, but the court rejected the notion based on her past crimes.
Lieutenant Governor’s Response
When John Fetterman, the lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania, read about Menser’s case in a PA Post article, he expressed his disbelief and disapproval of the sentencing on Twitter.
“If the underlying details of this are accurate, this cannot be allowed to continue,” Fetterman wrote on Friday.
He also offered to personally compensate Weis Markets $109 for the groceries that Menser stole from their store.
District Attorney Weighs In
Pier Hess Graf, the Lebanon County district attorney, issued a statement on Saturday defending the decision of the court in Menser’s case after Fetterman drew much public attention to it. She wrote that Menser’s sentence reflected her extensive criminal record, including 13 prior theft convictions and welfare fraud.
Graf also noted that Menser refused treatment for her sickness on her own, according to a document submitted by her own defense team in 2019.
“Our Lieutenant Governor found it appropriate to criticize the Court and the victim,” Graf wrote. “He went so far as to offer a personally delivered check for the underlying amount to the victim to absolve the defendant of her crime.”
“He failed to mention in any of his tweets, however, the extensive prior record of the defendant, her drug abuse, or the fact that her sentencing ranges — as set forth by the legislature — call for jail time,” Graf added.
Additionally, Graf wrote that “the state system is far more capable of addressing serious health concerns for inmates.”
Feeman has filed a motion for a resentencing of Menser.
Ultimately, Lt. Gov. Fetterman didn’t make a trip to the Lebanon grocery store to hand-deliver a check, though he did maintain his offer to cover the charge of the stolen groceries. He told The New York Times that he hopes to get Weis Markets company heads to support a reconsideration of Menser’s sentence.
“I know they don’t want this. Nobody wants this,” he said. “My hope is to get them on board and say, ‘This has gone far enough,’” Fetterman said.
See what others are saying: (New York Times) (ABC) (Philadelphia Inquirer)
Survey and Census Data Shows Record Number of Americans are Struggling Financially
Americans are choosing not to pursue medical treatment more and more frequently as they encounter money troubles.
A recent federal survey shows that a record number of Americans were worse off financially in 2022 than a year prior.
Coupled with recent census data showing pervasive poverty across much of the country, Americans are forced to make difficult decisions, like foregoing expensive healthcare.
According to a recent Federal Reserve Bureau survey, 35% of adults say they were worse off in 2022 than 2021, which is the highest share ever recorded since the question was raised in 2014.
Additionally, half of adults reported their budget was majorly affected by rising prices across the country, and that number is even higher among minority communities and parents living with their children.
According to recent census data, more than 10% of the counties in the U.S. are experiencing persistent poverty, meaning the area has had a poverty rate of 20% or higher between 1989 and 2019.
16 states report at least 10% of their population living in persistent poverty. But most of the suffering counties were found in the South — which accounts for over half the people living in persistent poverty, despite making up less than 40% of the population.
These financial realities have placed many Americans in the unfortunate situation of choosing between medical treatment and survival. The Federal Reserve study found that the share of Americans who skipped medical treatment because of the cost has drastically increased since 2020.
The reflection of this can be found in the overall health of households in different income brackets. 75% of households with an income of $25,000 or less report being in good health – compared to the 91% of households with $100,000 or more income.
See what others are saying: (Axios) (The Hill) (Federal Reserve)
Montana Governor Signs TikTok Ban
The ban will likely face legal challenges before it is officially enacted next year.
First Statewide Ban of TikTok
Montana became the first state to ban TikTok on Wednesday after Gov. Greg Gianforte (R) signed legislation aimed at protecting “Montanans’ personal and private data from the Chinese Communist Party.”
The ban will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2024, though the law will likely face a handful of legal challenges before that date.
Under the law, citizens of the state will not be held liable for using the app, but companies that offer the app on their platforms, like Apple and Google, will face a $10,000 fine per day of violations. TikTok would also be subject to the hefty daily fine.
Questions remain about how tech companies will practically enforce this law. During a hearing earlier this year, a representative from TechNet said that these platforms don’t have the ability to “geofence” apps by state.
Roger Entner, an analyst at Recon Analytics, told the Associated Press that app stores could have the capability to enforce the restriction, but it would be difficult to carry out and there would be a variety of loopholes by tools like VPNs.
