5 Things That Happened While You Were Out: Aug. 20, 2020

Thursday is here, CivMixers. By this point, actually, it is here and almost gone. Another day, another news cycle.

It has been an exciting week. In Oklahoma, the state Department of Human Services has reported that since local CNN affiliate KFOR shared the story of a child in the system, there have been over 10,000 requests from people who wanted to be his forever family.

Jordan, 9, has had a life full of trauma and loss. He has been in the system for the past six years, and hopefully one of these thousands of requests will pan out for him. Officials also pointed out that there are thousands of kids just like Jordan all over the country, all of whom need homes.

The NFL also made some decisions this week. It will begin its season on Sept. 10, and fans WILL be allowed in the stands, if individual teams are willing to let them in. The Chicago Bears have put a suspension on in-person fans at home games indefinitely, though that policy could change.

A few teams, such as the NE Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons, have decided to play fan-free at least through September. Meanwhile, the Dallas Cowboys are proceeding with fans in the stands from day one – how many remains unclear – while the Kansas City Chiefs will allow no more than 22 percent of its maximum fan capacity.

The NFL has debated how to proceed during the COVID crisis for a while and finally came to this decision after canceling its pre-season in entirety and having approximately 66 players opt out of the season.

On to the official 5 Things…

1) Four people have been arrested following the conclusion of an investigation into an online fundraising scheme headed by New York federal prosecutors. According to those prosecutors, the scheme defrauded hundreds of thousands. One of the people arrested was Steve Bannon, a former political advisor to President Donald Trump.

The investigation focused on a crowdfunding campaign called “We Build the Wall,” which the defendants, including Bannon, are accused of orchestrating. The campaign brought in more than $25 million, per the prosecutors. The point of the campaign, according to its site, is to have the public fund portions of the promised US-Mexico border wall and to help with wall maintenance.

Acting US attorney for the Southern District of New York Audrey Strauss alleged that the defendants claiming all money earned was going to be spent on the wall, and that did not happen.

Bannon was taken into custody on a yacht off of Westbrook, CT, this morning.

The other three defendants are Andrew Badolato, Brian Kolfage, and Timothy Shea. Kolfage is the founder and president of We Build the Wall. He lost both legs and right arm in 2004 while deployed with the US Air Force in Iraq.

Strauss claims that the four wrote up fraudulent accounts and invoices to cover their money laundering. While assuring supporters that Kolfage did not take home a paycheck, he received hundreds of thousands that were covered up with the phony documentation.

Bannon is believed to have received over a million dollars from We Build the Wall – though he referred to it in public as a volunteer organization. Much of his money was funneled to him via another nonprofit under his control. The money at least partially covered hundreds of thousands of Bannon’s personal expenses, the indictment alleges.

During 2016, Bannon was a prominent advisor for the Trump campaign. He also served as the chief strategist after Trump’s inauguration.

All four men are charged with one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Each charge carries a max penalty of up to 20 years in prison.

According to the Department of Justice, Attorney General William Barr knew that today’s indictment was on the horizon and was kept apprised of the situation with Bannon. President Trump spoke briefly but was quick to say that he has not had contact with Bannon since he left the administration in 2017.

Kayleigh McEnany, the White House Press Secretary, said Trump considering building the wall a government project. She also pointed out that Trump and Bannon have been out of contact since the latter left the white house, and that Trump knew no one else involved in the organization.

With Bannon’s indictment today, a total of six people involved intimately with Trump’s 2016 Presidential campaign have faced federal charges. The other four are Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer (and former “fixer”); Michael Flynn, who not only served as a campaign adviser but stayed on as the administration’s first National Security Advisor; Rick Gates, the deputy chairman of the 2016 campaign; Paul Manafort, chairman of the campaign; and Roger Stone, Trump advisor both during and before the campaign, who has had his sentenced commuted by the president.

You can read the full indictment here.

2) Florida has a lot going on these days. Though its COVID infection rate remains high, debates continue to rage over mask mandates. But there’s also considerable consternation in the state over climate change and racial/civil injustices.

Now, another debate is making news as the Monroe County Mosquito Control District has given the final needed approval to a project that will release 750 million genetically modified Aedes aegypti mosquitos into the Florida Keys, beginning in 2021.

This plan already has federal and state support and approval, and the Environment Protection Agency has also approved the pilot project his past May. This is an effort to help control the dangerous Aedes aegypti, which is a mosquito species that are known to carry many deadly diseases, from chikungunya to Zika.

The GMO mosquito is known scientifically as OX5034 and has been genetically altered so that female offspring will not survive past the larval stage. Since the females are the only mosquitos who bite and feed on blood, they are the single-gender that can carry and transmit diseases.

