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Tuesday
Mar212017

Russian mafia boss still at large after FBI wiretap at Trump Tower

Spencer Platt/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — There, indeed, was an FBI wiretap involving Russians at Trump Tower.

But it was not placed at the behest of Barack Obama and the target was not the Trump campaign of 2016. For two years ending in 2013, the FBI had a court-approved warrant to eavesdrop on a sophisticated Russian organized crime money laundering network that operated out of unit 63A in Trump Tower.

The FBI investigation led to a federal grand jury indictment of more than 30 people, including one of the world’s most notorious Russian mafia bosses, Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov. Known as the “Little Taiwanese,” Tokhtakhounov was the only target to slip away, and he remains a fugitive from American justice.

Five months after the April 2013 indictment and after Interpol issued a “red notice” for Tokhtakhounov, the fugitive appeared near Donald Trump in the VIP section of the Moscow Miss Universe pageant. Trump had sold the Russian rights for Miss Universe to a billionaire Russian shopping mall developer.

“He is a major player,” said Mike Gaeta, the FBI agent who led the 2013 FBI investigation of Tokhtakhounov and his alleged mafia money laundering and gambling ring, in a 2014 interview with ABC News. “He is prominent, he has extremely good connections in the business world as well as the criminal world, overseas, in Russia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, other countries.”

Gaeta, who ran the FBI’s Eurasian Organized Crime unit of the FBI’s New York office told ABC News at the time that federal agents were closely tracking Tokhtakhounov, whose Russian ring was suspected of moving more than $50 million in illegal money into the United States.

“Because of his status, we have kept tabs on is activities, and particularly as his activities truly enter New York city,” Gaeta said. “Their money was ultimately laundered from Russia, Ukraine and other locations through Cyprus banks and shell companies based in Cyprus, and then ultimately here to the United States.”

The FBI investigation did not implicate Trump. But Trump Tower was under close watch. Some of the Russian mafia figures worked out of the 63rd floor unit in the iconic skyscraper — just three floors below Trump’s penthouse residence — running what prosecutors called an “international money laundering, sports gambling and extortion ring.”

The Trump building was home to one of the top men in the alleged ring, Vadim Trincher who pleaded guilty to racketeering and received a five-year prison term. He is due to be released in July.

“Everything was moving in and out of there,” said former FBI official Rich Frankel, now an ABC News consultant.

“He would have people come in and meet with them. He would use the phones. He would also communicate, wither it was through e-mail or other communications through there,” Frankel said of Trincher. “His base of operations was in the Trump Tower.”

In court papers, the FBI described two years of intercepts of phone conversations and text message exchanges of the key figures in the gambling ring.

“Mr. Vladim Trincher was on one occasion intercepted speaking with a customer of the gambling operation who owed a debt of $50,000,” one court document stated. Trincher told the gambler about an enforcer who works with him named Maxin. On the recording, Trincher “threatens the customer that Maxin would come and find him, would come and find the money, and that he should be careful, lest he be tortured and lest he wind up underground.”

Last Fall, a Trump Organization spokesman told ABC News that Russians did not represent a disproportionate share of residents in Trump properties. Federal agents confiscated a total of four units in connection with the poker ring — two in New York and two in Sunny Isles, Florida.

ABC News conducted a review of hundreds of pages of property records and reported in September that Trump-branded developments catered to large numbers of Russian buyers, including several who had brushes with the law. Russian buyers were particularly drawn to Trump licensed condo towers in Hollywood and Sunny Isles, Florida. Local real estate agents credited the Russian migration for turning the coastal Miami community into what they called “Little Moscow.”

Organization lawyer Alan Garten told ABC News at the time that the firm did not track the nationality of buyers and that the company rarely plays a role in recruiting buyers — a job typically left to developers who buy rights to use the Trump name. Neither Garten nor the Trump Organization spokeswoman Amanda Miller responded this week to questions from ABC News about the 2013 poker raid.

Nor did they respond to questions about Tokhtakhounov, who, despite Interpol’s international “Red Notice,” is regularly seen in Moscow at popular restaurants and other public places. The poker case was not the first to target Tokhtakhounov. He had been indicted years earlier in the United States, accused of pay bribes to Olympic judges so that Russian figure skaters would win gold medals.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Mar212017

Kansas father arrested in shooting death of teenage son

iStock/Thinkstock(WICHITA, Kan.) — A Kansas man was arrested on second-degree murder charges in the shooting death of his teenage son, police officials said Monday.

Glen Farrow, 41, was arrested after he allegedly shot and killed his 17-year-old son, Michael Farrow, during an argument on Sunday, the Wichita Police Department said.

"A friend of the victim was with him in the alley and directed officers back to the victim’s house and also informed the officers that the 17-year-old victim’s father was a possible suspect in the case," Wichita Police Department Lt. Todd Ojile said at a press briefing Monday.

Farrow was booked at the Sedgwick County Jail on Monday on second-degree murder charges, Ojile said.

