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Elementary school educator gets 60 years for child exploitation


James Verne Russell

GRAND RAPIDS, MICHIGAN—James Verne Russell, 50, a former Michigan teacher and principal, was sentenced to serve 720 months in the Federal Bureau of Prisons for sexual exploitation of two minors. U.S. District Judge Janet T. Neff also imposed lifetime-supervised release should it be necessary. Russell was also sentenced on October 8, 2020 by Muskegon County Circuit Court Judge Annette R. Smedley to 20 to 95 years in the related sexual assault case.

In sentencing Russell to serve 60 years in prison, Judge Neff stated the offense “is about as serious as it gets” because of the extended length of time and “circumstances in which you took advantage of children.” Judge Neff commented that in her thirty-two years as a judge “you think you’ve seen it all” and then “something like this happens.” “You come face-to-face with a human being whose behavior you just can’t understand.” “How you can take a little boy from an awful situation” and “take what little he has away from him.” “There are very few cases that will stick out to me after all these years, but yours will. I promise you.”

Russell was in education for 22 years. He was an elementary school teacher for 16 years and an elementary school principal for six years in the Ravenna and North Muskegon School Districts. In June 2018, a teacher filed a complaint about Russell’s unusual interest in two students.

Russell was suspended by the school district and later resigned. He then moved to Las Vegas and joined the Clark County School District as a fourth grade teacher. Russell came to the attention of law enforcement, in March 2019, when the FBI Las Vegas Child Exploitation Task Force received a CyberTip from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children regarding a recent upload of dozens of images, some depicting child pornography. When confronted by investigators from the FBI Las Vegas and Henderson Police Department, Russell confessed to possessing the pictures. Norton Shores Police and FBI Grand Rapids located and interviewed the victim in Michigan. The victim, identified as Victim 1 in the charges, confirmed that he was the child depicted and that Russell had sexually molested him for years. A search of Russell’s cell phone and computers disclosed numerous other images of child pornography, many of which Russell had produced himself. Further investigation disclosed another boy, identified as Victim 2, who was victimized in 2017, and a third individual who had been sexually abused by Russell beginning in 1996.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office brought federal charges against Russell for the production, transportation, and possession of child pornography. The Muskegon County Prosecutor’s Office charged Russell for the sexual assaults of Victim 1. As part of a joint resolution, Russell pleaded guilty to a sexual assault charge in Muskegon County, and pleaded guilty to two counts of production of child pornography in federal court.

Russell started his career in education in 1996. That same year, he began grooming and sexually assaulting his first victim. Russell volunteered to work with children in many capacities, including as a long-term guardian, babysitter, elementary and middle school basketball coach, lifeguard, camp counselor, and youth ministries assistant at various churches. In its sentencing memorandum, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said, “Russell’s conduct is not one of opportunity or an isolated aberration. His was a deliberate and dedicated career of manipulation and sexual abuse.”

In announcing the sentence, U.S. Attorney Andrew Birge stated, “Russell’s conduct is an abomination. He worked and volunteered his way into the lives of our children, not as a service to our community, but as a means to identify, target, and sexually exploit vulnerable children.

Those who are in a position of trust and sexually abuse children will be held accountable. There is no parole in the federal system. Russell will spend the rest of his life in prison and will never have the chance to molest another child.”

“The FBI is committed to working alongside our law enforcement partners to protect children from being exploited by people like Mr. Russell,” said David G. Nanz, Acting Special Agent in charge of the FBI in Michigan. “He used positions of trust to gain access to vulnerable children, abuse them and record the abuse for his own perverse pleasure. His actions were reprehensible and represent the worst betrayal of innocence and trust imaginable.”

This case is part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative designed to protect children from online exploitation and abuse. The U.S. Attorney’s Office, county prosecutor’s offices, the Internet Crimes Against Children task force (ICAC), federal, state, tribal, and local law enforcement are working closely together to locate, apprehend, and prosecute individuals who exploit children. The partners in Project Safe Childhood work to educate local communities about the dangers of online child exploitation, and to teach children how to protect themselves. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit the following web site: www.projectsafechildhood.gov. Individuals with information or concerns about possible child exploitation should contact local law enforcement officials.

