Chiropractor with history of sex offenses faces new charges, lawsuit and licensing action

A state-licensed chiropractor with a history of sex offenses has agreed to stop seeing patients due to new criminal charges alleging he assaulted a minor in his clinic.

Court records indicate that in April, Bruce Lindberg of the Family Chiropractic Clinic in Ottumwa was charged by police with simple assault. Prosecutors allege he provided chiropractic services to minor without permission, and then hugged the victim and kissed the victim on the top of the head. The victim “found the contact to be offensive,” according to prosecutors.

Lindberg has entered a plea of not guilty in the case.

Last week, the parents of the alleged victim, who is a 10-year-old boy, filed a civil lawsuit against Lindberg. The suit alleges that in February, their son accompanied an adult friend of the family to Lindberg’s Ottumwa clinic. Without the permission of the child or his parents, Lindberg allegedly took the boy into a private examination room, instructed him to remove his shirt, and began massaging his back with lotion.

The lawsuit claims that at the conclusion of the massage, Lindberg hugged and kissed the boy and told him he was “beautiful,” “adorable” and “the prettiest boy in the world.”

The boy allegedly reported Lindberg’s conduct to his parents and, according to the lawsuit, Lindberg subsequently apologized to the family. The lawsuit accuses Lindberg of assault, battery, malpractice and the intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Lindberg has yet to file a response to the lawsuit.

Lindberg’s attorney in the criminal case is now seeking a change of venue, noting that articles about Lindberg’s past convictions and a screenshot of Lindberg’s past placement on the Iowa Sex Offender Registry were posted online recently in the wake of Lindberg’s April arrest.

“Commenters shared Dr. Lindberg’s prior placement on the Sex Offender Registry to support their claim that because Dr. Lindberg offended in the past, he must have offended this time as well,” the motion for a change of venue states. “The public engagement with media coverage of Dr. Lindberg’s arrest shows that the community has largely and unfairly formed opinions about Dr. Lindberg’s guilt. Not only have they formed opinions of his guilt, but they have disseminated a significant amount of detail about Dr. Lindberg’s prior offense, which would not be admissible at trial.”

A hearing in the case is scheduled for June 9.

Previous allegations of abuse

The available court records indicate that in June 1989, Lindberg was charged with five counts of lascivious acts with a child. Seven months later, additional charges of indecent contract with a child and lascivious acts with a child were filed.

Then, in April 1990, prosecutors and Lindberg agreed to a deal that resulted in him pleading guilty to two counts of indecent contact with a child and two counts of indecent exposure. In court, he admitted that he touched a child who was then under the age of 14, in the groin area for his own sexual satisfaction.

Lindberg was then sentenced to six years of probation, subject to a number of conditions including one that stipulated he was to provide an annuity of $5,000 for each of the eight children he had allegedly abused.

Court records indicate the victims in the 1989 case were minors, some of whom were high school athletes, and that some were patients of Lindberg.

After his conviction, Lindberg was excluded from the Medicare program. He later appealed that decision to an administrative law judge who ruled against him. In his decision, the judge wrote that Lindberg “did not confine his sexual misconduct with these children only to situations where the illicit touching occurred under the guise of legitimate chiropractic treatments. He often engaged in sexual molestation of children in the sauna at his home, while engaged in water sports, and in his car while driving the children to their homes.”’

Months after he was convicted in the 1989 criminal case, the Iowa Board of Chiropractic initiated disciplinary proceedings against Lindberg. Despite the nature of the criminal charges and Lindberg’s admission to the court, the board accused Lindberg only of making lewd or suggestive “remarks or advances” to seven minors who were his patients. As part of that case, Lindberg agreed in 1991 to surrender his license indefinitely pending the completion of counseling and periodic evaluations.

At some point, the board reinstated Lindberg’s license.

Last week, the board, citing the arrest in April, announced it had reached an agreement with Lindberg. The board has agreed to refrain from initiating any disciplinary action against him while the criminal charges are pending. At the same time, Lindberg has agreed to voluntarily refrain from practicing chiropractic, which technically means his license has now been suspended.

The suspension is to remain in effect until the order is lifted by the board.

Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Iowa Capital Dispatch maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kathie Obradovich for questions: Follow Iowa Capital Dispatch on Facebook and Twitter.

Iowan sues after being fired for calling gay pride 'an abomination to God'

An eastern Iowa man is suing his employer for religious discrimination, alleging he was fired after stating the company’s support of gay pride was an “abomination to God.”

Daniel Snyder, 63, of Riverdale is suing Arconic, formerly known as Alcoa, in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa.

Snyder had worked at the company’s Riverdale plant for almost 10 years, when, in June 2021, he received an email from Arconic CEO Tim Myers inviting employees to respond to an “engagement survey” seeking employees’ input on ways the company could improve. The email stated that responses would be anonymous.

Snyder attempted to respond to the survey by clicking a link in the email and was routed to a company webpage displaying a rainbow flag in promotion of “Gay Pride Month.” Snyder alleges he believed the flag was part of the anonymous survey and that the company was seeking his feedback on the topic.

The webpage included a space where Snyder could type in a comment and he wrote, “It’s an abomination to God. Rainbow is not meant to be displayed as a sign for sexual gender.”

Arconic later informed Snyder that his comment was not part of the survey and had been posted on the company’s message board where it could be seen by other employees, at least one of whom was offended. Snyder was summarily suspended and then terminated for violating the company’s “diversity policy,” the lawsuit claims.

Prior to being fired, Snyder alleges, he informed Arconic officials that his written statement was based on his sincerely held Christian beliefs. He alleges that when he explained he had thought he had been responding to an anonymous survey, Arconic officials responded with derisive laughter.

Snyder “sincerely believes that the Bible shows that the rainbow is a sign of the covenant between God and man, and thus that it is sacrilegious to use the rainbow to promote relationships and ideologies that violate God’s law,” the lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit goes on to say that, in practice, Arconic’s diversity policy “actually punishes diversity of opinion, allowing only one opinion — the company’s approved narrative on morally freighted issues — while treating any employee’s religious opinion or objection to the contrary, even if intended to be anonymous and expressed in a single instance, as grounds for immediate termination with no accommodation whatsoever. The ‘zero tolerance diversity policy’ is, in fact, an intolerance policy designed to expel from Arconic’s workforce anyone who dissents for religious reasons from its corporate moral views.”

Snyder claims Arconic was aware of Snyder’s strongly held religious beliefs as the company had granted him a religious accommodation to not work on Sundays so he could preach at a local church, and he had previously sought permission to form a prayer group at work.

Arconic has yet to respond to the lawsuit, and a company spokesman could not be reached for comment early Monday.

Snyder’s lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for alleged retaliation, religious discrimination, and violations of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Iowa Capital Dispatch maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kathie Obradovich for questions: Follow Iowa Capital Dispatch on Facebook and Twitter.

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These 17 Iowa dog breeders are ranked among the worst in the nation

An Iowa dog breeder who admitted killing some of his unwanted dogs with stomach injections and then leaving them alone in their cages to die is among the Iowans listed in the Humane Society of the United States’ annual list of the nation’s 100 worst dog breeders.

As in years past, Iowa has the second-highest number of breeders on the list, with 17. Missouri, as is often the case, has the highest number of breeders on the list, this year with 26.

The list is compiled by the Human Society using U.S. Department of Agriculture and state inspection reports.

This year’s list does not include Daniel Gingerich, formerly of Seymour, who is no longer a licensed breeder. Last year, Gingerich relinquished ownership of hundreds of dogs after being taken to court on civil charges tied to dozens of violations of the Animal Welfare Act.

Gingerich’s license was the first dog-dealer license the USDA has revoked in close to four years. He was later sentenced to 30 days in jail on misdemeanor charges of animal neglect, and was fined $60,000 in administrative penalties.

Earlier this year, Iowa was leading the nation in puppy mills sanctioned by the federal government. The national animal welfare group, Bailing Out Benji, reviewed the detailed inspection reports filed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the first quarter of 2022, which indicated that 19 of Iowa’s breeders and brokers of dogs and cats had been cited for violations — more than any other state in the nation.

The Iowa breeders on the Humane Society’s 2022 list are:

Larry Albrecht of Coldwater Kennel in Greene: The kennel received an official warning from the USDA in November 2021 for an inadequate program of veterinary care and was cited for additional issues in March 2022. Coldwater Kennel, which keeps about 240 dogs on hand, sells to Petland and other retailers, according to federal reports. In September 2021, an inspector noted that a Maltese named Micky Boy had serious dental issues with several teeth being loose and moved easily when touched. “The gums under these teeth are receding and inflamed and bled during the examination,” the inspector wrote.

More issues were found when the USDA performed another inspection in March of this year. Inspectors found nursing mothers and their puppies on dangerous wire flooring, with the puppies’ feet passing through the flooring – a potentially fatal hazard for small dogs. Other dogs were found in enclosures that had caked and moldy food in them, and one dog had no available water.