Police said the two were arguing in the front yard of their home in Wichita before the shooting.

"During that argument, a handgun came out. The son basically fled the front yard and ran eastbound," Ojile said. "And as he was running, the father fired several shots, striking and killing his son."

Ojile said the victim may have been shot in the back as he was running away.

Police are still trying to determine what the argument was about, but the victim’s stepmother, Amanda Stoll, said the fight started because of a disagreement over the teenager's school.

She said Farrow was violent with her during their relationship and that she’s filed restraining orders against him, according to ABC News’ Kansas affiliate KAKE.

"I knew Glen was violent," she said in an interview with KAKE on Monday. "But it has always been towards complete strangers, or the female he was involved with."

Stoll, who said she helped to raise to the victim for more than 12 years, is still trying to "cope" with the incident.

"I don't know how to cope with the fact that the man that I loved and married and had children with killed one of our kids," Stoll said. "There is no way this can possibly be worse."

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Mar212017

Trump's US-Mexico border wall gives Arizona town a sense of worry and hope

ABC News(COCHISE COUNTY, Ariz.) — John Ladd has seen just about every incarnation of the border fence separating his cattle ranch in Arizona from Mexico.

His family has owned 16,000 acres of land on the border with Mexico for 120 years, the 61-year-old told ABC News. Before 1927, there was nothing separating the property from Mexico. Then, there was a barbed wire fence built to stop diseases from spreading among cattle, Ladd said. In more recent decades, as concerns shifted from cattle health to border security, a mesh barrier up to 13 feet tall was erected. It was “real easy to climb” and able to be sawed through, Ladd said.

These days, much of the fence by Ladd’s property consists of steel tubing topped with metal placards that stretches nearly 20 feet in the air. There are 29 continuous miles of fencing of various heights that span from the mountains near Ladd’s house to the east of the nearby town of Douglas.

Ladd, like the majority of the voters in this postage-stamp shaped county at the southwest corner of Arizona, voted for Trump. He said he was excited about his presidential bid from the moment Trump descended his golden escalator at Trump Tower to announce his candidacy.

“What he said about Mexico, what he said the problems were with illegal immigration is reality,” Ladd said. “We live here.”

Trump spoke extensively about undocumented immigrants during the presidential campaign, starting as early as his campaign announcement, when he made headlines by saying that some people who come to the U.S. from Mexico are criminals and rapists.

"Somebody that lives in Iowa might not see it like we do every day, but it’s a huge problem. It’s economic. It’s security. And everything that he addressed was absolutely what we’ve been going through down here for 30 years. And that’s what I said, ‘If this guy has the courage to say that and you know it’s not politically correct, I like him,’” he said.

Ladd said he’s seen firsthand what happens when people cross over illegally onto his land.

"The most humanitarian disgrace is we’ve had 14 dead bodies on the ranch and this isn’t very remote,” he said, noting how unlike some other ranches, his property is only a few miles from a public road.

Most of the deaths on Ladd’s property over the past 30 years have been the result of exposure — from the significant temperature swings that come with being in a desert — or dehydration.

"[Initially] there’s a certain amount of compassion, but I’ve lost it,” he said.

Decades of having to deal with regular repairs on his property — caused both by undocumented immigrants and Border Patrol agents — have cost his family. Cut water lines and broken ranch fencing are two problems that Ladd has had to pay to fix repeatedly. Carlos Diaz, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, told ABC News that if there is damage to private property individuals have to fill a damage claim form "to start the claim process."

And beyond the monetary cost, there's an emotional one: at night, he worries people crossing illegally will try to break into his home while his family is sleeping, he said.

Despite his frustrations, Ladd finds himself in a strikingly common situation for many Trump-supporting residents along the border: He doesn’t necessarily agree with Trump on his plan to build — as Trump said on the trail — a “big, beautiful wall,” but he likes that Trump is addressing the topic of border security.

The fact that security problems along the border are getting attention at all is enough to garner Ladd’s support, even if he doesn’t love the solutions that Trump proposes.

"Well, there is places on the [U.S.-Mexico border] that a wall would be useful but our experience here on our ranch is [the fence] hasn’t been functional because there isn’t enough agents patrolling. And I think that a lot of President Trump’s wording is build a wall between Mexico and the U.S. …. It’s a play on words, in my opinion. You know, even though I do believe he’s going to build some wall,” he said.

Some 25 miles east of Ladd’s property is the sleepy town of Douglas.

It’s very clear that the roughly 16,500-person town has seen better and more bustling days in the past: From the main shopping street lined with empty storefronts to the historic Hotel Gadsden, which has a makeshift museum with pictures of the balls that were held in its lobby earlier in the 1900s, the town’s former glory lurks in the background.

But the border crossing remains busy. As the sun rises over the port of entry separating Agua Prieta in Mexico from Douglas, a steady stream of cars comes to the U.S., though the highest traffic area is on the pedestrian walkway. Groups of children walk cross the border, making their daily walk to school an international trip.