This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Daniel Mekaru and Austin Hakes, in cooperation with the Muskegon County Prosecutor’s Office, and investigated by Henderson (Nevada) Police Department, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, Norton Shores Police Department, FBI in Las Vegas, and WEBCHEX – “West Michigan Based Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking Task Force,” a partnership of FBI, Michigan State Police, and local agencies dedicated to investigating offenses against children.

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Six arrested on federal charge of conspiracy to kidnap the governor


Seven more arrested on state charges related to the plan

Adam Fox, of Grand Rapids,
was one of several arrested
in a plot to kidnap
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

A Grand Rapids man appears to be the ringleader in a plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

United States Attorney Andrew Birge announced last week that six men have been arrested and charged federally with conspiring to kidnap the Governor. According to a complaint filed Tuesday, October 6, 2020, those charged are Adam Fox, of Grand Rapids, MI; Barry Croft, of Delaware; Ty Garbin, of Hartland Township, MI; Kaleb Franks, of Waterford, MI; Daniel Harris, of Lake Orion, MI; and Brandon Caserta, of Canton, MI. The six allegedly conspired to kidnap the Governor from her vacation home in the Western District of Michigan.

Under federal law, each faces any term of years up to life in prison if convicted. 

U.S. Attorney Birge said that “Federal and state law enforcement are committed to working together to make sure violent extremists never succeed with their plans, particularly when they target our duly elected leaders.”

The federal complaint in this case alleges that the FBI began an investigation earlier this year after becoming aware through social media that a group of individuals was discussing the violent overthrow of certain government and law enforcement components. Through confidential sources, undercover agents, and clandestine recordings, law enforcement learned particular individuals were planning to kidnap the Governor and acting in furtherance of that plan. This group used operational security measures, including communicating by encrypted messaging platforms and used code words and phrases in an attempt to avoid detection by law enforcement. 

On two occasions, members of the alleged conspiracy conducted coordinated surveillance on the Governor’s vacation home. Fox and Croft discussed detonating explosive devices to divert police from the area of the vacation home and Fox even inspected the underside of an M-31 highway bridge for places to seat an explosive, according to the complaint. Among other activities, the complaint alleges Fox purchased a taser for use in the kidnapping and that the group successfully detonated an improvised explosive device wrapped with shrapnel to test its anti-personnel capabilities. The FBI and Michigan State Police executed arrests as multiple conspirators met to pool funds for explosives and exchange tactical gear.

“All of us can disagree about politics, but those disagreements should never, ever result in violence,” stated U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider. “The allegations in this complaint are deeply disturbing. We owe our thanks to the men and women of law enforcement who uncovered this plot and have worked so hard to protect Governor Whitmer.”

“These alleged extremists undertook a plot to kidnap a sitting governor,” said Assistant Special Agent in Charge Josh P. Hauxhurst. “Whenever extremists move into the realm of actually planning violent acts, the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force stands ready to identify, disrupt and dismantle their operations, preventing them from following through on those plans.”

The investigation is ongoing. Agents of the Detroit Field Office of the FBI and other members of their Joint Terrorism Task Force, including the Michigan State Police, are conducting the investigation. FBI Agents and JTTF members in the Baltimore Field Office of the FBI, which covers Delaware, are also involved. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Michigan is prosecuting the federal charges. U.S. Attorney’s Offices in the Eastern District of Michigan and Delaware have assisted.

Based on information developed in the investigation, State of Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced the simultaneous arrest of seven other individuals on state charges of providing material support of terroristic activities and of possessing a firearm in the course of that offense.

The suspects, now under arrest, are alleged to have called on the groups’ members to identify the home addresses of law enforcement officers in order to target them; made threats of violence to instigate a civil war leading to societal collapse; and engaged in the planning and training for an operation to attack the state Capitol building and kidnap government officials, including Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. 

Through the efforts of more than 200 state and federal law enforcement officials  – including experts from outside of Michigan – officers executed a series of search warrants and arrest warrants in more than a dozen cities around the state, including, Belleville, Cadillac, Canton, Charlotte, Clarkston, Grand Rapids, Luther, Munith, Orion Township, Ovid, Portage, Shelby Township and Waterford.  

“Michigan law enforcement officers are united in our commitment to rooting out terrorism in any form and we will take swift action against anyone seeking to cause violence or harm in our state,” stated Col. Joe Gasper, director of the Michigan State Police. “Michigan residents can assist us in this mission by speaking up if you see suspicious activity or become aware of someone making threats. No tip is too small; don’t wait until it’s too late. Tips can be submitted confidentially 24/7 online at our website.” 