Carolyn Anderson of Anderson’s Yorkies in Mason City: This AKC breeder was cited for 34 USDA violations in less than one year, and 2022 was at least the fourth year in a row this business was cited for multiple, significant violations. There were recurring issues with giardia and coccidia – parasites that live in a dog’s intestines — as well as sick dogs and unsanitary conditions.

Inspectors observed that it appeared puppies were being sold with untreated diseases. The most recent citations are tied to repeat violations for poor housing, poor record-keeping and dogs that did not have enough space in their enclosures. In a January 2022 report, the USDA inspector wrote, “The licensee states they have had numerous cases of giardia and coccidiosis in several dogs … The licensee was not able to provide any medical records or documentation for any of the animals that have been currently or previously been diagnosed with giardia or coccidia. In addition, there was no written records to indicate that any animals were currently receiving treatment for any health issues.”

The inspection report also described an accumulation of “dust, dirt, hair, urine, excreta residue, food waste and other organic debris” and noted that many of the dogs had no clean place to eat. The inspector reported watching “a tan and white dog named Finn eating food from the floor. The floor in this area is covered with a heavy layer of brown-to-black matter. The walls and surrounding surfaces of this area is also covered with the heavy layer of yellow to brown matter.”

During an October 2021 visit, inspectors found that some dogs had been given a diarrhea medication that expired five years earlier, and some of the vaccinations kept for use on puppies were expired or were stored at the wrong temperature. Many of the dogs had no records to indicate where they came from, and other dogs were housed inside wire crates in a cluttered area. During a May 2021, inspectors noted five dogs had no access to water and some dogs and puppies were being stored in cramped cages without enough space.

Brian Felton of Centerville: During a January inspection this year, USDA officials found that some of the dogs at Felton’s facility had no access to water, or had only frozen water. At least two dogs were exposed to freezing cold temperatures that dipped to 6 degrees below zero, with no way of keeping warm. “Two adult Mastiffs are housed in an outdoor enclosure which contains a wooden shelter structure,” an inspector wrote. “The shelter has no wind and rain break at the entrance.”

The inspector stated that the shelter lacked any bedding material inside and had a water bowl, but the water in it had “frozen into a solid block of ice.” On the same day, inspectors found that two enclosures, containing a total of 10 adult dogs and two puppies, had food that was “heavily contaminated with wood shavings.” The shavings were “mixed into the food” or formed a layer across the top of the food, the inspector wrote.

Menno Gingerich of Skyline Puppies in Albia: Skyline Puppies received an official warning from the USDA earlier this year after it was determined that the owner had performed a makeshift, do-it-yourself medical procedure on an injured puppy without veterinary consultation or anesthesia. The USDA inspectors had found an injured puppy and inquired about its condition. They then learned that Gingerich had stitched up the injured puppy’s wound by himself without any veterinary oversight and reportedly without anesthesia.

The inspector described the situation after speaking to one of the kennel’s workers: “One English bulldog puppy was observed walking with staggered steps and would also circle in a continuous motion. In addition, the puppy was observed carrying its head sideways. I asked the representative what happened to this puppy. They stated that shortly after this puppy was born its (mother) bit it on the back of its neck. The neck area sustained an open gash… I asked the representative what did they do for this puppy after it was initially observed. The response was that they stitched up the open wound. I then asked them if the puppy was taken to or if the attending veterinarian was contacted. They answered, no, the attending veterinarian was not called.” Gingerich later confirmed those details for inspectors, stating he had used sewing string to close the wound.

Helene Hamrick of Wolf Point Kennel in Ackworth: In June of last year, this establishment was issued an official warning from the USDA for failure to provide proper veterinary care. Hamrick was also cited for keeping dogs in dangerous conditions. The warning stemmed from a May 2021 inspection that found three dogs with signs of significant dental disease, with some of their teeth exposed at the roots or so inflamed they were bleeding.

During the same inspection, USDA also noted many issues with poor housing, including enclosures with sharp points that could injure the dogs, as well as an enclosure with a gap that could injure or entrap dogs. At least two empty enclosures were so decrepit that the flooring had collapsed, and many enclosures were rusty and falling apart. In 2017, inspectors who visited Wolf Point Kennel reported finding dog food contaminated with live maggots and beetle larvae.

Water is frozen solid in every animal enclosure except for puppies housed inside south shed … (Dogs) observed licking ice in water buckets during inspection.

– USDA inspector visiting SCW Frenchies

Bruce Hooyer of JKLM Farm / Shaggy Hill Farm in Sioux Center: Since 2018, inspectors have advised Hooyer on more than one occasion to downsize the breeding operation and retain a more manageable number of animals, but the kennel still had 135 dogs when inspectors visited in November 2021 and designated the kennel as “noncompliant.”

In August 2019, the kennel was cited for unsafe and cluttered condition, with an inspector writing, “There are too many dogs for this facility. While the dogs have enough space to lay, stand, and turn around, there is not enough room for exercise. Some primary enclosures are make-shift and quite small. The number of dogs must be reduced for this facility. During [the] last visit, it was agreed that the number of dogs for this facility should not exceed 80 … There is too much crowding in every structure.”

The inspector also found dirty conditions, stating that “the overall sanitation of the facility is poor … Waste is [sitting] in buckets and thrown outside the building.” The inspector specifically instructed Hooyer to walk, by hand, 115 adult dogs in two of the buildings twice per day, “effective immediately,” because their cages were too small and didn’t give them room for exercise. However, the inspector also noted that only two people worked at the facility, which wouldn’t be enough staff to walk so many dogs. At that time, the kennel also lacked proof of vaccinations and the inspector made note of a dog with “severely matted” eyes, and a puppy with an open sore on his side.

Jake Kruse or K&E Kennels in Salem: This breeder, who sells to Petland and other retailers, was inspected in January 2022. At that time, the issues included four “housing facilities” violations for problems such as “sharp corner edges” and “broken metal” that could injure the dogs, and open trash containers. In addition, cleaning and sanitation issues were noted, such as “metal bucket food bowls that contain a buildup of caked food and organic material.” One feeder had “a buildup of caked food and wild bird feces on the interior of the feeder.” There were close to 300 dogs on site at the time of the inspection.

Steve Kruse of Stonehenge Kennel in West Point: This kennel, a reported affiliate of Daniel Gingerich’s former Wayne County breeding operation, has been cited for repeat violations related to ailing dogs. Since 2015, more than 55 injured or sick dogs have been noted by inspectors. Stonehenge Kennel is one of Iowa’s largest breeding operations, with 645 dogs on hand at the time of a September 2021 inspection. During an inspection the previous May, USDA official found four dogs in need of veterinary care. Two of them had signs of significant dental disease, and a third had an inflamed lower leg. Inspectors said a fourth dog had “an abnormal appearance to her face” and “complete hair loss” on the bridge of the nose and additional hair loss around both eyes.

The Humane Society states that a “new area of concern” for the organization is Kruse’s affiliation with Daniel Gingerich, whose license was revoked last year. Court records from the Gingerich case show that the two dealers exchanged large numbers of dogs, with Gingerich purchasing 612 dogs from Kruse last spring and Kruse leasing one of his properties to Gingerich.

In 2021, a USDA inspector cited Kruse for six dogs that were in poor condition, including an emaciated female Boston terrier and a terrier whose coat was so badly matted that the hair on her chest was “thickened and tight” while her legs were “covered in layers of matted hair.” Between 2015 and 2017, the USDA cited Kruse for at least 41 dogs in need of veterinary care between, including some with deep lacerations or oozing wounds. In December 2015, Kruse received a 21-day USDA license suspension after throwing a bag containing two dead puppies at a USDA inspector.

Lavern Nolt of Twin Birch in Charles City: Between September 2021 and February 2022, USDA inspectors cited the establishment for several dogs that were in need of veterinary care, including a Maltese named Fifi that had an abnormal skin condition, an English bulldog named Maybelle that had an abnormal condition of the right eye, and a Maltese named Billy, that had only three remaining teeth, two of which were covered with “a thick buildup of brown colored tartar.” An inspector also reported observing three Bichon puppies’ feet falling through the holes in the flooring of their enclosure. In 2019, the USDA cited Nolt for having sagging wire flooring in enclosures that could injure the dogs, with gaps that were big enough to let the dogs’ feet fall through, as well as unsanitary conditions.

Henry Sommers of Happy Puppys in Cincinnati, Iowa: Sommers has been cited for numerous violations in recent years. Last fall, an inspector wrote, “The licensee is conducting the euthanasia of the dogs himself. The licensee stated that he is given a syringe containing a drug, which is thought to be Beuthanasia-D, from the attending veterinarian. He then injects the drug through the animal’s abdominal wall and into the stomach. He then places the dog back into its enclosure and returns later to ensure it has died. The instructions for Beuthanasia-D are to administer it as an intravenous injection which will result in rapid and painless euthanasia.” The USDA inspector then tried to determine whether the attending veterinarian had in fact approved of what the Humane Society calls “a cruel method” of euthanasia.