The amount of foot and passenger traffic into Douglas every day is sizeable. According to CBP’s records for the 2016 fiscal year, more than 3.8 million people passed through the town’s port of entry either on foot or by car. In March 2016, there were a total of 317,249 people who passed through, which equates to roughly 10,233 people per day. That’s more than half of the town’s population.

“I’m certain there’s a misunderstanding about the importance of legal immigration versus illegal immigration,” said G.T. Bohmfalk, a Douglas resident who voted for Trump and owns a saddle shop on the town’s main street.

“Every day, people come across this border and they’re legal entrants into the United States. They have shopping cards or visas or whatever and they come across that border through the port of entry. There is nothing in the world wrong with that and there’s only positives to be gained by that. Because our economy here in this town depends not so much on this town as it does on the Mexican citizens from northern Mexico coming across that border here. If you choke that down by politics or whatever, that harms this town and its economy,” he said.

And Bohmfalk, 66, should know: After 50 years of having his store in his family, Bohmfalk has put Marlin’s Saddle Shop up for sale. He told ABC News that his age and the desire to spend more time with his newborn grandson in Texas were the main reasons why he decided to put it up for sale, but he also acknowledged that business is at one of the slowest points he’s ever seen.

“You’ll find that most of these buildings down here are empty and even the businesses that are here like mine are not doing as well as we would like and I’ve heard some of my other friends in business here say that this is as bleak and as dark as it’s ever been here,” he said.

Nubia Romo, the 36-year-old executive director of the Greater Douglas Chamber of Commerce, said that four stores in the town have closed in December and January, noting that she thinks it’s because of “money not coming over as much as it used to.”

"For me to see businesses that have been open for so many years to close is a personal heartbreak," she said.

"I think for many years living on the border, we relied a lot on the money that came from Mexico to continue living. Right now, because of all the issues there is in Mexico, the money coming over isn’t as much as it used to be where we see that businesses are slowly dying out because of things like this," she said, referencing the decline of the Mexican peso. The peso has weakened against the dollar from about 12 pesos to the dollar in 2012 to about 20 pesos per dollar today, meaning that Mexicans paid in pesos have less buying power in dollars than they did previously.

When it comes to the issue of the wall, Bohmfalk said that he actually fought against the construction of the current fence but “now times have changed.”

“This wall to me is a distraction of what’s going on here. Because the wall will not affect the things that [Trump] calls critical, like the deficit. The wall won’t fix the deficit. The wall won’t fix trade,” he said, adding, “The wall is only a security device,” but it’s a necessary one, he thinks. Bohmfalk voted for Trump, but wants to be clear that while he respects him now that he is president, he is not a die-hard supporter.

“Don’t be mistaken here and think that I like him. I’m willing to tolerate him because he says things that I like to hear,” Bohmfalk said.

A consistent idea that resonates with many of the residents of Douglas is that Trump is paying attention to them, and they hope he will follow up with his promise to remember those he calls the “forgotten men and women.”

Said Bohmfalk, “Maybe he’ll listen to people like me who really know the story on the border and will tell it like it is.”

One such person that Trump said he has listened to is Art Del Cueto, a Border Patrol agent, the vice president of the National Border Patrol Council and the president of the Border Patrol union Local 2544.

Del Cueto, 43, is “very proud to say” that his union was the one that “spearheaded the [Border Patrol] endorsement of Donald Trump” in March 2016 and he said that support comes largely from Trump’s attention to border issues and his outreach to Border Patrol groups.

Del Cueto was in the ballroom at the New York Hilton Midtown when Trump won on election night, and he proudly shows a cellphone video of Trump pointing to him and his friend, a fellow Border Patrol agent, after getting off the stage.

“These are my guys,” Trump says in the video. “... Get ready to work!”

Del Cueto says his dedication and interest in the safety at the border stems from childhood spent in Douglas.

He said it feels like he’s “been involved [in Border Patrol] my whole life." He has seen firsthand the danger that agents come across, which is partly behind his reasoning for wanting a wall, he said.

"It’s a high-level game. It’s a high-risk game. It’s agents that put their lives on the line every day. You don’t know if you’re going to come home that night," he said.

According to the CBP, there were 585 assaults against CBP law enforcement personnel in fiscal year 2016.

"We realize that we're a family and sometimes we’ve seen in Washington and through different administrations that the only backup that we have is ourselves," he said.

One way that he thinks the wall will make his fellow agents safer is by making it more difficult for some malicious people on the other side of the fence who "rock" agents.

"What they do is they pick up boulders and rocks on the south end and they’ll throw them over this fence at agents," Del Cueto said, noting that "agents have been severely, severely hurt by some of these."

As of Feb. 18 of this year, there were 3,795 Border Patrol agents working in the Tucson Sector — the section of the border that includes Douglas — according to Border Patrol, making it the most-staffed sector along the country’s borders. That equates to about 14 agents for each of the sector’s 262 miles.