In total, 19 state felony charges were filed by the Attorney General against seven individuals known to be members of the militia group, Wolverine Watchmen or associates of Wolverine Watchmen. 

The following individuals were charged by Attorney General Nessel as part of the joint law enforcement effort: 

Paul Bellar, 21, of Milford, was arrested in Columbia, South Carolina Wednesday and the Attorney General’s office is working to extradite him to Michigan for arraignment on charges in Jackson County. No court dates have been set. Bellar is charged with: Providing material support for terrorist acts – a 20-year felony and/or $20,000 fine; Gang membership – a 20-year felony, which may be served as a consecutive sentence; and Carrying or possessing a firearm during the commission of a felony; felony firearm – a two-year mandatory prison sentence to be served consecutively.

Shawn Fix, 38, of Belleville, was arraigned in Antrim County. Bond was set at $250,000. Preliminary hearing scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Oct. 28. A probable cause conference has not be scheduled. Fix is charged with: Providing material support for terrorist acts – a 20-year felony and/or $20,000 fine; and  Carrying or possessing a firearm during the commission of a felony; felony firearm – a two-year mandatory prison sentence to be served consecutively.

Eric Molitor, 36, of Cadillac – Arraigned Thursday in Antrim County, with bond set at $250,000, 10 percent. His probable cause conference is set for 1 p.m. Oct. 14, and his preliminary hearing is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Oct. 28. Molitor is charged with: Providing material support for terrorist acts – a 20-year felony and/or $20,000 fine; and Carrying or possessing a firearm during the commission of a felony; felony firearm – a two-year mandatory prison sentence to be served consecutively.

Michael Null, 38, of Plainwell, and William Null, 38, of Shelbyville – Both were arraigned Thursday in Antrim County, with cash bond set at $250,000 each. Both are scheduled for a probable cause conference at 1 p.m. Oct. 14, and preliminary hearing at 1:30 p.m. Oct. 28. Both defendants are each charged with one count of: Providing material support for terrorist acts – a 20-year felony and/or $20,000 fine; and Carrying or possessing a firearm during the commission of a felony; felony firearm – a two-year mandatory prison sentence to be served consecutively.

Pete Musico, 42, and Joseph Morrison, 26, both of Munith – Both were arraigned Thursday in Jackson County, with a cash bond set at $10 million each. Both are scheduled for a probable cause conference at 1 p.m. Oct. 16 and a preliminary hearing at 9:30 a.m. Oct. 21. Both Musico and Munith are charged with:

One count each of threat of terrorism, a 20-year felony and/or $20,000 fine; One count each of gang membership, a 20-year felony that may be served as a consecutive sentence; One count each of providing material support for terrorist acts; and One count each for carrying or possessing a firearm during the commission of a felony; felony firearm – a two-year mandatory prison sentence to be served consecutively. 

More than 200 state and federal law enforcement officials  – including experts from outside of Michigan – were involved in the operation. 

 “I’d like to personally thank the law enforcement officers who participated in yesterday’s arrests and those who have assisted with this investigation throughout the past several months,” Attorney General Nessel said. “Your heroic efforts have left the people of this state safer and the instruments of our government stronger. I know that I speak on behalf of Michiganders everywhere when I say we are forever grateful to you for your actions.” 

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Train derailment mystery


Investigators Working to Solve 25-Year-Old Sabotage of Track That Led to Derailment of Amtrak’s Sunset Limited Passenger Train; $310,000 Reward Available

Amtrak’s Sunset Limited train derailed in rural
Arizona on October 9, 1995.

FBI Seeking Information on Train Derailment

If you have tips or information on the October 9, 1995 derailment of the Sunset Limited, visit tips.fbi.gov or call the FBI’s Phoenix Field Office at (623) 466-1999. A reward of up to $310,000 is available for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the individual(s) responsible for the crime.

Michael Lum was a student at Arizona State University when he learned that a train had mysteriously derailed in rural Arizona on October 9, 1995.

“I woke up and saw it on the news, and I went to class and we talked about it,” Lum recalled.

Twenty-five years later, Lum, a special agent in the Federal Protective Service, is on an FBI task force working to find anyone responsible for the derailment that killed the train conductor and injured dozens more. No one has been arrested, but the FBI continues to investigate.