Montana’s law comes as U.S. politicians have taken aim at TikTok over its alleged ties to the CCP. Earlier this year, the White House directed federal agencies to remove TikTok from government devices. Conservatives, in particular, have been increasingly working to restrict the app.
“The Chinese Communist Party using TikTok to spy on Americans, violate their privacy, and collect their personal, private, and sensitive information is well-documented,” Gov. Gianforte said in a Wednesday statement.
Criticism of Montana Law
TikTok, however, has repeatedly denied that it gives user data to the government. The company released a statement claiming Montana’s law “infringes on the First Amendment rights of the people” in the state.
“We want to reassure Montanans that they can continue using TikTok to express themselves, earn a living, and find community as we continue working to defend the rights of our users inside and outside of Montana,” the company said.
The American Civil Liberties Union condemned Montana’s law for similar reasons.
“This law tramples on our free speech rights under the guise of national security and lays the groundwork for excessive government control over the internet,” the ACLU tweeted. “Elected officials do not have the right to selectively censor entire social media apps based on their country of origin.”
Per the AP, there are 200,000 TikTok users in Montana, and another 6,000 businesses use the platform as well. Lawsuits are expected to be filed against the law in the near future.
See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (Fast Company) (CBS News)
How a Disney-Loving Former Youth Pastor Landed on The FBI’s “Most Wanted” List
“Do what is best, not for yourself, for once. Think about everyone else,” Chris Burns’ 19-year-old son pleaded to his father via The Daily Beast.
Multi-Million Dollar Scheme
Former youth pastor turned financial advisor Chris Burns remains at large since going on the run in September of 2020 to avoid a Securities Exchange Commission investigation into his businesses.
Despite his fugitive status, the Justice Department recently indicted Burns with several more charges on top of the $12 million default judgment he received from the SEC.
Burns allegedly sold false promissory notes to investors across Georgia, North Carolina, and Florida. The SEC claims he told the investors they were participating in a “peer to peer” lending program where businesses that needed capital would borrow money and then repay it with interest as high as 20%. Burns allegedly also reassured investors that the businesses had collateral so the investment was low-risk.
The SEC says that Burns instead took that money for personal use.
Burns began his adult life as a youth pastor back in 2007 before transitioning into financial planning a few years later. By 2017, he launched his own radio show, The Chris Burns Show, which was funded by one of his companies, Dynamic Money – where every week Burns would “unpack how this week’s headlines practically impact your life, wallet, and future,” according to the description. He also frequently appeared on television and online, talking about finances and politics.
The SEC alleges that he used his public appearances to elevate his status as a financial advisor and maximize his reach to investors.
His family told The Daily Beast that he became obsessed with success and he reportedly bought hand-made clothes, a million-dollar lakehouse, a boat, several cars, and took his family on several trips to Disney World. His eldest son and wife said that Burns was paying thousands of dollars a day for VIP tours and once paid for the neighbors to come along.
Then in September 2020, he reportedly told his wife that he was being investigated by the Securities Exchange Commission but he told her not to worry.
The day that he was supposed to turn over his business documents to the SEC, he disappeared, telling his wife he was just going to take a trip to North Carolina to tell his parents about the investigation. Then, the car was found abandoned in a parking lot with several cashier’s checks totaling $78,000
FBI’s Most Wanted
The default judgment in the SEC complaint orders Burns, if he’s ever found, to pay $12 million to his victims, as well as over $650,000 in a civil penalty. Additionally, a federal criminal complaint charged him with mail fraud. Burns is currently on the FBI’s Most Wanted list.
Last week, the Justice Department indicted him on several other charges including 10 counts of wire fraud and two counts of mail fraud.
“Burns is charged for allegedly stealing millions of dollars from clients in an illegal investment fraud scheme,” Keri Farley, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta, said in a statement to The Daily Beast. “Financial crimes of this nature can cause significant disruptions to the lives of those who are victimized, and the FBI is dedicated to holding these criminals accountable.”
His family maintains that they knew nothing of Burns’ schemes. His wife reportedly returned over $300,000 that he had given to her.
She and their eldest son, who is now 19, told The Daily Beast they just want Burns to turn himself in, take responsibility for his actions, and try to help the people he hurt.
“Do what is best, not for yourself, for once. Think about everyone else,” Burns’ son said in a message to his father via The Daily Beast.