During the 2016 fiscal year, Tucson Sector had the most marijuana confiscated — 728,367 pounds — out of any sector, and the second-highest number of apprehensions of people crossing illegally: 64,891. CBP reports that there were 84 deaths along the border during that same time period, making it the second-most fatal sector.

In the National Border Patrol Council’s endorsement of Trump nearly a year ago, the organization stated that it stood behind him “in his mission to finally secure the border of the United States of America, before it is too late.”

Del Cueto thinks the current fence is insufficient, noting that he thinks a solid wall would make it more difficult for people to “rock” agents, and he hopes that Trump follows through on his campaign promise to build a literal wall.

“Ideally a wall, a real wall, works a lot better. It will be closed off. It will be solid. It will be harder to [scale],” he said.

But Shani Zepeda, 31, who grew up in Douglas and teaches social studies at a local high school, is more skeptical.

“What kind of a wall is he even going to construct to potentially keep out whomever? If there’s a will, there’s a way and whatever wall he’s going to build, I think it’s penetrable you know with the right equipment,” she said.

Zepeda, who says she “exercised her right not to vote” in the 2016 election, thinks the proposed wall is about more than just creating a physical barrier to keep out undocumented immigrants.

“I think that it definitely is a racial issue,” she said. “Being an American citizen, I do believe that America needs to be put first, but I don’t know how somebody can logically argue truly especially based on history itself that the construction of this wall is not a racial thing.” Del Cueto doesn’t see it that way. He insists racism isn’t at play and the wall is about the security of the nation.

“You close your door at night because you care about the people inside the house,” he said. “You don’t close your door at night because you hate the people outside.”

The issue of hate – and the at times anti-immigrant rhetoric that surrounded Trump’s immigration policy proposals, including the wall, during the campaign – is one that has been felt on a personal level in Douglas.

Alex Espinosa, 55, also grew up in Douglas, and his parents are migrants from Mexico. He said he was subject to criticism over his support of Trump.

“I’m not afraid to say that [I voted for Trump], but I’ve been called racist,” he said. “I’ve been called a womanizer. I’ve been called pretty much everything that people are calling Donald Trump. I’m neither one of those …. I’m Mexican but I’m American first.”

He runs a business creating headstones that is located three blocks from the border fence. He said he understands how interconnected Douglas is with Agua Prieta, directly on the other side of the fence.

“A lot of the families here in Douglas are from Agua Prieta, and it’s always been a practice for people to work over there and live here or work here and live over there,” he said.

Espinosa has ties to both sides of the border: His parents are Mexican and migrated to the U.S. legally, and while he is a U.S. citizen, he grew up going to school in Agua Prieta.

"We used to be able to go over there to restaurants and take our family. Now, people -- a lot of the people that I know -- won’t do that anymore. I don’t do that anymore. I used to. I’d rather not," he said in reference to what he sees as a growing level of violence.

"The border is about, I’d say 1,000 yards from my business here and you can hear gunshots. You can hear car chases, you can hear the cylinders where they’re sending drugs over here," he said, referring to canisters shot out of air cannons that are sometimes used along the border to send drugs from Mexico to set locations in the U.S. "You can even hear radios at night: two-way radios at night from whoever is out there, you know, and Border Patrol has their hands full and they need more agents here."

He added: "I’m not saying all Mexicans are bad because my mother came over here. My father came over here. But there’s a lot of bad people that shouldn’t be here and then a lot of them come over here and they abuse our system of government assistance and like the health insurance.

“We’ve got to stop illegal immigration. That’s my point. Legal immigration, we welcome people that want to come over here and they want to work. My parents are migrants. My grandparents were migrants. They did it the right way. Everybody else should. I honestly believe that if you want to come to America, you should do it the right way.”

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Monday
Mar202017

Arrest made in deaths of 2 Colorado teens

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) – A 19-year-old man was booked on first degree murder and kidnapping charges in the deaths of two teens who were found dead on the side of a Colorado road, authorities said.

Gustavo Marquez, 19, was also charged with aggravated robbery and child abuse resulting in the deaths of Derek Benjamin Greer, 15, and Natalie Partida, 16, according to the El Paso County Sheriff's Office.

The victims' bodies were found on the side of a road about 15 miles from their Colorado Spring High School.

"I am so happy there is finally justice for my son and Natalie," said Greer's mother, Heather Ferguson. "The case is still ongoing so it's not over yet."

The deaths were ruled homicides but the cause was not clear.

"They had a whole life to live," Greer's cousin, Hannah Ortega, told ABC News Friday. "They don't get to have kids, they don't get to graduate high school, they don't get to work their dream jobs, they don't get to live anymore. Nobody deserves to get their life taken."

Marquez is scheduled for a court appearance on April 5, according to records.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Monday
Mar202017

Dad of missing Tennessee teen who was allegedly abducted by teacher: 'Please come home to us'

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation(CULLEOKA, Tenn.) -- The father of the Tennessee teenager whom authorities believe was abducted by her teacher spoke out in an interview with ABC News, pleading with her, "please let us know you are all right and please come home to us."

