Category Archives: National News

Sonny Payne has passed away

“Sunshine” Sonny Payne, host of the long-running King Biscuit Time radio show, has passed away. He was 92 years old.

The program, which aired on KFFA 1360 AM in Helena-West Helena, was the longest-running blues show in the country. Payne began hosting the show in 1951. Artists from BB King to Levon Helm have credited him as an influence in their music. Guests included Muddy Waters and Robert Plant. He was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2010.

Courtesy of KATV 7

A New Era

Donald Trump officially Sworn in as the 45th President of the United States.

US slaps sanctions on Russia

President Barack Obama has imposed sanctions on Russian officials and intelligence services in retaliation for Russia’s interference in the U.S. presidential election by hacking American political sites and email accounts.

The State Department also has kicked out 35 Russian diplomats from its embassy in Washington and consulate in San Francisco, giving them and their families 72 hours to leave the U.S. The diplomats were declared persona non grata for acting in a “manner inconsistent with their diplomatic status.”

“All Americans should be alarmed by Russia’s actions,” Obama said in a statement.

Obama said Russians will no longer have access to two Russian government-owned compounds in the United States, in Maryland and in New York.

A spokesman for Russia President Vladimir Putin told the Associated Press Moscow will consider retaliatory measures in response to the sanctions.

Russian officials have denied the Obama administration’s accusation that the Russian government was trying to influence the U.S. presidential election.

U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russia’s goal was to help Donald Trump win — an assessment Trump has dismissed as ridiculous.

“These actions follow repeated private and public warnings that we have issued to the Russian government, and are a necessary and appropriate response to efforts to harm U.S. interests in violation of established international norms of behavior,” the president continued.

The president further authorized the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI to release declassified technical information pertaining to Russian civilian and military intelligence cyber activity in the effort to “identify, detect, and disrupt Russia’s global campaign of malicious cyber activities.”

“These actions are not the sum total of our response to Russia’s aggressive activities. We will continue to take a variety of actions at a time and place of our choosing, some of which will not be publicized,” the statement reads. “In addition to holding Russia accountable for what it has done, the United States and friends and allies around the world must work together to oppose Russia’s efforts to undermine established international norms of behavior, and interfere with democratic governance. To that end, my Administration will be providing a report to Congress in the coming days about Russia’s efforts to interfere in our election, as well as malicious cyber activity related to our election cycle in previous elections.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan said Obama’s were “overdue,” before criticizing the administration’s “failed policy with Russia.”

“Russia does not share America’s interests,” Ryan began. “In fact, it has consistently sought to undermine them, sowing dangerous instability around the world. While today’s action by the administration is overdue, it is an appropriate way to end eight years of failed policy with Russia. And it serves as a prime example of this administration’s ineffective foreign policy that has left America weaker in the eyes of the world.”

U.S. Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who have been pushing for action against Russia in recent days, called the sanctions “a small price for Russia to pay,” in a joint statement.

“The retaliatory measures announced by the Obama Administration today are long overdue,” the statement read. “But ultimately, they are a small price for Russia to pay for its brazen attack on American democracy. We intend to lead the effort in the new Congress to impose stronger sanctions on Russia.”

Courtesy of KATV Channel 7

This story will be updated.

75th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor

 

Today is Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day. On this day in 1941, Japanese warplanes performed a sneak attack on the home base of the U.S. Navy’s Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor. This drew the United States into World War II where more than 2300 Americans lost their lives. The attack was designed to dismantle the U.S. forces so they could not handle the arrival of the Japanese forces. Although the Japanese took out every warship in the attack, they failed to damage any of our aircraft carriers and the U.S. responded very aggressively.

The battleship, USS Arizona was the worst hit during the battle at Pearl Harbor, losing over a thousand men caused when the ship exploded and sank. It was hit by an 800-pound bomb which tore through her steel deck near one of the turrets, leading to the explosion. This ship is now a memorial for those who died that fateful day in December. Crewmembers who served aboard the ship are allowed to be laid to rest there when they die. Special divers deposit their ashes aboard the ship. Nearly 30 survivors have chosen this option for their burial so far.

The USS Arizona continues to leak oil into the Pacific even seventy years later as a result of the attack. The oil creates a shiny effect on top of the water and is often referred to as “black tears” remembering those who perished.

On this the 75th anniversary of the fiery ambush on American soil, we remember the greatest generation who fought for our freedom and liberty as we know it today. In honor of those who died and those who remain, we thank you for your service.