The inspector wrote: “A [USDA] veterinary medical officer spoke to the attending veterinarian who stated that he did not give the drug to the licensee and did not authorize euthanasia with an intra-abdominal injection.” Sommers failed at least four state inspections between January 2022 and March 2022. During the February 2022 state inspection, his operation was marked “noncompliant” for several issues, including a “strong odor of animal waste,” a drainage system under the kennels that “contains animal waste and stagnant water” and other issues.

When inspectors arrived again in March 2022, most of the same issues remained, including the “strong odor of animal waste,” filthy conditions and excessive feces. Sommers reportedly admitted to the inspectors that some of the feces could have been there “for weeks.” Similar issues were also documented by state inspectors in January 2022. That same month, the USDA cited Sommers for a direct, repeat violation for failure to provide adequate veterinary care to his dogs. “Sommers, his veterinarian and oversight agencies are involved in allowing unnecessary suffering of dogs to continue” at Happy Puppys, the Humane Society states in its report.

Ken and Rhonda Van Der Zwaag of Van Der Zwaag German Shepherds in Hull: During two visits in January and February 2022, state inspectors rated Van Der Zwaag German Shepherds as “noncompliant” due to a list of problems, one of which was related to several puppies that had apparently died with no documentation to show they had received adequate veterinary care.

During a follow-up inspection in February 2022, the facility was again rated noncompliant, and the inspector noted that a puppy who had been treated for parvo had died recently from dehydration due to complications from parvo. “This breeder performed dealer activity by importing a litter of puppies for the purpose of resale,” an inspector reported. “Dogs imported into the state of Iowa must have a certificate of veterinary inspection. These puppies did not arrive with one.”

Dennis and Donna Van Wyk of Prairie Lane Kennel in New Sharon: On two occasions in December 2021, and again in January 2022, officials were unable to inspect the facility. On two other occasions in that same period, inspectors were able to enter the premises and reported the housing was in disrepair. They rated the operation as “noncompliant.” At the December 2021 state inspection, inspectors noted wood flooring that was rotting or had holes in it, insulation that was “hanging down into [a] dog kennel” and damaged enclosures. There were more than 50 dogs and puppies on the property at that time.

Charles Vogl of SCW Frenchies in Atlantic: In November 2021, state inspectors responding to a complaint found dogs without adequate shelter in the winter cold, including a pregnant dog that was housed outdoors with no bedding and no door to the enclosure. “Currently her water is frozen solid,” the inspector wrote. “All indoor and outdoor runs are 50% to 80% covered in animal waste … Water is frozen solid in every animal enclosure except for puppies housed inside south shed … (Dogs) observed licking ice in water buckets during inspection.”

The owner was unable to explain why four puppies who were noted in the records were missing from the property, but he allegedly stated that he “thought perhaps one had died.”

At a reinspection later that month, inspectors found that some of the housing was still inadequate. During an October 2020 visit, an inspector made note of excessive trash and clutter, evidence of mice in the kennel buildings, significant structural damage, and dogs that were found “noticeably shivering” in a building that was only 43 degrees.

Anita Wikstrom of Unforgettable Schnauzers in Ames: In February 2022, Unforgettable Schnauzers was rated “noncompliant” by inspectors due to issues with clutter, trash, dirt and weeds. A month earlier, in January 2022, it was also rated “noncompliant,” with inspectors writing that the facility was “very cluttered with trash, feces, and debris inside and outside,” and “excessive build-up of feces, dust, hair, and mud in housing facilities.” Inspectors wrote that they could hear dogs in a garage on the premises, but they “could not inspect the garage for compliance with rules.”

During an October 2020 inspection, state inspectors reported the facility was “very dirty with a noticeable odor of feces/urine. Dirty bedding, dirt/dust, and feces throughout, floor very grimy. More frequent cleaning/sanitation is needed due to large volume of dogs. Discussed definitions of cleaning and sanitation, different cleaning/sanitation products and methods with owner.” The inspector added that he provided the owner with the names of several nearby licensed shelters and rescue groups to contact “to possibly surrender the dogs to help downsize the herd.”

Woody Wiley of Cantril: During a February 2022 USDA inspection, inspectors found several dogs with visible veterinary issues. One of the dogs was a female golden retriever with hair loss over half her body, another was a bichon frise with hair loss, another was a dog with an “open wound” on one shoulder, and a fourth was a dog that appeared to be very underweight with her ribs, backbone and hip bones visible. The owner reportedly admitted to the inspector that no medical records had been maintained on the dogs in question and there were no medical records for another dog on site that was blind. There were 248 dogs on site at that time. In March 2022, Wiley received an official warning from USDA for the veterinary care issues found in February.

Lloyd Yoder of Valleyview Premium Puppies in Riverside: USDA inspectors who visited Valleyview in February 2022 and March 2022 found more than a dozen violations, including unclean and unsafe conditions, two dogs that appeared emaciated, and one injured dog. “Female Old English sheepdog is severely emaciated,” an inspector wrote. “The dog’s spine, ribs, shoulder blades and hip bones were protruding and easily felt beneath the hair coat with little to no fat or muscle covering the dog’s frame. Loose stool is also coating the hair beneath the dog’s tail. The dog has not been evaluated by a veterinarian and is not under treatment for the poor body condition or loose stool.”

The inspector also wrote, “The licensee is not removing the dog feces from the enclosures on a daily basis … In several enclosures, the inspectors could not walk without stepping in feces … In many enclosures, rodents have dug holes beneath the shelters and up through the plywood floors indicating that the plywood floor has most likely rotted away … Another enclosure, containing two adult dogs, has numerous shotgun shells scattered across the ground. The dogs have direct access to the shotgun shells. Shotgun shells could have a negative impact on the health of the dogs should they chew on or consume them.”

At the same inspection, some of the dogs’ food was found be spoiled, contaminated or moldy and some of the food had bird droppings and rodent feces within it. Some dogs were inside enclosures that had “poison pellets” (mouse and rat killer) strewn in them, and one dog was seen “carrying around a dead mouse in its mouth.”

Loren Yoder of Riverside: During a February 2022 USDA inspection, Yoder was cited for six violations related to housing, veterinary care and cleanliness. The inspector noted that one enclosure with five dogs in it had a plywood floor that was “buried beneath a thick layer of dirt and gravel,” and “in the enclosure, rodents have dug holes beneath the shelter and up through the plywood floor indicating that the plywood floor has most likely rotted away.”

In addition, the inspector noted: “The facility is not removing the dog feces from the enclosures on a daily basis.” The inspector also noted there were missing veterinary records and inadequate veterinary guidance on some issues, as well as a lack of “preventative care and treatment plans to maintain healthy and unmatted hair coats, properly trimmed toenails, and clean and healthy skin.”

Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Iowa Capital Dispatch maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kathie Obradovich for questions: Follow Iowa Capital Dispatch on Facebook and Twitter.

Alleged 'mastermind' of bank-fraud case is sentenced to 14 months in prison

A central Iowa businessman alleged to be the “mastermind” of a million-dollar scheme to defraud the Small Business Administration has been ordered to serve 14 months in prison.

Federal prosecutors had asked the judge in the case to sentence Michael Barry Slater, the founder and president of Vital Financial Services in Clive, to 57 months in prison and to impose a “significant fine” for his conviction on one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud.

Instead, U.S. District Judge Stephanie Rose last week sentenced Slater to 14 months in prison, with a three-year term of supervised release to follow. Rose also ordered Slater to pay restitution in the amount of $4,528,191. No fine was imposed.

Slater was part of a group of financial executives criminally charged with shifting millions in potential losses from the now-shuttered Valley Bank in Moline, Illinois, to the SBA.

Prosecutors alleged that it was Slater who hatched a plan that called for Larry Charles Henson of Davenport, the former president and chairman of the bank, to engineer certain loans so that it appeared the borrowers qualified for SBA guarantees.

To do this, prosecutors said, Slater and bank executives completed loan-guarantee applications that included false statements about both the borrowers’ eligibility to receive the loans and the eventual disbursement of the loan proceeds.

As part of that scheme, Henson and Valley Bank Vice President Andrew Erpelding had Susan McLaughlin, also a bank vice president, alter the bank’s loan-payment reports to eliminate any evidence of past-due payments so the loans would appear to be eligible for SBA backing.

In March, Henson was sentenced to nine months in prison and ordered to pay $4.5 million in restitution after being convicted of fraud. Earlier this month, McLaughlin was sentenced to time served on a felony conviction of fraud and was ordered to pay a $500 fine. Erpelding is expected to be sentenced May 17.

Prosecutors sought stiffer sentence

Prior to Slater’s sentencing, prosecutors argued for a sentence of 57 months and a substantial fine, telling the court that Slater had engaged in SBA lending for over 20 years and so “the true extent of the damage he has done to the program will likely never be known.”