"I don't think she is responsible for what has happened, she is 15 years old, she is not responsible for this happening," Anthony Thomas, the father of Elizabeth Thomas, said.

Tennessee authorities are asking for the public's help in their hunt for Elizabeth's former teacher, Tad Cummins, 50, who is accused of kidnapping Elizabeth last Monday, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said. Neither Elizabeth nor Cummins has been in touch with their families, authorities said. Cummins is believed to be armed and authorities say the teen is "in imminent danger."

Cummins is also accused of having an inappropriate relationship with Elizabeth while he was a teacher at her Culleoka, Tennessee, school. Cummins has denied the claim, but nearly two months before Elizabeth and her former teacher went missing, one of Elizabeth's schoolmates reported seeing the pair kissing in Cummins classroom, according to a Jan. 30 school district investigative report.

Thomas told ABC News that he warned his daughter to stay away from Cummins, whom he had heard her talk about at home.

"She was very enthusiastic about his class," Thomas said, "and I heard his name an awful lot."

"When I heard about the situation," he said, "I told her, 'You can't have any contact with him at all.'"

"'You can't call him, you can't talk to him, you can't wave at him if you even see him,'" the father said, "I'm not sure she really understood it, she seemed to think that nothing was a big deal with it, and I kept telling her, whether you think it is a big deal or not, this is real, you cannot have any contact with this person.

"I am very angry. Someone who is that old should know better than to pull something like this," he added. "But he had no business being around my child at all.

"I did not see this coming at all. You send your kids to school you trust they are going to be all right there," Thomas said.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said that Cummins "may have been abusing his role as a teacher to groom [the teen] ... in an effort to lure and potentially sexually exploit her."

Authorities are asking that anyone with information call 1-800-TBI-FIND and that anyone who sees a car with a Tennessee license plate 976-ZPT call 911. A $1,000 reward is available for information leading to Cummins' arrest.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Monday
Mar202017

Chicago family fighting to stop the deportation of veteran who served 2 tours in Afghanistan

iStock/Thinkstock(CHICAGO) -- A lawyer is fighting to keep a U.S. Army veteran who served two tours of duty in Afghanistan from being deported to Mexico.

Army Private First Class Miguel Perez, Jr., 38, says he has been fighting deportation for roughly five years after mistakenly believing his service in the military made him a U.S. citizen by default. Perez, who was born in Mexico and moved to Chicago when he was 8, first came to the attention of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) while serving a prison sentence after pleading guilty to selling cocaine in 2008, according to his attorney, Christopher Bergin.

Last week, a judge ruled against Perez, who had filed a request for relief against deportation orders under the United Nations Convention against Torture on the grounds that his military background would make him vulnerable to attack from drug cartels in Mexico, Bergin said. He explained that drug cartels frequently seek to use people with military experience for their own ends.

Bergin has filed a motion to appeal the judge's ruling, buying about a month of time for his client, who is currently in the custody of ICE, before the appeal is reviewed, he said.
In July 2002, President George W. Bush signed an executive order clearing the way for noncitizens who had served in the Armed Forces on or after Sept. 11, 2001, to immediately file for expedited citizenship. Perez's mother, Esperanza Medina, told ABC News her son never formally filed for citizenship because he misunderstood the rules.

"[The decision] is not fair to us because my son fought for this country," Medina, 60, who became a U.S. citizen in 2005, said of the judge's ruling. "He has a nation and it's the USA."

ABC News reached out to ICE regarding the most recent developments surrounding Perez's case and was referred to the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR). EOIR did not immediately return a request for comment.

A spokesperson for ICE released a statement to ABC-owned station affiliate WLS in Chicago this past December regarding Perez's case, saying the agency "respects the service and sacrifice of those in military service, and is very deliberate in its review of cases involving U.S. military veterans."

"Miguel Angel Perez-Montes, 38, from Mexico, was convicted in February 2010 in Cook County, Illinois, for manufacture/delivery of more than two pounds of cocaine and sentenced to serve 15 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections. He was encountered by ICE while serving his prison sentence and placed into removal proceedings in 2012," the statement said. "On Sept. 23, 2016, Perez-Montes was turned over to ICE custody from the Hill Correctional Center in Galesburg, Illinois. He will remain in ICE custody while his removal proceedings are pending in federal immigration court."

The next steps Bergin is plotting for his client, beyond the appeal, will likely involve Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth, whom he is asking to take his client's case to Washington, D.C.

Bergin is hoping that Duckworth will use her political clout to get U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to backdate Perez's recent application for citizenship filed by his lawyer to an earlier date -- starting on the day he first served his country in the Army.

ABC News reached out to the Illinois branch of USCIS for a comment on whether this would be possible but did not immediately receive a response.

Duckworth, Bergin hopes, will see aspects of herself in Perez: She was born in Thailand and has served in the Army Reserve and Army National Guard.

ABC News reached out to Sen. Duckworth's office for a comment about Perez's case but did not immediately receive a response.