Where’s the DOJ money? Affidavits signed by Bay mayor reveal contradictions

(Related story to Police Chief suicide in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi)

Affidavits signed in 2014 by the mayor and police chief certified the city had $298,000 in its U.S. Department of Justice forfeitures account. But according to its own financial records, the city did not have that money.

Through public-records requests, the Sun Herald obtained documents for the past five years concerning the Bay St. Louis Police Department’s federal equitable sharing fund, which holds forfeiture money shared and regulated by the DOJ.

The money in the “DOJ forfeitures fund,” as the city council calls it, was noticed missing in August and has been the subject of many heated City Council meetings as well as ongoing federal and state probes.

DOJ forfeitures are money seized during joint operations between federal and municipal law enforcement agencies. The money is restricted by federal statute to use for police-related expenses.

Among the documents the Sun Herald obtained are affidavits signed by Police Chief Mike De Nardo and Mayor Les Fillingame, which are submitted annually to the DOJ.

The affidavits are attached to a five-page form certifying the amount of cash in the DOJ forfeitures account and listing any amount spent or transferred from the account.

The affidavit for Bay St. Louis’ fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2014, states the account had an ending balance of $298,108 with no money spent or transferred that year by the police department.

However, that money appears neither on the city’s annual budget nor on its revenue-and-expense report for that year. There is no line item to account for any federal sharing or DOJ forfeitures money on either financial report.

A preliminary audit released in August reported the city failed to properly separate the DOJ money from other funding sources and did not have the money restricted as of Sept. 30, 2014.

Contradictions

The DOJ mandates federal forfeitures money be controlled via a separate account or accounting code.

At an Aug. 18 meeting, the City Council grilled the mayor on the whereabouts of the money when they noticed there was only about $80,000 in the general operating account, which holds money from many sources.

The mayor told the council the forfeitures money was being deposited into the city’s general operating account and “was definitely being spent on the police department.”

According to the affidavits, however, the last time the police department spent any DOJ forfeitures money was in 2011, when it spent $1,207. The ending balance of the DOJ forfeitures account that year was $238,434.

The council did not have access to the affidavits recently obtained by the Sun Herald.

Also at the Aug. 18 meeting, council members had asked why the forfeitures money was not being held in a separate account.

Fillingame told them he was not aware of the mandate that the money be separated, saying the DOJ guidelines must have recently changed.

“If they changed the guidance on it, and it looks like we will end up putting it into a separate fund, that was not the guidance in the years prior to,” the mayor said at the time.

However, those guidelines have not changed since at least 2009, and Fillingame has signed affidavits every year since 2010, certifying he read and understood the DOJ guidelines on how the city must maintain its federal forfeiture money.

The guidelines are also spelled out on the fourth page of the affidavits. They mandate the money be internally controlled via a “separate revenue account or accounting code” as money from “other sources must not be commingled” with the DOJ money.

Incomplete information

Chief De Nardo, who filled out the affidavits, said he never actually saw the money in the DOJ account. He said the city did not supply him with a bank statement for September 2014 to show him the $298,000 was actually there.

He said he believed the money was there based on the information he had received from the U.S. Marshals Service and the city finance department.

De Nardo said any time his department receives a share of federal forfeitures, he gets an email from U.S. Marshals Service regarding the amount to be deposited, as well as a deposit notice from the city.

The DOJ requires two signatures on the affidavits, one from the “agency head,” such as the police chief, and the other from the “governing body head,” such as the mayor.

According to the DOJ’s “Guide to Equitable Sharing for State and Local Law Enforcement Agencies,” the agency head, De Nardo, determines and authorizes all purchases from its federal forfeitures account, and the governing body head, Fillingame, is the official with “budgetary oversight” of the police department.

Review or investigation?

Several council members have argued with the mayor over whether there is a criminal investigation or merely an informal review into the missing DOJ money.

When Councilman Joey Boudin called it an “investigation” during an Oct. 20 meeting, Fillingame countered, saying there is no investigation but merely a “DOJ review.”

According to the police chief, both are partly correct.

De Nardo said the Office of the State Auditor has dispatched criminal investigators to the city to investigate the matter, and the DOJ has sent an “assessment team” to review and probe the city’s financial records.

“They were right on what they said but just had the wrong agency,” De Nardo said, referring to the council’s claims that it is an investigation.

De Nardo said he wrapped up all of his meetings with DOJ officials in October and expects them to render a conclusion as early as this week, but the status of the state auditor’s investigation remains unknown.

“When it involves federal funds, you can bet the truth will come out,” Boudin said. “The best of the best work under the DOJ.”

Calls to the mayor were not returned.

Courtesy of Hancock County (Mississippi) Sun Herald originally published on October 31, 2015