They alleged that before launching Vital in 2009, Slater had been employed as a senior finance consultant and partner at Banc-Serv Consulting in Indiana. In March 2019, several of Banc-Serv’s key employees were indicted for engaging in fraud involving SBA loans made between 2004 and 2017.

“Slater was employed by Banc-Serv and was involved in originating SBA loans during the time period charged in the Indiana indictment,” prosecutors told the judge in the Valley Bank case.

With regard to the fraud committed at Valley Bank, prosecutors said, Slater “served as the mastermind and originator of the scheme, and without his expertise the other defendants would not have been able to engage in this fraud.”

The prosecutors alleged the plot was formed in October 2011, when Slater called Henson and explained “a variety of ways in which he had banks fraudulently hide from the SBA” information about loans that might disqualify them from SBA-backed guarantees.

Slater’s attorney may have disputed the prosecutors’ allegations or argued for a lighter sentence, but the available court records give no indication.

Four days before sentencing, Slater’s attorney informed the court that he intended to file “certain sentencing-related documents,” including exhibits reports and memoranda for the judge to review prior to sentencing, and he asked for permission to file all of those records under seal so they couldn’t be accessed by the public.

No reason was given for the added level of secrecy, but court records indicate Chief Magistrate Judge Helen C. Adams approved the request.

Slater’s attorney, Sean Spellman, declined to comment on the case.

Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Iowa Capital Dispatch maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kathie Obradovich for questions: Follow Iowa Capital Dispatch on Facebook and Twitter.

'Easter Bunny' listed as prosecutor in hundreds of Iowa court cases

The Easter Bunny was representing the prosecution in several hundred Polk County criminal cases.

At least that’s what Iowa Courts Online, the court system’s official, statewide web-based repository of court records, indicated for most of April.

On April 4, the online docket sheets for hundreds of Polk County cases – primarily misdemeanors and drunken-driving cases – were revised to indicate the prosecution of those cases had been transferred from one particular assistant county attorney, Kailey Gray, to another “prosecutor” in the county attorney’s office by the name of “Easter Santa Bunny.”

And that’s where the cases remained as of Thursday morning.

Bret Lucas, an assistant county attorney, said Thursday the situation stems from a recent realignment of cases within the county attorney’s office. Gray took over a colleague’s cases, and Iowa Courts Online accurately reflects the transfer of those cases. But Gray’s old cases, he said, were “transferred” to the Easter Bunny until all of the work on the digital case transfer could be completed.

“We had contacted the Judicial Branch and they worked with their information technology department to facilitate the mass transfer of cases,” Lucas said. “Apparently, the Judicial Branch and the IT department decided to put that placeholder in there because, obviously, no one else would have that name… So they were all aware of that, and it sounds like they must still be in the middle of that transfer process.”

Stacy Curtis, a supervisor for the criminal division of the Polk County Clerk of Court’s Office, said the references to the Easter Bunny should not be visible to the public either through a name search or in the docket sheets for the individual cases. She said the office “took extra steps” to make sure members of the public didn’t see any reference to the Easter Bunny and only clerks, lawyers, judges and others with higher security clearance could see it. It appears that the opposite may have occurred, as the Easter Bunny references could be seen by members of the public who weren’t even logged into the site.

“This has been a nightmare for me,” Curtis said. “We moved everything from Kaylie to the Easter Bunny, and those should have all been cleaned up so you wouldn’t be able to see that.”

Many of the cases that were publicly “assigned” to the Easter Bunny are open, active cases, but hundreds of others are dormant, though not technically closed because of probationary sentences that have yet to be completed or fines that have yet to be paid.

The only practical effect of the Easter Bunny designation is that some defendants may see that information online and not know who to contact at the county attorney’s office about their case.

After being contacted by the Iowa Capital Dispatch on Thursday, court officials were working to erase from the website any mention of the Easter Bunny, and by late afternoon it appeared they had succeeded.

Santa bailed out by Rudolph

The Easter Bunny cases are not the only criminal matters listed on the court system’s official website to have featured nonexistent lawyers or defendants. In what appear to be training exercises for clerical staff, fictitious “test cases” are sometimes created and then posted to the public website but never removed.

For example, a December 1997 case shows Santa Claus being convicted of felony burglary and kidnapping, with a charge of assault on a peace officer dismissed by the court. The court records indicate a sentence of 999 years in prison was imposed.

As part of that same test case, the court imposed a no-contact order prohibiting Santa from having any contact with Mickey Mouse. Santa’s bail – listed as “one million bucks” in a possible punning reference to Santa’s reindeer — is stated to have been “posted by Rudolph.”

In 2014, Santa Claus was charged with second-degree robbery in Scott County, according to the Iowa Courts Online site. Although there’s no record of a conviction in that case, Claus’ right to carry a gun was revoked.

The court system’s website also shows that in 2014, Mickey Mouse filed a small claims case against Donald Duck in Marion County.

Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Iowa Capital Dispatch maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kathie Obradovich for questions: Follow Iowa Capital Dispatch on Facebook and Twitter.

Anti-vaxxer demands $17 million in silver from boss, then wins jobless benefits

An Iowa hospital employee fired after refusing a COVID-19 vaccine and demanding her employer pay her $17.2 million in silver dollar coins, in part for its face-mask requirement, has been awarded unemployment benefits.

State records indicate Lori D. Harper worked as a systems analyst for Mercy Medical Center from July 2015 until she was fired in October 2021. A month before her termination, Mercy’s president and chief executive officer had sent an email to all employees informing them they were required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Nov. 15, though exemptions for medical or religious reasons would be considered.

On Sept. 19, Harper sent her employer a series of documents via certified mail. In those records, Harper informed Mercy she would “conditionally accept” the hospital’s offer “to be injected with the COVID-19” if the employer would first provide proof that the vaccine would be “entirely retrievable from, and also removable in its entirety, from my body, person and womanhood” after each shift that she worked.

Failure to do so, Harper stated in the documents, would be deemed an admission of personal liability for damages resulting from her termination. Harper didn’t respond to several subsequent requests to meet with management and was eventually suspended due to “unprofessional, insubordinate and unacceptable” conduct.

Management then reiterated a request to meet with Harper and reminded her she could either be vaccinated or apply for a medical or religious exemption. In response, Harper drafted a “Notice of Liability Regarding Trespass” and “Fee Schedule” and paid a process server to serve those documents on Mercy’s president and chief executive officer.

The “Fee Schedule” imposed a $10 million fee on Mercy for “unlawful termination,” a $2 million fee for “every trespass in my private matters,” a $2 million fee for “DNA copyright infringement,” and a half-million-dollar fee for “the unlawful request to wear a face covering” at work. Each fee, Harper said, was to be paid in “silver dollar coins convertible at the legal and lawful ratio prescribed by law of Federal Reserve notes to silver dollars.”

Days later, she billed Mercy for $17,250,000. She was subsequently fired.

At a recent hearing on her request for unemployment benefits, Harper submitted evidence of the demands she had made of Mercy and testified that because she has no legal or medical training, she does not know if it was even possible for Mercy to have medically removed the vaccine from her body after each shift that she worked.

Administrative Law Judge Daniel Zeno ruled that Mercy “may have had a valid reason to terminate Ms. Harper’s employment,” in part because of her “outlandish fee schedule demanding payment in silver dollar coins, and unscientific demand that the employer remove the COVID-19 vaccine from her body” after each shift. However, he said, the company did not participate in the hearing and had provided no evidence as to why it chose to fire Harper.

“Since the employer has not established misconduct, as is required by law, Ms. Harper is not disqualified for benefits,” Zeno ruled, reversing a previous decision by a fact-finder, and awarding her unemployment. “Ms. Harper was discharged from employment for no disqualifying reason.”

More unemployment decisions

Other Iowans whose unemployment-benefit requests recently went before a judge include:

Brennen Mefferd, who worked for BTX Iowa, also known as Biotech X-Ray, a mobile diagnostic imaging business that sends X-ray technicians into nursing homes. After the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, BTX imposed a vaccination requirement on employees, in part because of the high mortality rate of nursing homes residents infected with COVID-19, but it granted Mefferd’s subsequent request for a religious exemption.

In August 2021, according to state records, Mefferd was still unvaccinated and contracted COVID-19. After returning to work, he was exempted from COVID-19 testing for 90 days due to his previous infection. When the requirement was reimposed, according to state records, Mefferd refused to submit to testing and screening, claiming the chemical used to sterilize the swabs increased his risk of cancer. He was fired and subsequently applied for unemployment benefits.

Administrative Law Judge James E. Timberland recently denied Mefferd’s benefits claim, saying Mefferd had “seized on the notion that the chemical substance used to sterilize COVID-19 testing swabs, ethylene oxide, placed him at increased risk of cancer. Ethylene oxide is an FDA-approved sterilizing agent.” Timberland noted that about 50% of all sterile medical devices in the U.S. are sterilized with ethylene oxide.