Amtrak’s Sunset Limited was traveling from El Paso to Los Angeles when, while crossing a bridge, it ran over an altered track in a rural area 70 miles outside of Phoenix. Around 1:35 a.m., the train slowed down as it crossed the track, but momentum and the train’s weight sent it careening into a ravine, Lum said.

The conductor was thrown from the train and died. Of the 258 passengers on the train, 12 had serious injuries, and about 100 had minor injuries.

“There were young children and elderly people on board. Some of the victims said this really ruined their lives—they had PTSD, serious injuries,” Lum said. “These victims were deeply affected.”

The crash site was so rural that investigators and rescuers had a challenging time even reaching the passengers. Makeshift roads were built to get rescuers in and out of the area. And in an era before cell phones and GPS were common, rescue teams formed convoys so they wouldn’t get lost trying to find the victims.

Investigators at the scene at the time found a note claiming responsibility and expressing anti-government sentiment. But investigators have not yet found those responsible.

“This was just six months after the Oklahoma City bombing, it was fresh on everyone’s minds. People were on edge,” Lum said.

The passage of 25 years has not dampened the investigators’ resolve to find the truth. The public regularly calls with tips.

“We’re reexamining evidence with new technology, and the public continues to provide leads that we’re tracking down,” he said.

Lum emphasized that the investigative team is committed to getting justice for the victims, especially the family of the conductor who lost his life.

“The crew and passengers were just innocent people going about their lives. They were minding their own business, sleeping in the middle of the night,” Lum said. “We want to make sure anyone responsible has to answer for this crime.”

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State representative indicted on extortion/bribery charges


The federal grand jury alleges Rep. Larry Inman attempted to sell his vote on the repeal of the state’s prevailing wage law last June and later lied to the FBI

Larry Charles Inman

United States Attorney Andrew Birge announced Wednesday that a federal grand jury charged Larry Charles Inman, of Grand Traverse County, with three crimes: attempted extortion, bribery and lying to an agent of the FBI. Inman is the elected legislator in the Michigan House of Representatives representing the 104th District in the State of Michigan.

Specifically, Inman is accused of soliciting money via text messages he sent between June 3-5, 2018, to a labor union, the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights (MRCCM), in exchange for voting “no” on the 2018 legislative initiative petition to repeal Michigan’s prevailing wage law. The MRCCM did not respond, as Inman allegedly requested. Inman ultimately voted “yes” on June 6, 2018, to repeal the law, and the Michigan House repealed the law by a vote of 56 to 53. 

The indictment includes the text messages allegedly from Inman to union representatives in the days before the vote, one of which Inman concludes by stating “we never had this discussion.” (See below.)

The grand jury alleges that Inman committed the crime of attempted extortion by using his authority as an elected representative, namely his authority to vote on the petition to repeal the prevailing wage law, to seek to obtain money from the MRCCM with the union’s consent. If convicted of this offense, Inman faces up to 20 years in prison.

The grand jury also alleges Inman solicited a bribe by corruptly soliciting a political campaign contribution of money in exchange for something worth $5,000 or more, namely his vote on the petition to repeal the prevailing wage law. If convicted of this offense, Inman faces up to ten years in prison.

The grand jury further alleges that, when an FBI agent later asked Inman about his solicitation, Inman knowingly made a false statement to the agent denying he had any such communications. If he is convicted of this offense, Inman faces up to five years in prison.

The Lansing office of the FBI is investigating this case. The names of those not accused of a crime, such as witnesses, are redacted from the indictment. And the public is reminded that an indictment contains only charges and is not evidence of guilt. A defendant is presumed innocent and is entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

A date for Inman’s arraignment has not yet been scheduled.

On June 3, Inman sent this text message to a MRCCM labor union rep:

“Hi [Person A], I hear the prevailing wage vote may be on Wenesday. In my opinion, We all need some more help! Carpenters have been good to me, where are the rest of the trades on checks? We only have 12, people to block it. You said all 12 will get $30,000 each to help there campaigns. That did not happen, we will get a ton of pressure on this vote. [Person B and Person

C] will go to the longest neck hold on this one. I have heard most got $5,000, not $30,000. Its not worth losing assignments and staff for $5,000, in the end. They will give you the check back. I am not sure you can hold 12 people for the only help of $5,000. My suggestion is you need to get people maxed out, on Tuesday, I will do my best to hold. [Person C] will pull assignments for next term on this vote. You have no idea the pressure on this one for [Person B’s state] race , to pull this off for the tea party. People will not go down for $5,000, not that we don’t appreciate it. Please get with the all the trades by Monday, I would suggest maxing out on all 12, or at least doubling what you have given them on Tuesday, asap, we never had this discussion, Larry”

He sent the same or a similar message the same day to a lobbyist in Lansing that had been hired by MRCCM.