Oxitec is a British-based, US-owned company that developed OX5034. According to Oxitec, they also have federal approval to release OX5034 in Harris County, TX, for 2021. They still lack both local and state approval in TX. A spokesman for the Public Health Dept. in Harris County, TX, stated that this is not even on their radar, as all of their efforts are still currently focused on containing and combating COVID-19.

The EPA spent years studying the GMO mosquito, and its possible effect on both environmental and human well-being. Last year they gave the go-ahead, saying that this mosquito could protect communities from suffering from the horrible mosquito-spread blood-borne diseases in multiple countries.

The fight to get full approval in FL has raged on for over a decade. Though permission has now been granted, many people in the Keys have spoken out against the measure, with over 240,000 people signing a change.org petition against OX5034.

Many environmental advocacy agencies have also spoken out against the measure, concerned what will happen when a genetically modified species are released to the wild. They say there is no knowing how it may change when in the field, or what could happen with this kind of population control.

3) As students continue to trickle in to campuses statewide, 60 of those seeking to return to the Rochester Institute of Technology campus tested positive for COVID.

To return as usual to campus life, RIT required every student to have a negative result before attempting to return to campus. The test had a deadline of the end of last week as school began this week. Most students got tested in their home areas before they came, as RIT has 49 states represented in its student community. They also have an international student population.

RIT released a statement that those 60 students represented only a half percent of the students enrolled for their school. They received over 12,000 results. The 60 who tested positive have to provide a negative result before being allowed to integrate within the school. RIT says some have provided such a test and are now arriving, and others remain in isolation.

They also tested all 2,503 RIT faculty and staff, receiving three positive results. They stated that they are following all Monroe County DOH requirements, as that is where the campus is located. They also said all appropriate contact tracing was completed.

Before students and staff can be on campus, they must fulfill all pre-arrival COVID requirements.

4) With everything that has happened in 2020, it is sometimes hard to remember that life is still rolling. Part of that is with police continuing to function with their jobs, even amid the realizations across the country, the state, and the region that there do need to be some significant adjustments to how the police interact with the communities they serve. Recently, the NYSP ran a typical undercover drinking sting in Saratoga County with mainly good results.

Nineteen businesses were included in their sting, and eighteen of them followed regulations and did not sell alcohol to underage customers. The one that did is the Speedway in Clifton Park, located on Commerce Drive.

The below businesses all complied with State regulations:

A Plus Mart – Crescent Rd. & Vischer Ferry Rd. Clifton Park, NY 12065

Exit 8 Liquors- Crescent Rd. & Vischer Ferry Rd. Clifton Park, NY 12065

Jolly Mart – Clifton Country Rd.  Clifton Park, NY 12065

Mobil – ST 9 & Sitterly Rd. Clifton Park, NY 12065

Speedway – ST 146 & ST 9 Clifton Park, NY 12065

Speedway – ST 9 & Sitterly Rd. Clifton Park, NY 12065

Speedway – Crescent Rd. & Vischer Ferry Rd. Clifton Park, NY 12065

Stewart’s Shop – ST 146 & St 146A Clifton Park, NY 12065

Stewart’s Shop – 214 Guideboard Rd. Clifton Park, NY 12065

Stewart’s Shop – Longkill Rd. Clifton Park, NY 12065

Stewart’s Shop – Vischer Ferry Rd. Clifton Park, NY 12065

Stewart’s Shop – Vischer Ferry Rd & Grooms Rd Clifton Park, NY 12065

Stewart’s Shop – Sitterly Rd. & Clifton Park Center Rd. Clifton Park, NY 12065

Stewart’s Shop – ST 9 & Church Hill Rd. Clifton Park, NY 12065

Sunoco – ST 9 & Guideboard Rd. Clifton Park, NY 12065

Valero – ST 9 & Guideboard Rd. Clifton Park, NY 12065

Wine & Spirits -Clifton Park Plaza Clifton Park, NY 12065

Xtra Mart – Ushers Rd. Clifton Park, NY 12065

5) In a deal reached this past Tuesday, Bronx resident William Gonzalez, 56, pled guilty for conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute over 5 kg of cocaine. He admitted that between August of 2018 to September of 2019, he met with a co-conspirator in Saratoga Springs and exchanged at least 5 kilograms of cocaine for money.

That co-conspirator was Nestor Cordero-Hernandez, who was sentenced this past July to 87 months in prison, which will then be followed by three years of supervision.

Victor Aguero Vasquez was indicted in March of 2020 for conspiracy to distribute cocaine, possession with intent to distribute and distribution of cocaine. He was arrested and charged in November 2019.

In his plea, Gonzalez agreed to turn over all proceeds from his illegal actions to the US government.

Stay steady, stay strong, stay safe.

Stay woke.

Photo credit: George Fazio.

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