Mary Weich, who was fired from REM Iowa Community Services where she worked as a program director responsible for training and supervising home health aides. She was fired after one of REM Iowa’s clients had a visit from his guardian who discovered the client had open sores and dried feces on his body, according to state records.

A subsequent investigation by REM Iowa concluded that there was an overall lack of cleanliness with regard to the company’s clients; a lack of available cleaning supplies; and numerous medication errors. REM Iowa concluded the staff had not been trained properly on how to safely and effectively perform their jobs. Weich was denied unemployment benefits.

Steve Gentner, who worked for Cardinal Health, a distributor of pharmaceuticals and medical products, until he was fired last October for refusing to follow a company policy requiring that he be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Gentner claimed a religious exemption, according to state records, but when his employer asked for documentation to support that claim, he provided a letter from the Catholic Church indicating that it recommended parishioners get the vaccine. As a result, Cardinal Health denied Gentner’s request for a religious exemption, but Gentner continued to refuse the vaccine.

An administrative law judge found that while Gentner’s claim of an exemption was unsupported by the church’s actual recommendation, a new law that was enacted last fall by the Iowa Legislature and governor “does not allow a vaccine refusal to be the basis for a denial of unemployment benefits.” Gentner was awarded benefits.

Connie Goddard, who worked for Mercy Health Services as a licensed practical nurse until last October, when she abandoned her job. In July 2021, Mercy instituted a vaccination policy that required COVID-19 vaccinations for all staff, although exemptions were allowed for religious or medical reasons. Goddard told her supervisor she did not intend to get the vaccine or request an exemption, according to state records.

In September, Goddard was still working for the hospital due to an extension in the deadline to comply with the vaccine policy. When she arrived for work the night of Sept. 26, she discovered she was assigned to the COVID-19 unit, became anxious and concluded she did not want to risk carrying the virus home to her family, according to state records. She left work without notifying any of the supervisors and never returned.

She later filed for unemployment benefits. Because her separation from work stemmed from a voluntary resignation through job abandonment, she was denied unemployment benefits.

Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Iowa Capital Dispatch maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kathie Obradovich for questions: Follow Iowa Capital Dispatch on Facebook and Twitter.

Iowans fired for refusing vaccine now collecting jobless benefits

Iowans forced out of work for refusing the COVID-19 vaccine are now beginning to collect unemployment benefits due to a new law approved in October.

Gov. Kim Reynolds signed into law a bill that guarantees Iowans unemployment benefits if they’re fired or forced to resign for refusing a COVID-19 vaccine. Reynolds signed the bill Oct. 29, 2021, a day after the Iowa Legislature passed it during a one-day special session.

Under the new law, even those Iowans who walk away from their jobs rather than be fired for refusing the vaccine can collect unemployment benefits, assuming they are otherwise eligible.

The new law also provides that Iowa employers must waive vaccine requirements for workers who submit a “statement” of some kind saying vaccines either conflict with their faith or “would be injurious” to either their health or the health of someone in their household.

Application of the law, however, isn’t always consistent. Some Iowans have been denied benefits with a judge noting that their employment ended shortly before the new law took effect. Others have been awarded benefits despite being fired weeks before the new law’s approval.

For example, on Oct. 22, 2021, Kodi Stone was fired from her job as a human resources specialist for Lifespace Communities, a chain of senior living facilities, for violating the company’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

Stone had allegedly told her supervisor on Sept. 30 that she would not be getting the COIVD-19 vaccine and had explained she did not understand the research behind the vaccine and was not comfortable with evidence of its effectiveness.

She reportedly told her employer it was her understanding that some doctors were advising the public to refrain from getting the vaccine; that she was not in a high-risk category for those who become infected; and she practiced other mitigation measures while being screened for the virus daily.

Administrative Law Judge Daniel Zeno recently denied Stone’s request for unemployment benefits, noting in his ruling that she had been fired a week before the new law — Chapter 96.5A of the Code of Iowa — was approved.

Lifespace’s vaccine mandate, Zeno found, “was a reasonable work rule. The employer has presented credible evidence that Ms. Stone refused to receive the COVID-19 vaccination after having been warned that non-compliance would result in discipline.”

But Sarah Burroughs, who was fired from her job four weeks before Stone, was awarded benefits, with the judge in her case citing the new law.

Burroughs worked for Grandpad Inc., a provider of communication devices aimed at seniors. She was fired Sept. 28 for refusing to comply with her employer’s mandatory vaccination policy.

Unlike Stone, Burroughs submitted a request for an exemption based on conflicts with her religious beliefs. However, her exemption request was denied by the company and the judge who later reviewed her claim for unemployment benefits, James Timberland, said the exemption request was filled with “sundry boilerplate legal arguments for why she should not be compelled to be vaccinated against COVID-19.”

But Timberland, citing the new law that was approved on Oct. 29, awarded Burroughs benefits.

Medical exemptions require only a ‘statement’

On the same day Stone lost her job, Sydney Even was fired from her job at Clinton’s Mercy Medical Center where she worked as a full-time registered nurse.

Even was pregnant at the time and had decided to wait and get the vaccine after she gave birth. She completed the hospital’s medical-exemption form, but her ob-gyn refused to sign it. She then went to her primary care doctor, who also refused to sign it. Left with an unsigned medical-exemption request, Even was subsequently fired.

Zeno presided over the hearing on Even’s request for unemployment benefits and noted that Mercy Medical Center had fired her seven days before Oct. 29, when, he said, the new law took effect. Therefore, he ruled, the law guaranteeing her unemployment benefits was “of no effect in this matter.”

Still, Even was awarded benefits, with Zeno finding that she had “tried to comply with the employer’s policy” and had submitted a medical-exemption request – albeit one that her doctors wouldn’t sign.

Recently, the Iowa House approved House File 2355, which shortens the maximum amount of unemployment Iowans can collect to 16 weeks, down from 26 weeks under the current law. The bill also requires unemployed workers to accept offers of lower-paying jobs and to do so earlier in their job search.

The Senate’s version of the bill adds a one-week waiting period before Iowans can begin receiving unemployment benefits.

More unemployment decisions

Administrative law judges have rendered decisions in more than 9,000 contested cases for unemployment benefits this year, according to state records.

Among the more unusual recent cases are these:

Jacqueline Currie was fired last summer from the Dewitt Food Bank where she worked as food server. According to state records, Currie was working at the deli counter one day when she belched so loudly that her manager heard it three aisles away. When the manager rushed to check on the situation, Currie acknowledged what had transpired and apologized.

The day after the belch, Currie was seen licking a serving spoon immediately after she’d used it to serve food to a customer, according to state records. The company alleged Currie had previously been warned for inappropriate actions and poor manners, and had also been warned for not washing her hands or changing her gloves after wiping her mouth while working in front of customers. An administrative law judge recently ruled Currie was ineligible for unemployment benefits and ordered that she repay $196 already collected.

Arionie Hildreth worked at Greenberg Jewelers for two days last September before she quit. According to Hildreth’s testimony at a recent unemployment hearing, she was hired as a full-time office manager and sales associate. On her first day of work, she alleged, the manager and assistant manager had a conversation with her regarding their close relationship and their use of cocaine and marijuana.

According to the judge’s decision in Hildreth’s unemployment case, the assistant manager allegedly told Hildreth about his upcoming birthday and how he was “going to have a threesome with a nurse and that required special bedding due to the bodily fluids.” The next day, the manager allegedly held a team meeting in which the staff was informed of the need to racially profile older black men when they came into the store.

After her shift that day, Hildreth sent the manager a text, indicating she was quitting. At Hildreth’s unemployment hearing, the company did not refute Hildreth’s allegations and agreed she most likely did not know how to properly report her concerns with management before quitting. An administrative law judge awarded Hildreth unemployment benefits, ruling that her employer had given her good cause to quit.

Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Iowa Capital Dispatch maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kathie Obradovich for questions: Follow Iowa Capital Dispatch on Facebook and Twitter.

Iowa worker fired over Biden-USSR comparison is denied jobless benefits

An Iowa man who says he lost his job for comparing life under the Biden administration to living in the Soviet Union is not entitled to jobless benefits, a judge has ruled.

State records indicate Lee Hainey worked as a machinist for the Carver Pump Company from 2007 through September of last year when he was fired.

A few days before he was terminated, Hainey and his colleagues at Carver received a companywide email from the chief operating officer that included an update on the COVID-19 pandemic and the company’s response to it.

Hainey then sent out a companywide response to the message, writing, “Welcome to the USSR, comrades!”

A supervisor confronted Hainey, asking him what he was thinking by sending the email and stating that it came across as a “big middle finger” to the chief operating officer. “Yep,” Hainey allegedly replied, according to state records. “Glad my message was received.”

At a subsequent meeting with his superiors, Hainey expressed regret that company officials felt the email was disrespectful, but he did not express regret for having sent the email. Hainey was fired and the company then challenged his claim for unemployment benefits.