On June 4, Inman sent another text to the MRCCM labor union rep: “I will text you tomorrow to make sure we have a solid 12 no votes to block prevailing wage , Larry”

And on June 5, he sent another text to the same labor union rep: “Hi [Person A], how are you! I have Breakfast event on Wed morning at Karobe , Governors room, 7:30am to 9am, hope you can make it 🙂 and see if there are checks you can get, thanks! Larry Inman”

MRCCM gave no further campaign contributions after the June 3 text.

The House voted on the prevailing wage law on June 6, and Inman voted “yes” to repeal the prevailing wage law.


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Sexual assault kit initiative


What testing backlogged sexual assault kits is teaching law enforcement about the crime

“When you test so many kits at the same time, you can see how much serial offending is going on.”

—Rachel Lovell, 
senior research associate, 
Case Western Reserve University.

From the FBI

The effort to address a backlog of sexual assault kits nationwide has led to tens of thousands of long-shelved kits being tested over the last several years. The FBI Laboratory alone tested more than 3,600 kits in a four-year effort to assist state and local agencies.

Photo courtesy of the Bureau of Justice Assistance Sexual Assault Kit Initiative

The work being done to inventory and test the evidence kits is one part of the story. The other part is what has been discovered about the serial nature of many sexual offenders as thousands of cases are added into the FBI’s national DNA and violent crime databases.

As we mark April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the findings offer important insights into the nation’s most underreported violent crime.

Sexual assault kits are created when a victim reports an assault to authorities and consents to allowing a trained nurse or physician to gather physical evidence from his or her body and clothing.

These kits may end up sitting untested by labs or not submitted for testing for a number of reasons, according to Angela Williamson, senior forensic policy adviser with the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), which is leading the sexual assault kit initiative.

Many jurisdictions have backlogs going back to the decades before DNA profiling was well developed. Still other kits have gone untested due to limited law enforcement and lab resources, victims withdrawing from the process, or a lack of training and understanding among law enforcement personnel.

BJA awarded $159 million in grants for the kit initiative between 2015 and 2018 to dozens of state and local jurisdictions; the agency will award another $48 million in grants this year to continue to chisel away at the problem.

Since 2015, the program has inventoried 61,134 kits and sent 44,952 for testing. Of the 39,565 kits that could be tested to completion, 13,521 produced a DNA profile of high enough quality that it could be entered into the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) forensic database.

When the 13,521 kits were entered into CODIS, 6,366 matched to an entry already there. A CODIS entry is only created when an individual or his or her DNA is linked to an alleged crime.

The FBI Laboratory tested 3,610 kits and uploaded 1,965 entries into CODIS. “In 829 of those, there was a match to someone in the database or to another sample in the database,” said Heather LaSalle, a forensic examiner with the FBI’s DNA Casework Unit. LaSalle stressed that a hit in CODIS is an investigative lead only, but those leads can connect cases and offenders. 

“When you test so many kits at the same time, you can see how much serial offending is going on,” said Rachel Lovell, a senior research associate at Case Western Reserve University and the lead research partner on the BJA grants received by Ohio’s Cuyahoga County. “We saw serial offenders who are frequently assaulting strangers and nonstrangers,” she added.

The vast majority of sexual assault victims know their assailants, but Lovell stresses that even if the victim names his or her offender, the DNA is still worth taking and testing. “Someone’s known offender could be someone else’s unknown offender,” said Carey Aldridge, the coordinator of Kentucky’s sexual assault kit initiative.

One kit submitted to the FBI Lab by the Everett (Washington) Police Department in 2016 linked the DNA gathered from the victim to the host of a 2010 holiday party at which the woman reported being raped. Two weeks after that report was made, the party host was arrested for assaulting another woman in the restroom of a bar. When the FBI Lab tested the first victim’s kit six years later, the man had already been released from prison after serving time for the second assault.