Bergin and Perez's family attribute his conviction to a period when Perez was self-medicating for pain related to his time in the service, they said.

Bergin added that Perez "was blown out of his Jeep in Kandahar," and that he suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of the blast. Perez told The Chicago Tribune last month that grenade and roadside bomb explosions during his tours led him to lose much of his hearing and suffer headaches.

After returning home from Afghanistan, Perez told the Tribune he longed for the adrenaline rush from combat and eventually turned to cocaine. He ultimately opted for an early discharge from the Army after failing a drug test, he told the Tribune.

Sara Walker, who works at Perez's family's church, Lincoln United Methodist Church in Chicago, told ABC News that Perez told her he turned to drugs for relief. Lincoln United Methodist Church helped connect Perez's family to Bergin, who is handling the case pro bono.

"He told me that when he made that mistake he was drinking and doing drugs 24/7," Walker said.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Monday
Mar202017

North Carolina couple moves up wedding so dying newborn son could take part

Christopher and Patricia Armstrong(NEW YORK) -- One North Carolina couple moved up their wedding unexpectedly so that their dying newborn son could take part in the ceremony.

Christopher and Patricia Armstrong didn't plan to wed inside Hospice of Davidson County in North Carolina, but when their son was given only weeks to live they decided to so that he wouldn't miss it.

Conner Armstrong was born Feb. 2 with a genetic disorder called trisomy 18, which kills about 90 percent of children before or during birth. He was diagnosed in the womb, his father told ABC News.

"When they saw the signs, it was pretty hard on both of us," Christopher, 30, recalled.

Although the couple -- who also have two young daughters -- didn't have a wedding date set, when doctors told them that Conner's diagnosis wasn't improving, they decided to get married in the hospice on March 11 so that he could be there.

"I was so excited to be marrying the love of my life and happy that everyone was there to see and witness the love that we shared," Christopher gushed, "and having the baby there was even more special."

"We planned the mini-wedding in like two days," Patricia told ABC News. "[We] gathered up a couple of family and friends and made it happen. The wedding ... was last minute, but it was one of the best days of my life."

In fact, the family trekked to Walmart to buy dresses along with Christopher's shirt and tie.

Conner died five days later on March 14, his father announced on Facebook.

He told ABC News he's appreciative for the time he had with his only son.

"I would say one of the best months of my life was getting to know him," Christopher said, "and every day he’d do something new like the smile he’d give, or the way he looked at us. He knew that we loved him and I could tell that he loved us too."

His mother said she's sharing their story to raise awareness of the disorder in hopes of doctors' eventually finding a cure.

"Maybe one day," she added.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Monday
Mar202017

Weeks before a student and teacher went missing, another teen reported seeing them kiss

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation(CULLEOKA, Tenn.) -- Nearly two months before a high school student and her former teacher went missing, they were alleged to have been seen kissing by another student in the teacher's classroom.

The school district investigated the allegation, removed student Elizabeth Thomas from teacher Tad Cummins' class and said the teacher would be reprimanded. But the district said it was unable to confirm from available evidence that the kiss occurred.

Tennessee authorities are now asking for the public's help in their hunt for Cummins, 50, who is accused of kidnapping 15-year-old Elizabeth last Monday, March 13, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said. Neither Elizabeth nor Cummins has been in touch with their families, authorities said. Cummins is believed to be armed and authorities say the teen is "in imminent danger."

It was Jan. 23 when one of Elizabeth's schoolmates reported that as she was walking into Cummins' classroom she saw Elizabeth and Cummins kissing, according to a Jan. 30 school district investigative report.

"It wasn't like a make-out kiss, just a peck on the lips," the student said in a written statement quoted in the school district's report.

The student told another schoolmate about what she said she had seen that day. The schoolmate said the student was "freaked out" by the alleged incident, according to the school district report.

The next day, the student took a different schoolmate with her to confront Cummins about what the student said she saw, the report said. Cummins allegedly told the students that he was "a father figure to Beth" and that he "saw her as a close and best friend," the report said.

The student reported what she said she had seen to school administrators.

The school district's investigative report said Elizabeth said Cummins had never kissed her nor made her feel uncomfortable.

"She looks at him like a friend and counselor who knows how to calm her down when she is experiencing anxiety," the district report said. "She stated students hang out in his classroom a lot."

Elizabeth also said that "she has gone to church with [Cummins] a few times but mainly hung around his wife," the report said.

Cummins also said no kiss took place, according to the district report. Cummins said Elizabeth is "a really good friend" who would go to see him “when she needs someone to calm her down," the report said. He said he loves his wife and would never cheat on her, the school report said.

The Jan. 30 school report determined that it "could not be confirmed" the alleged kiss happened. The report said, however, that Elizabeth would be removed from Cummins' class and that "Cummins will be reprimanded in regards to his duty to uphold his professional responsibility and behavior."