Recently, the matter went before Administrative Law Judge Darrin T. Hamilton, who ruled against Hainey and denied him benefits.

Hainey, Hamilton ruled, “was pleased with the middle-finger message to the COO,” and only later acknowledged that sending it was a mistake. The judge found that Hainey’s assertion that he did not intend to disrespect the company officials and was instead expressing his displeasure with the Biden administration was not credible – but that even if that was Hainey’s intent, he still would have been violating company rules by causing a disruption in the workplace.

More coronavirus-related unemployment decisions

Other recent unemployment decisions related to the pandemic include:

Randy Boose, who resigned last September from Tyson Fresh Meats, where he worked as a social-distancing monitor. At the time, Tyson employees were required to get the COVID-19 vaccine, but Boose objected due to concerns he had with the vaccine’s safety. Without discussing the matter with company officials, and without requesting a waiver from the vaccine policy, Boose quit and then applied for unemployment benefits. At the time he quit, he was not necessarily facing termination, a judge ruled in denying Boose benefits.

Kelly Still, who was fired last August from Knapp Properties where he had worked for the past 21 years, most recently as a maintenance technician. Still worked exclusively for one homeowner’s association that was a customer of Knapp Properties.

At some point, the association’s board president asked Still if he had been vaccinated against COVID-19. Still said he hadn’t, and the board president told him he may be required to do so. Still objected, arguing a vaccine requirement might be illegal. Later, after the board decided everyone working in the building should be vaccinated, Still allegedly told the board president he was vaccinated, but told residents of the building he was not, according to state records. He then refused to provide the board with proof of his vaccination.

Knapp Properties fired Still for failing to comply with the association’s rules. Administrative Law Judge Daniel Zeno awarded Still unemployment benefits, noting that the association’s board president didn’t testify at the hearing as to the policies that were violated. Zeno noted in his decision that it wasn’t a condemnation of Knapp’s right to “take reasonable steps to protect its staff and customers from the ongoing, global COVID-19 pandemic,” and should not be seen as “an endorsement of Mr. Still not being vaccinated.”

Amber O’Donnell, who resigned last October from Medical Oncology Hematology where she worked as a full-time chemotherapy pharmacy technician. O’Donnell quit in lieu of being fired for her refusal to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Citing the state law that took effect last October, which says Iowans discharged from employment for refusing the COVID-19 vaccine cannot be disqualified from collecting unemployment, an administrative law judge recently awarded O’Donnell benefits.

Tamara Gibney, who resigned last June from Marengo Memorial Hospital where she worked as a registered nurse. Gibney resigned in lieu of being terminated for refusing to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

In December 2020, the hospital’s CEO had sent an email to all employees alerting everyone that the vaccine “will be required of all team members” as a condition of their employment.

Gibney was initially granted a medical exemption because she was breastfeeding a newborn infant, but in June of last year she transitioned her child to a bottle and asked her employer whether the vaccination was still required. When she was told that it was, Gibney resigned in lieu of being fired.

Citing the new state law on benefits for workers forced out of jobs by COVID-19 vaccine requirements, an administrative law judge recently awarded Gibney benefits.

Donna Whaley, whose hours were reduced last fall at Wesley Life, where she works as Meals on Wheels driver and a home health care aide. Whaley refused to comply with her employer’s vaccine mandate and did not provide documentation to justify her refusal under medical or religious grounds.

In late October, a few days before Whaley was to be fired, Gov. Kim Reynolds eliminated the requirement for Iowans to provide medical documentation to their employer when refusing the COVID-19 vaccine. By that time, Wesley Life had already begun filling the positions of people it expected to fire due to vaccine refusals.

Although Whaley was not fired, her hours were reduced – which was an arrangement she agreed to. Noting that Whaley had wanted her hours reduced, a judge recently denied her request for unemployment benefits.

Kathy Langreck, who was fired last October from Palmer Lutheran Health Center, where she worked as a full-time environmental services technician. Palmer’s policy last fall was that all employees were required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Nov. 1, 2021, unless religious or medical exemptions applied. Langreck told her employer she did not intend to be vaccinated and also that she did not believe she qualified for an exemption.

Her refusal, she said, was based on data she had seen and the fact that she knew people who suffered side effects from the vaccine. She was fired on Nov. 9. Citing the new state law that says Iowans who are forced out of work for refusing the vaccine can’t be declared ineligible for unemployment, a judge recently awarded Langreck benefits.

Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Iowa Capital Dispatch maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kathie Obradovich for questions: Follow Iowa Capital Dispatch on Facebook and Twitter.

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Accused Capitol rioters fight prosecutors' use of Proud Boys photos

An Iowa mother accused of taking part in the U.S. Capitol riots with her son is attempting to block federal prosecutors’ use of a photo of her posing with the Proud Boys.

Deborah Sandoval of Des Moines and her son, Salvador Sandoval Jr. of Ankeny, were arrested 13 months ago and face charges that include violent entry and disorderly conduct on the Capitol grounds and entering or remaining in a restricted building without lawful authority.

Deborah Sandoval also faces a charge of impeding or disrupting the orderly conduct of government, and her son faces a charge of obstructing, impeding or interfering with law enforcement.

The Sandovals have pleaded innocent to the charges. Trial dates have yet to be scheduled.

The two are accused of participating in the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capital, which involved hundreds of supporters of former President Donald Trump storming and then breaking into the Capitol building.

In recent court filings, Deborah Sanodval’s lawyers argue that “she did not come to Washington, D.C., with the intent to go to the Capitol Building. Instead, she came to Washington, D.C., to attend a political rally at the invitation and urging of the former president.”

They allege that after Trump’s rally south of the White House, “Ms. Sandoval, along with her companions, proceeded to the Capitol at the invitation and urging of the former president, who told the crowd he would be walking with them.”

Sandoval’s lawyers want the court to bar the admission of photos and videos collected by prosecutors, including a December 2020 photo in which Deborah is seen posing with more than a dozen members of the Proud Boys, most of whom are equipped in tactical gear.

“The videos and photos depicting violence of the storming of the Capitol has nothing to do with Ms. Sandoval,” her lawyers argue in a recent motion before the court. “Unfortunately, there is at least one photo of Ms. Sandoval posing with members of the Proud Boys on an occasion before Jan. 6, 2021. It is believed that the government may try to introduce some of these photos as well as videos of the storming of the Capitol building during an opening statement, or in its case in chief. In so doing, they would be creating a false impression, that Ms. Sandoval participated in or coordinated the planning of riotous behavior.”

‘Don’t concede, Trump, because we are not going to.’

The Proud Boys is an extreme-right, neo-fascist organization that describes itself as a “pro-Western fraternal organization for men who refuse to apologize for creating the modern world; aka western chauvinists.” The group has been linked to past acts of violence.

In response to the defense’s motion to exclude such evidence at trial, prosecutors argue the photos and video footage they have collected depict the “violence surrounding Deborah as she breached the west side Senate doors.”

They say the material is relevant to her intent and state of mind and are an intrinsic part of the government’s case, and they claim Deborah “was part of the first wave of rioters who entered after other rioters pushed through a line of law enforcement officers.”

Prosecutors allege Deborah Sandoval entered the office of Sen. Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat, took photographs and then traversed through the Capitol before exiting through the Senate doors.

“It will be the government’s burden at trial to show that the defendant did not have a lawful right to be present at the Capitol during the riots of January 6, and that defendant did not enter the Capitol by mistake, accident, or have a good-faith belief that her entry and presence was lawful,” prosecutors have told the court. “Those videos speak to whether she knew she entered a restricted building or grounds without lawful authority … They show that any reasonable person would understand that he/she had no right to lawfully enter the building.”

The government also argues that evidence of Deborah’s “association” with the Proud Boys may become relevant at her trial to “rebut any suggestion that the defendant is unaware of, or does not support, the Proud Boys.”

According to prosecutors, a December 2020 video on Deborah’s phone shows her and her son, Salvador, driving to Washington, D.C., with Deborah announcing their plans to protest the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.

On the video, Deborah allegedly asks Salvador if he is ready, Salvador nods, and Deborah responds by saying, “It ain’t over. The Supreme Court didn’t [unintelligible]. It was worded wrong. It will be refiled. But anyway, there is always martial law. Don’t concede, Trump, because we are not going to.”

In court filings, prosecutors say “this video supplies proof of Deborah and Salvador’s shared intent to obstruct the certification of the 2020 presidential election by Congress and rebuts any claim that they mistakenly wandered onto restricted Capitol grounds during the certification.”

In arguing for a change of venue for her trial, Deborah Sandoval’s attorneys say that because U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland has compared the Capitol riot to “horrific events in American history,” including the Oklahoma City bombing, the case should be transferred out of the District of Columbia.

In separate court proceedings, the Sandovals are also attempting to block the enforcement of a subpoena from the U.S. House Select Committee to Investigate the Jan. 6 Attack on the U.S. Capitol. That subpoena allegedly seeks “connection records and records of session times and durations,” as well as all calling, messaging and data-connection records associated with their phones.