Another kit the FBI tested in 2017 from a 2011 Fayetteville, North Carolina, case linked the DNA to a man who was in prison for a 2016 kidnapping, robbery, and rape. A kit tested by another lab also linked the man to a 1998 assault. The delay in processing the evidence was devastating and costly.

That cost, in dollars and to lives, is something Kentucky has been working to understand as it tests a state backlog of more than 3,000 kits in response to 2016 legislation. Kentucky and other states are finding that individuals who commit sexual assaults often commit more than one sexual assault–and not only do these offenders often assault more victims, they are often linked to other violent and/or property crimes.   

The Kentucky study found that the cost to society of not testing the kits is far greater than the expense the state would face in fully funding its crime lab. “We know that rapists are often serial criminals,” researchers wrote in the report. “Someone willing to commit violent, intimate crimes against another person poses the highest risk to other persons and property.”

“Our culture for many, many years mischaracterized rape,” said Gretchen Hunt, executive director for the Office of Victim Advocacy with the Kentucky Attorney General’s Office. She added that the assumption was that if it happened in a familiar setting—if it was someone the person knew—that it was somehow less serious. The reality, born out by the data, is that sexual assault is a violent crime, committed by an individual who is likely to be violent again. 

Another powerful tool supporting the effort is the FBI’s Violent Crime Apprehension Program (ViCAP), which can help in cases where there is no DNA or if cases are linked by DNA but there is not yet a name attached. ViCAP allows for agencies to capture descriptions of suspects, vehicle information, incident accounts, and other data that can help connect cases.

Kentucky is one state that has volunteered to enter the information from its sexual assault kits into ViCAP; the BJA program now requires it of grant recipients. Aldridge says using ViCAP is just good policy for Kentucky: “We are a poor state. We don’t have a lot of resources. We are trying to work smarter.”

“One of the most frightening things is that although these data give us a much better picture, it’s just the tip of the iceberg,” said Lovell. “These victims reported and submitted to a sexual assault kit being collected. Two thirds of victims don’t report, and our data suggest that only about half of those who report get a sexual assault kit.”

Experts agree that the primary lesson learned from the backlog is that law enforcement should investigate each incident of reported sexual assault with vigor and care, which requires reform beyond the lab work and data entries.

“It’s not sufficient just to test—departments need to do something with the information and follow up,” said Angela Williamson, the BJA policy adviser. The BJA grants provide as much funding for prosecutions and investigations as they do for testing. The grants also require that recipients institute organizational changes to prevent the backlog from building up again. In addition, agencies nationwide are embracing the need for first responders to be better trained in sexual assault response, how victims respond to trauma, and how to institute a victim-centered approach in every step of an investigation.

“It’s great to see so many jurisdictions saying, ‘We may not have done this the best way before, but we are doing something about it now,’ ” said Lovell. “Such change is happening,” echoed Williamson.

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Suspicious package at courthouse


The Kent County 63rd District Court was on lockdown for about three hours on Monday, May 14, after a suspicious package was found.

According to the Kent County Sheriff Department, they responded to the courthouse shortly after 9 a.m. Deputies were directed to an envelope that was received through the US Postal Service that contained an unknown powdery substance.

The FBI and the Grand Rapids Fire Department Hazmat Team also responded to the courthouse and assisted in assessing the extent of the threat, as well as containment of the unknown substance. As a precautionary measure, the courthouse was locked down for a period of approximately three hours until it was determined that the substance had been contained and was not a threat to anyone inside or outside of the building. There were no symptoms of exposure reported by anyone.

The investigation is ongoing, and additional testing will be conducted to determine exactly what the substance is. Anyone with information about this situation is encouraged to call the Kent County Sheriff’s Office or Silent Observer at 616-774-2345. 

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Admiral robber caught


Jacob Abraham Savickas

By Judy Reed

The man who robbed the Cedar Springs Admiral gas station and a string of other businesses here in Michigan and Ohio (including two banks) is now in custody at the Kent County Correctional Facility.

According to the Kent County Sheriff Department, Jacob Abraham Savickas, 33, was arrested without incident on Wednesday, August 9, at a local hotel, by the FBI Fugitive Task Force. He was lodged at the jail on several warrants, including bank robbery, larceny from a person, fleeing and eluding a police officer, parole absconder, and being a habitual offender.