An attorney for Elizabeth's family claimed in a Feb. 6 letter to the district superintendent that the teen's father was never alerted by the district about the alleged incident and found out about it on Jan. 31, more than a week after the kiss allegedly happened, when sheriff's deputies called to ask him questions.

The lawyer's letter also suggested that the teen was communicating with the teacher through her cellphone. "Upon inspection of her cellphone the two are also having telephone communications," the attorney's letter said.

Although the district said it couldn't confirm the alleged kiss happened, the report said Elizabeth would be removed from Cummins' class and that she should be "instructed to bring anxiety issues to the school administration and guidance counselors."

The report also said "Cummins will be reprimanded in regards to his duty to uphold his professional responsibility and behavior as a teacher."

A subsequent letter from the district to Cummins on Feb. 3 stated that Elizabeth was in the teacher's classroom that day, which the letter said violated a previous order by the district.

Three days later, on Feb 6., the district wrote a letter to Cummins telling him he was suspended without pay immediately "pending an investigation."

Cummins was fired Tuesday, one day after he and Elizabeth went missing.

The school district did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment.

Today Cummins is wanted on allegations of aggravated kidnapping and sexual contact with a minor.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said that Cummins "may have been abusing his role as a teacher to groom [the teen] ... in an effort to lure and potentially sexually exploit her."

The teacher's wife, Jill Cummins, made an emotional plea to her husband at a news conference Friday, urging him to turn himself in.

"I had no idea my husband was involved with anything that has led to all this. My heart breaks for the family of Beth Thomas,” Jill Cummins said. “Please do the right thing and turn yourself into the police and bring Beth home.”

An Amber Alert has been issued for Elizabeth, and Cummins has been added to the state's "Top 10 Most Wanted" list, authorities said.

The TBI said Saturday it has received about 250 tips from 24 states, which it called a low number.

"Cummins may have taken her, frankly, anywhere," the TBI said in a news release Saturday.

"Nothing investigators have learned about Cummins or his intentions for the young girl since issuing the AMBER Alert calms the imminent concern for Elizabeth’s well-being. In fact, it only heightens it."

Elizabeth's family said in a statement, "We ask that you continue to share Elizabeth's story and to immediately notify law enforcement if you think you may have seen her. You can be Elizabeth's eyes, her ears and her voice. Your information or tip may be what leads to get this child home. As a family, we are focused on one thing and one thing only -- Elizabeth's safe and quick return."

Cummins is described as a white man with brown hair and brown eyes. He is 6 feet tall and weighs about 200 pounds. He may be driving a 2015 silver Nissan Rogue with a Tennessee license plate number 976-ZPT.

Elizabeth is described as a white girl with blonde hair, hazel eyes. She is 5 feet, 5 inches tall and weighs 120 pounds. She was last seen wearing leggings and a flannel shirt.

Authorities are asking that anyone with information call 1-800-TBI-FIND and that anyone who sees a car with Tennessee license plate 976-ZPT call 911. A $1,000 reward is available for information leading to Tad Cummins' arrest.

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Monday
Mar202017

Brother makes plea to missing teen allegedly kidnapped by her former teacher

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation(CULLEOKA, Tenn.) -- The older brother of a Tennessee teenager who was allegedly kidnapped by her former teacher is pleading with his sister to come home.

James Thomas, 26, told ABC News he'd like to send a message to his 15-year-old sister, Elizabeth Thomas, who has not been seen since last Monday, March 13: "If you're listening, I do really wish you'd just call someone. It doesn't have to be me, it can be anyone. Just let us know you're OK."

"We really miss you," he said. "Please, please come home."

Tennessee authorities are asking for the public's help in their hunt for Tad Cummins, 50, who is accused of kidnapping Elizabeth, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said. Neither Elizabeth nor Cummins has been in touch with their families, authorities said. Cummins is believed to be armed, and authorities say the teen is "in imminent danger."

The Bureau of Investigation said Saturday it has received about 250 tips from 24 states, which it called a low number.

"Cummins may have taken her, frankly, anywhere," the investigative bureau said in a news release Saturday.

Cummins is accused of having an inappropriate relationship with Elizabeth while he was a teacher at her Culleoka, Tennessee, school; he has denied the claim.

A Maury County School District investigative report said a student walking into Cummins' classroom on Jan. 23 saw the teacher kissing Elizabeth. The district completed its report on its investigation of the incident a week later, on Jan. 30.

But the Thomas family attorney said Elizabeth's father was never alerted by the school and that he found out about the alleged incident on Jan. 31, more than a week after the event purportedly happened, when sheriff's deputies called to ask the father questions, according to a letter from the family's attorney to the school district’s superintendent.

From the date of the alleged incident to the issuance of the Jan. 30 district report, Cummins was still teaching at the school, and Elizabeth was still in one of his classes, according to the district report.

The district said in its report the kissing allegation "could not be confirmed from the evidence presented." It said Cummins and Elizabeth denied a kiss took place and that the teacher said Elizabeth is "a really good friend" who comes to see him “when she needs someone to calm her down."