According to an FBI investigator’s sworn statement, made public in court records, video footage from inside the Capitol shows that the younger Sandoval not only entered the building “but was also engaged in assaulting law enforcement officers … The CCTV footage shows Salvador Sandoval Jr. pushing two different law enforcement officers who are clearly identified as Metropolitan Police Officers via insignias on their jackets and helmets. Salvador Sandoval Jr. also grabbed the shield of a third Metropolitan Police Officer, pulled it toward himself, but was unsuccessful in prying it free from the officer’s grasp.”

The Capitol riot led to five deaths, including that of a Capitol police officer. Trump was subsequently impeached on an article charging him with “incitement of insurrection,” but was acquitted by the Senate. Seven Republican senators voted to convict the former president.

More than 500 people have been criminally charged in connection with the riot.

Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Iowa Capital Dispatch maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kathie Obradovich for questions: Follow Iowa Capital Dispatch on Facebook and Twitter.

Bird flu hits flock of 5.3 million Iowa hens

A highly contagious and deadly avian influenza has been detected in an immense flock of egg-laying chickens in northwest Iowa, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship reported Friday.

The Buena Vista County flock has 5.3 million birds, said Chloe Carson, a spokesperson for the department. The virus was confirmed Thursday. It is the second flock in the county to be infected and the fourth in Iowa this year.

The county was among the hardest hit by a bird flu outbreak in 2015 and is under a governor’s disaster proclamation to assist with the detection and containment of the disease. State agricultural officials have said they have a goal to cull infected flocks within 24 hours of detection to prevent the virus’ spread.

Migrating wild birds — which often don’t suffer the same deadly symptoms as domestic birds — are the likely sources of the outbreaks, State Veterinarian Jeff Kaisand has said. The state ag department doesn’t identify the specific locations of the outbreaks.

The virus was previously identified in a Taylor County flock of about 919,000 egg-laying chickens on March 10, a Buena Vista flock of 50,000 turkeys on March 6, and a backyard flock of 42 chickens and ducks in Pottawattamie County on March 1.

It has been identified in a total of 39 commercial and backyard flocks in 17 states, with new confirmations coming on a nearly daily basis, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The latest affected flock in Iowa is the largest among them.

The series of outbreaks in 2015 led to the culling of more than 30 million birds in Iowa. Iowa is the nation’s leading egg producer.

Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Iowa Capital Dispatch maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kathie Obradovich for questions: Follow Iowa Capital Dispatch on Facebook and Twitter.

Iowa police officer fired for switching off body camera amid unruly crowd

An Iowa police officer who repeatedly turned off his body camera while dealing with an unruly crowd of citizens committed job-related misconduct, an Iowa judge has ruled.

State records indicate Walter Pacheco was fired by the city of Eagle Grove from his job as a police officer last summer, several weeks after he began working for the city.

His termination stemmed from an incident last summer that involved Pacheco being assigned to handle crowd control at a bar. Pacheco was at the establishment for two to three hours, during which time about 200 people gathered. Some of the people were intoxicated and, at some point, the crowd began to get out of control. Some of the individuals made comments that Pacheco considered intimidating or that he interpreted as death threats, according to state records.

Although the employer’s policy requires police officers to have their body cameras turned on when interacting with the public, Pacheco turned his camera off multiple times while at the scene, saying later it was “dead time” that wasn’t worth recording.

Later that day, with his camera switched on, Pacheco was talking with a firefighter about the number of intoxicated people in the crowd and remarked that instead of arresting the people, he could have simply shot them.

The department later reviewed the footage and fired Pacheco for having switched off his camera while performing crowd control and for his remarks to the firefighter. In his defense, Pacheco said the remark about shooting people was a joke.

He was recently denied unemployment benefits, with an administrative law judge ruling that he had engaged in misconduct.

“Mr. Pacheco’s argument that he turned off his body camera only during ‘dead time’ and turned it back on when he interacted with the public is undercut by him keeping his body camera on while he spoke with the firefighter,” Administrative Law Judge Daniel Zeno ruled.

More unemployment cases

Other Iowans who were recently awarded or denied jobless benefits include:

Tara Klein, who worked for the Grandview Heights nursing home in Marshalltown since June 2020 as a full-time registered nurse. On Sept. 15 of last year, she was working a 16-hour shift. Around 10:30 p.m. that day, her supervisor called her and told her that she would also be scheduled to work 16-hours shifts the following Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

Klein told the supervisor that she could not physically or mentally handle working that many hours or provide the residents of the home with the proper care. The supervisor allegedly hung up on Klein, and two hours later, a scheduler informed Klein she was scheduled to work the upcoming 16-hour shifts.

Klein told the scheduler it was physically impossible for her to do that, and after 19 hours on duty she went home. The next day, the home’s administrator allegedly sent Klein a series of text messages indicating that if she was not working the upcoming Saturday and Sunday shifts, the home would consider her employment to be over.

The home subsequently challenged Klein’s application for unemployment benefits. An administrative law judge ruled that the home “provided no evidence to establish misconduct on the part of Ms. Klein,” and awarded her benefits.

Joshua Statler, who was fired last April from Mercy Health Services where he worked as a full-time registered nurse. He was fired shortly after being suspended pending an investigation into an allegation that he was stealing medical supplies.

According to a ruling by Administrative Law Judge Andrew Duffelmeyer, Mercy concluded during the course of its investigation that Statler was stealing narcotics, as evidenced by electronic medication-dispensing records and logs. He was denied unemployment benefits. State records indicate no public licensing board action or criminal charges have been filed in the case.

Doug E. Kelley, who was fired last September from Mercy Health Services where he worked as a full-time registered nurse since 2003. A clinical manager had received an audit from a hospital pharmacy regarding Kelley’s withdrawal of narcotics over the previous two weeks.

According to an administrative law judge’s ruling, the audit indicated that Kelley withdrew a controlled substance 25 times for one particular patient, when during that same period nurses working other shifts had provided the drug one or two times. Kelley had also recorded a number on the pain scale in the patient’s chart despite the fact that the patient was non-verbal and could not provide such a number.

A review of other records uncovered instances in which Kelley would take three hours to one day to record having administered, or disposed of, medications. Kelley explained his actions by stating that he believed other nurses and doctors were undertreating patients’ pain, according to the ruling.

The judge ruled that Kelley showed “deliberate disregard” for his employers’ interests and ordered him to repay $2,284 in unemployment benefits already collected. State records indicate no public licensing board action or criminal charges have been filed in the case.

Marlene S. Helton, who was fired last spring from the Newton Village care facility where she worked as a full-time patient caregiver since 2012. On June 2, 2021, Helton allegedly notified the facility she would be late to work that day due to her use of marijuana.

A supervisor later requested that Helton take a drug test before working, and Helton refused. Helton was then told she could not begin working because she cared for elderly patients as part of her job, and it would not be safe. Two days later, she was fired after she again refused a request to take a drug test before beginning her shift.

An administrative law judge recently denied her request for unemployment benefits, ruling that her conduct “constitutes misconduct as it presents a safety hazard to the employee and the general public.”

Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Iowa Capital Dispatch maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kathie Obradovich for questions: Follow Iowa Capital Dispatch on Facebook and Twitter.

Iowa deputies receive training from lawyer who likens Capitol police to Nazis

The Woodbury County Sheriff’s Office underwent training Friday with a lawyer who has compared the U.S. Capitol police to Nazi S.S. troops while promoting the “constitutional sheriff” movement.

Sheriff Chad Sheehan’s decision to invite KrisAnne Hall, a constitutional attorney from Florida, to train his deputies and speak to the public has provoked controversy in the western Iowa county.

On Friday, Hall led a training session for the sheriff’s staff, and she is scheduled to speak to the public on Saturday at Western Iowa Tech Community College. A group called We the People for Constitutional Sheriffs is sponsoring the free public event, which is hosted by the sheriff.

Sheehan has said no taxpayer dollars are involved in the training or the public event, although it’s not clear whether the county is paying the regular working-hour wages for deputies and others who attend the training session.

According to Sheehan, Hall was the keynote speaker and trainer at last year’s Iowa State Sheriffs and Deputies Association state conference, which he describes as an annual training session for law enforcement officials across the state.

“She did a training that I attended that was on the history of the Constitution and understanding how the Constitution was formed,” Sheehan told the county board of supervisors at a meeting earlier this month.

Hall has repeatedly posted to social media videos and statements that suggest the federal government has no authority that exceeds that of the nation’s elected county sheriffs.

In one YouTube video, Hall and a colleague describe government decisions to close down businesses in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic as unlawful and describe that as one area where sheriffs could assert their authority by refusing to allow such closings.

In another video, Hall suggests America is a “full-on Marxist” state that is bent on forcing people to become vaccinated against COVID-19. “Because this is America, they have to feed you lies to keep you under their Marxist agenda,” she says.