Savickas started his crime spree Wednesday, July 26, when he is suspected of an unarmed robbery of the J&H Mobil gas station at 4404 Clyde Park Ave., Wyoming. He then robbed the Admiral gas station on the corner of Main and Muskegon Street in Cedar Springs the next day, Thursday, July 27. According to the Kent County Sheriff Department, the robbery occurred about 9:22 a.m. The clerk told police that a white male in his late 20s came in and demanded money. He was described as wearing a white shirt, blue baseball cap, and having facial hair.

Police found him at the rest stop on US-131 near 10 Mile Rd., but after a brief foot chase, he got back into his car and sped away. Police pursued him, but terminated the chase on 10 Mile Rd. The Admiral clerk had reportedly told police that he had a small child with him.

Savickas drove to Indiana later that day, and is suspected of robbing two more gas stations that day in South Bend—the Marathon gas station on W. Western Ave, and Low Bob’s, 4505 N. Ameritech Dr.

The next day, Friday, July 28, Savickas is suspected of committing an unarmed bank robbery at the Beacon Credit Union, 820 North Broadway, in Peru, Indiana. On Tuesday, August 1, Savickas was back in Michigan, and is suspected of robbing the Next Door Food Store at 4616 Alpine Ave., N.W., where he struck the clerk with his vehicle. He is also suspected of robbing the Independent Bank, 3090 Plainfield Av NE on Wednesday morning August 2.

Savickas was previously convicted in 2015 of retail fraud, first degree. He was arrested after he tried to steal plasma cutters from Family Farm and Home in Cedar Springs. Employees recognized him at the time as someone who previously stole welders and interrupted the theft of the plasma cutters. He fled but was arrested and held on six charges, several for retail fraud at other locations. He was sentenced to a minimum of one year and a maximum of five years in prison. His record on the Michigan Corrections website shows him listed as a parole absconder as of July 6.

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Police seek suspect in robberies


The Admiral Gas Station, 194 S. Main, in Cedar Springs, was robbed on Thursday, July 27. Post photo by J. Reed.

Jacob Abraham Savickas is suspected of robbing a string of businesses in Michigan and Indiana.

By Judy Reed

Police are asking for the public’s to help to locate the man wanted for a string of robberies in Michigan and Indiana, including the robbery Thursday, July 27, of the Cedar Springs Admiral gas station.

Savickas is driving this blue Oldsmobile Intrigue.

Police are looking for Jacob Abraham Savickas, 33. He is described as a white male, 5 feet 10 inches, 170 pounds, with short brown hair and a beard. He is driving a blue/purple Oldsmobile Intrigue 4D, Michigan plate DNL1257. He reportedly has family in the Howard City area.

If anyone sees him or knows where he is, please call the Kent County Sheriff Department at 616-632-6125, or Silent Observer at 616-774-2345.

Savickas started his crime spree last Wednesday, July 26, when he is suspected of an unarmed robbery of the J&H Mobil gas station at 4404 Clyde Park Ave., Wyoming. He then robbed the Admiral gas station on the corner of Main and Muskegon Street in Cedar Springs the next day, Thursday, July 27. According to the Kent County Sheriff Department, the robbery occurred about 9:22 a.m. The clerk told police that a white male in his late 20s came in and demanded money. He was described as wearing a white shirt, blue baseball cap, and having facial hair.

Police found him at the rest stop on US-131 near 10 Mile Rd., but after a brief foot chase, he got back into his car and sped away. Police pursued him, but terminated the chase on 10 Mile Rd. The Admiral clerk had reportedly told police that he had a small child with him.

Savickas drove to Indiana later that day, and is suspected of robbing two more gas stations that day in South Bend—the Marathon gas station on W. Western Ave, and Low Bob’s, 4505 N. Ameritech Dr.

The next day, Friday, July 28, Savickas is suspected of committing an unarmed bank robbery at the Beacon Credit Union, 820 North Broadway, in Peru, Indiana. On Tuesday, August 1, Savickas was back in Michigan, and is suspected of robbing the Next Door Food Store at 4616 Alpine Ave., N.W., where he struck the clerk with his vehicle. He is also suspected of robbing the Independent Bank, 3090 Plainfield Av NE on Wednesday morning August 2.

Multiple law enforcement agencies are looking for Savickas, including the FBI.

“We believe this will continue and potentially escalate until Savickas is located and arrested,” said Det. Mike Tanis, with the Kent County Sheriff’s Dept.