Although the district said it couldn't confirm the alleged kiss happened, the report said Elizabeth will be removed from Cummins' class and she should be "instructed to bring anxiety issues to the school administration and guidance counselors."

The report also said "Cummins will be reprimanded in regards to his duty to uphold his professional responsibility and behavior as a teacher."

A subsequent letter from the district to Cummins on Feb. 3 stated that Elizabeth was in the teacher's classroom that day, which the letter said violated a previous order by the district.

Three days later, on Feb 6., the district wrote a letter to Cummins telling him he was suspended without pay immediately "pending an investigation."

Cummins was fired last week on the day after Elizabeth was allegedly kidnapped, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said.

The school district did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment.

James Thomas said the allegations of the teacher's kissing his sister had left him in disbelief.

"It was something that surprised me greatly because a lot of my friends went [to that school] and spoke highly of Mr. Cummins," he said.

James Thomas said his father "is devastated ... He's not been himself ever since."

James Thomas said he is protective of his little sister, Elizabeth. He describes her as vocal, athletic and social.

"She kind of kept us all together," he told ABC News. "It's hard to live without her; she was such a vocal part of the family."

An Amber Alert has been issued for Elizabeth, and Cummins has been added to the state's "Top 10 Most Wanted" list, authorities said.

Cummins is wanted on allegations of aggravated kidnapping and sexual contact with a minor, authorities said.

Cummins' wife, Jill Cummins, made an emotional plea to her husband at a news conference Friday, urging him to turn himself in.

"I had no idea my husband was involved with anything that has led to all this. My heart breaks for the family of Beth Thomas,” Jill Cummins said. “Tad, this is not you. This is not who you are. We can help you get through this ... Your family wants their poppy back. Please do the right thing and turn yourself into the police and bring Beth home.”

Cummins is described as a white man with brown hair and brown eyes. He is 6 feet tall and weighs about 200 pounds. He may be driving a 2015 silver Nissan Rogue with a Tennessee license plate number 976-ZPT.

Elizabeth is described as a white girl with blonde hair, hazel eyes. She is 5 feet, 5 inches tall and weighs 120 pounds. She was last seen wearing leggings and a flannel shirt.

Authorities are asking that anyone with information call 1-800-TBI-FIND and that anyone who sees a car with Tennessee license plate 976-ZPT call 911. A $1,000 reward is available for information leading to Cummins' arrest.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Monday
Mar202017

Colorado wildfire 50 percent contained, hundreds evacuated

iStock/Thinkstock(BOULDER, Colo.) — A Colorado wildfire that forced hundreds out of their homes on Sunday has been 50 percent contained, authorities said.

The fire near Sunshine Canyon in Boulder, Colorado — just west of the downtown area — scorched about 63 acres of land and forced the evacuation of 426 homes as authorities worried that erratic winds could cause the fire to spread further, the Boulder Office of Emergency Management said Sunday.

As a precaution, another 836 homes were placed on a pre-evacuation list amid worries that the blaze could flare up due to strong wind gusts overnight, emergency officials said.

There were no known injuries or homes lost as of early Monday morning, the Boulder Office of Emergency Management said.

Boulder County Sheriff's Cmdr. Mike Wagner said the area has "a very social trail network," leading authorities to speculate the fire could be “human-caused.”

"At this point, we’ve been able to rule out things like lightning strikes or weather related, downed power lines, things like that. That causes us to speculate that it’s human caused, manmade," Wagner said during a press briefing on Sunday. "In the general area where that fire was reported to us by Sunshine Canyon and Timber Lane is a very social trail network. A lot of people are in and out of there."

The fire began before early Sunday morning near Sunshine Canyon and Timberlane, emergency officials said.

Wagner said fire officials would remain at the scene overnight to attack hot spots and possible flare-ups.

He said people in the pre-evacuation zones should be prepared and ready to go at any time as the fire’s status could change due to windy weather overnight.

"The plan is to keep the mandatory evacuation zone in place," Wagner said in a video posted on the Boulder Office of Emergency Management’s Facebook page late Sunday.

"The forecasts is a little concerning. There’s a potential wind event at around midnight. It is very volatile there and there’s a lot of complicating factors that go into a fire operation overnight," he said.

The Boulder Regional Communications Center said it received a call from a man at around 2 a.m. local time who said he noticed flames on the side of a mountain, according to the Boulder County Sheriff’s office.

Multiple fire departments, including the Boulder Rural Fire Protection District, the Boulder Fire Department, and the Sheriff's Fire Management Program, fought to contain the fire.

Officials said a shelter at the East Boulder Community Center would remain open overnight in case of additional evacuations.

Mark Sandercott, who was forced to evacuate, told ABC News affiliate KMGH that he feared of losing his home.

"I thought, for sure, we were probably going to lose the house," he said. "I grabbed my backpack, grabbed the most essential things that I thought I needed, and some water and just left."

The blaze is currently moving south, according to KMGH.


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