- Police arrested Louisiana Pastor Tony Spell for aggravated assault after a video showed him backing a church bus just a few feet before a protester.
- A parishioner who swerved his truck towards the same individual later that day is also facing an assault charge.
- Spell denies any wrongdoing and claims the protester has hurled obscenities and lude gestures at church women and children for weeks, however, the man says he has been peacefully protesting since Easter Sunday.
- Spell is the same pastor who was charged with six misdemeanors counts in March for consistently hosting large services at Life Tabernacle Church.
Who is Tony Spell?
Louisiana megachurch Pastor Tony Spell has found himself in trouble with the law once again, this time after police reviewed video of him backing a church bus towards a protester.
Spell has made headlines in recent weeks for consistently defying coronavirus stay-at-home orders to hold large worship services at Life Tabernacle Church. You may also recognize him as the pastor who directed his followers to give their stimulus checks to evangelists, missionaries, and ministers.
In March, Spell was hit with six misdemeanor counts for violating Governor John Bel Edwards’ order against mass gatherings. He even posted a video of that exchange on YouTube, which shows him blessing the two officers who served him.
On Tuesday, local police arrested Spell again after issuing a warrant for him over the Sunday bus incident. This time, Spell is facing an aggravated assault charge which carries a maximum sentence of six months in prison.
Video and Protester’s Account
According to police, Spell was driving the church bus and backed it up on the shoulder of the road, stopping just a few feet before a protester who local reporters identified as Trey Bennett.
Bennett told WAFB-TV, “At first I thought he [Spell] was just turning around his bus and was going to pull away, but he just kept coming in reverse.”
“I could see him [Spell] driving the bus. He was honking his horn loudly at me and making gestures suggesting he was yelling while he was driving. It didn’t seem real until it was physically in my face with a bus,” Bennett added.
Central Police Chief Roger Corcoran said Spell “was trying to intimidate the protester.”
A parishioner at the church who police identified as Nathan Thomas is also facing an aggravated assault charge. Surveillance footage shows Thomas swerving his vehicle towards the same protester hours later.
Bennett described that incident as well, saying “And he [man in white truck] was going very fast. He just pulled over at me and turned into the church. That was much faster than what Tony Spell was doing when he drove the bus at me.”
Spell Denies Wrongdoing
Spell for his part has argued that he and Thomas did nothing wrong. He says the video will exonerate him and he has retained former Alabama chief justice Roy Moore as one of his lawyers.
Another one of his attorney’s Joseph Long, said Tuesday that Spell would be vindicated because, “A fair viewing of the video will prove that Spell did not attempt to run over the protester, and the protester did not feel threatened, as he never moved when the bus came near.”
Spell told WAFB-TV on Monday that he was actually just going to go talk to the protester, “That man has been in front of my church driveway for three weeks now.”
“He shoots people obscene finger gestures and shouts vulgarities.”
“I was pulling in from my bus route, picking up black children who haven’t eaten because of this sinister policy that has closed schools,” the pastor continued. “I was going to approach this gentleman and ask him to leave.”
Spell told a similar story to The New York Times, adding that the man had been outside his church for the past 36 days and that law enforcement had not responded to the church’s complaints about him.
Spell claimed that Bennett’s verbal harassment was directed at his wife, children, and “hundreds of other women” who attend the church. He even accused Bennett of “immoral crotch-grabbing” directed at those same people.
“After I parked my bus, I said to myself this is a waste of time, rehearsing the scripture ‘cast not thy pearl before swine,’ I then pulled away from the protester and parked on my parking lot,” he continued.
When speaking via text to a Washington Post reporter, Spell added, “This is the proudest day of my life to be persecuted for the faith.” When asked whether he considered the specific incident to be an act of faith, he suggested he would block the reporter on his phone.
Bennett Denies Obscene Protesting
Despite Spell’s claims, Bennett denies ever using profanity or obscene gestures. Instead, he says he has been peacefully protesting outside since Easter Sunday.
“I haven’t done anything of the sort. I just stand there with a sign. I don’t say anything to anybody,” Bennett explained.
One of his signs, for example, reads: “CAUTION: Coronavirus incubator. Do not enter. You may die.”
Bennett says he just wants Spell to stop holding services and risking the health of the community. “Just trying to raise awareness so that people will demand that this place [Life Tabernacle] gets closed down,” he said.
According to The Advocate Newspaper, one of Spell’s lawyers was hospitalized after testing positive for COVID-19 on April 14. However, it’s unclear how exactly he contracted the virus and both he and Spell have pointed out that along with church events, the lawyer also regularly went to the grocery store and other public places.
On top of that, a recent coroner’s report showed that an elderly member of Spell’s congregation died of “acute respiratory distress syndrome, pneumonia, and COVID-19.”
Acute respiratory distress syndrome and pneumonia are frequently found in patients who die of coronavirus. Still, Spell called the coroner’s report a lie and said the man died of other medical issues.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (Fox News)
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.