Savickas was convicted in 2015 of retail fraud, first degree. He was arrested for trying to steal plasma cutters from Family Farm and Home in Cedar Springs. Employees recognized him at the time as someone who previously stole welders and interrupted the theft of the plasma cutters. He fled but was arrested and held on six charges, several for retail fraud. He was sentenced to a minimum of one year and a maximum of five years in prison. His record on the Michigan Corrections website shows him listed as a parole absconder as of July 6.

Current warrants out for him include parole absconder, two counts of larceny from a person, and fleeing and eluding.

The last time the Admiral Gas station in Cedar Springs was robbed was four years ago. It was robbed once in 2010; once in 2011; twice in 2012; and once in 2013.

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Credit card skimmer found at local gas station


_N-Credit-card-Skimmer_file-photoOn Saturday, March 19, 2016, state and federal regulators and various law enforcement agencies conducted a full-scale gas pump blitz across Michigan as part of the ongoing efforts to crackdown on consumer credit card information being hacked by credit card skimmers.

The Kent County Sheriff Department participated in the sweep that was coordinated by the Department of Agriculture and partnered with the FBI. Michigan State Police, and other Sheriff Departments in several counties. During the sweep, a credit card skimmer was found a pump at the Citgo gas station, located on 17 Mile and White Creek, in Cedar Springs. The skimmer was collected by the Kent County Sheriff Department and turned over to the FBI.

Due to the skimmer being proactively located, it is believed that several people were protected from credit card fraud, as the unknown suspect(s) were unable to retrieve the information contained on the skimmer,” said Sgt. Jason Kelley, with Sheriff Department’s Cedar Springs unit.

During Saturday’s blitz, which took officials from Grand Rapids to Saginaw to Lansing to the U.P. to Detroit and Traverse City, three credit card skimming devices were removed and confiscated and more than 3,000 pumps were checked. The other two skimmers were found at gas stations in Howell, Michigan.

These blitzes make it clear to these cyber-criminals we’re actively looking for skimming devices – not just during the traditional work week – but on weekends too,” said Jamie Clover Adams, MDARD Director. “Credit card skimmers will not be tolerated and Michigan’s Weights and Measures inspectors, gas station owners, and law enforcement will continue to be on the hunt for skimmers to protect the state’s consumers from fraud.”

Credit card skimmers can’t be seen from outside the pump. Criminals use keys to quickly open the pumps, insert the skimmers and leave. Skimmers can be installed in seconds. The skimmers then make a copy of the consumer’s card information for criminals to make fraudulent purchases.

Some steps station owners can take to protect their patrons are changing locks, using tamper-proof security tape, and adding security cameras. Additionally, owners should also be increasing their dispenser inspections, and be more aware of these attacks,” said Clover Adams.

Jennifer Holton, with the MDARD, said that checking for skimmers has been an everyday practice since August 2015, but occasionally they do a blitz. “Not only do we check the quality of the gasoline, but we check for skimmers, too,” she explained.

Holton said that if something seems off at the pump, go inside to pay, and alert the cashier if you see something off. You should also regularly monitor your credit and debit card info to make sure you recognize purchases. “Immediately notify your banking institution if you notice something that shouldn’t be there,” she said.

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Former credit union manager sentenced for embezzlement


 

Kathryn Sue Simmerman Embezzled Almost $2 Million From Shoreline Federal Credit Union 

A Muskegon woman will serve time in prison for stealing money from a Norton Shores credit union.

According to United States Attorney Patrick Miles Jr.,  Kathryn Sue Simmerman, 55, of Muskegon, Michigan, was sentenced to 78 months (six and a half years) in federal prison Monday, January 4, for embezzling $1.9 million from her former employer, Shoreline Federal Credit Union. She was also ordered to pay $1.9 million in restitution and serve two years of court supervision following her release from prison. U.S. District Judge Robert Holmes Bell imposed the sentence. He remanded Simmerman to prison immediately after issuing the sentence.

For more than 15 years, Simmerman embezzled $1,945,000 from Shoreline by removing cash from its vault and placing it in her purse. She deposited some of the cash into Shoreline accounts she controlled, and took the remainder of it home to spend on her own use and enjoyment. She hid her activity by manipulating Shoreline’s books and records.

The case was investigated by the Norton Shores Police Department and Special Agents from the FBI and IRS. It was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Clay Stiffler.

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