In that same video, she questions the authority of the U.S. Capitol police, whom she compares to Nazi Germany’s S.S., or Schutzstaffel, and the FBI to arrest and detain those involved in the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol if they travel outside the District of Columbia.

“These Capitol police say, ‘Oh, we’re just aiding the FBI,’ ” Hall says in the video. “The FBI does not have jurisdiction in your state, your county, or your city … The sheriff can override the governor and kick the feds out of the county … The feds know they don’t have jurisdiction. They know this. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be trying to trick your sheriff into mutual-jurisdiction agreements by dangling trinkets and gifts of money to your sheriff … They’re putting the Capitol police in your city because you have no control over them and they will have no loyalty, and no submission to you, whatsoever. They will be blind enforcers, like the S.S., just carrying out the bidding of the next tyrant that’s in office.”


In 2010, Hall was fired from her job working for the North Florida State Attorney’s Office after speaking at Tea Party rallies and to groups such as the 9/12 Project, an organization formed by former right-wing commentator Glenn Beck.

According to a lawsuit filed by Hall, her boss had asked her in an email to stop speaking to what he called “fringe right-wing groups” and also asked her to “disassociate yourself from these folks.” After she refused, she was fired. Hall’s lawsuit against her boss was settled out of court in 2011.

A promotional poster for Saturday’s event, which the Woodbury County Sheriff’s Office has posted to its website, reads” “Are you losing your freedoms and liberties? Learn how to get them back!” The poster describes Hall as a “military intelligence cryptologist linguist,” a Florida state prosecutor, professor at River University, and a national speaker on constitutional issues.

Sheriff defends Hall’s recruitment

Hall and Sheehan could not be reached for comment this week, but the sheriff sent the Iowa Capital Dispatch a copy of a press release announcing Saturday’s event.

In the press release, Sheehan says he feels “it is important to have an informed public who know their rights and felt this was an opportunity to do just that.”

Speaking to citizens at the county supervisors’ meeting who questioned Hall’s involvement in law enforcement training, Sheehan said, “If you disagree (with Hall), I will protect your right that is afforded to you in the First Amendment of the Constitution, which isn’t given to you by the government but is given to you by God. And the Constitution says that it can’t be infringed upon. And I will protect — to the death, if necessary — (your right) to counter anything that she would say that you disagree with.”

Sheehan told the supervisors, “The only reason I decided to have KrisAnne Hall come is that after I attended (the state association) meeting, she was very challenging of us to ensure that we don’t lose sight of the fact that we are elected, as law enforcement officials, to ensure that we protect everybody’s rights.”

He said Hall is aligned with those believe in a literal reading of the U.S. Constitution, and added that he has “learned a lot” from her training.

“And so I was contacted by another sheriff who was working with this group,” he told the supervisors. “And just so you know, this group is We the People for Constitutional Sheriffs — it is not a national group. This is just a group of people from eastern Iowa – maybe 10 or 15 people … They want to educate their fellow citizens about the Constitution.”

One Woodbury County citizen, Linda Santi of Sioux City, has filed a written request with the county seeking more information on the two events.

In a March 7 letter to Sheehan and other county officials, Santi asked whose money is being used to pay for the events and whether it was routed through the Woodbury County Sheriff’s Office. She has also asked for details on Friday’s training session, and requested information on whether deputies and others who attend are being paid to do so.

She has yet to receive any answers.

“So far it, has just been crickets,” Santi said. “I’ve just been perplexed that the sheriff says, ‘No tax dollars are being used here,’ as if that’s the equivalent of saying, ‘Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.’”

In 2019, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported that Hall had addressed the Florida chapter of the League of the South, a neo-Confederate organization that the SPLC considers a hate group. The league has stated that its “end goal is to establish an independent Southern republic,” and its president, Michael Hill, has been quoted as saying “the browning of America, and my native South, was not something to which I assented, and I surely do not approve of it.”

In defense of her decision to speak to the group, Hall told the SPLC that “our states are not fiefdoms under subjugation to an unquestionable despot.”

On her Facebook page, Hall calls herself a “true Patrick Henry of our time” and a “steadfast warrior in the battle for liberty.” She has been a guest on Newsmax, Fox News and InfoWars, the web-based program hosted by Alex Jones, recently sued by parents of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting for describing the shooting as a false flag event.

Sheehan has said he scheduled the public event with Hall for Saturday so citizens could hear what she would say during the training session for his deputies on Friday. He said the public event will also provide an “opportunity to educate the public on our rights, liberties and freedoms.”


Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Iowa Capital Dispatch maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kathie Obradovich for questions: Follow Iowa Capital Dispatch on Facebook and Twitter.

Iowa mom and son fight subpoena for phone records in Capitol riot probe

An Iowa mother and her son, accused of participating in last year’s riot at the U.S. Capitol, are asking a federal judge to quash a congressional subpoena for their phone records.

Likening the subpoena to “a banner headline in the National Enquirer,” Deborah Sandoval of Des Moines and her son, Salvador Sandoval Jr. of Ankeny, are suing the U.S. House Select Committee to Investigate the Jan. 6 Attack on the U.S. Capitol in federal court in an effort to secure an injunction blocking the release of their phone records.

The two were arrested 12 months ago. Both face charges that include violent entry and disorderly conduct on the Capitol grounds and entering or remaining in a restricted building without lawful authority. Deborah Sandoval also faces a charge of impeding or disrupting the orderly conduct of government, and her son faces a charge of obstructing, impeding or interfering with law enforcement.

The Sandovals have pleaded innocent to the charges. Trial dates have yet to be scheduled.

In a petition filed earlier this week in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa, Salvador Sandoval Jr. seeks to block the enforcement of what his attorney, William Kutmus of West Des Moines, calls “an overly broad subpoena” from the House Select Committee. Kutmus claims the subpoena was issued to the telecommunications provider T-Mobile “without legal authority in violation of the Constitution and laws of the United States.”

According to the lawsuit, the subpoena requires T-Mobile to provide the committee with information related to Deborah Sandoval’s T-Mobile account which also includes her son’s cellular telephone as part of a family account. The subpoena allegedly seeks “connection records and records of session times and durations,” as well as all calling, messaging and data-connection records associated with the phones.

“The Select Committee is engaged in a fishing expedition, which is constitutionally prohibited from such activity through the separation of powers,” the lawsuit claims. “The zeal of the Select Committee’s breadth and invasion into private matters pursuant to the subpoena is as bizarre as a banner headline in the National Enquirer.”

The committee has yet to respond to the petition.

‘Got pepper-sprayed in the face’

The riot staged by supporters of former President Donald Trump led to five deaths, including that of a Capitol police officer. Trump was subsequently impeached on an article charging him with “incitement of insurrection,” but was acquitted by the Senate, which failed to reach the two-thirds majority needed. Seven Republican senators voted to convict the former president.

More than 500 people have been criminally charged in connection with the riot.

According to court records, an FBI investigator who serves on the bureau’s Joint Terrorism Task Force interviewed a long-time acquaintance of Deborah Sandoval who routinely communicated with her on social media. The investigator reviewed conversations between the two that took place just prior to January 6, 2021, in which Deborah Sandoval allegedly announced her plans to go the Capitol, stating, “This is history in the making – Saving America.” After the riot, Deborah Sandoval allegedly sent her acquaintance pictures of herself outside the Capitol during the riots.

Deborah Sandoval also is alleged to have distributed a video taken from inside the U.S. Capitol “crypt” — a large circular room surrounded by neoclassical columns directly beneath the Capitol rotunda. According to a sworn statement by the FBI investigator, the video shows dozens of individuals “draped in Trump flags and wearing Trump hats, helmets, and gasmasks.” Other video that was pulled from a CCTV, or closed-circuit television, camera allegedly shows Deborah Sandoval, holding her phone in her hand while walking about, appearing to shoot video of the activities of rioters.

The FBI investigator also alleges he secured a copy of videos that Salvador Sandoval Jr. shot of himself inside the Capitol, including one in which he allegedly states, “We’re at the State Capitol, or the U.S. Capitol.” In a second video clip, he allegedly says, “Got pepper-sprayed in the face and mouth … Got out ’cause I could hear a break and there’s still people inside.” The video then pans to the Capitol building exterior where dozens of individuals draped in Trump flags are seen chanting “USA, USA, USA!”

According to the FBI investigator’s sworn statement, the CCTV footage from inside the Capitol shows that the younger Sandoval not only entered the building “but was also engaged in assaulting law enforcement officers … The CCTV footage shows Salvador Sandoval Jr. pushing two different law enforcement officers who are clearly identified as Metropolitan Police Officers via insignias on their jackets and helmets. Salvador Sandoval Jr. also grabbed the shield of a third Metropolitan Police Officer, pulled it toward himself, but was unsuccessful in prying it free from the officer’s grasp.”

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story indicated more than 200 people have been criminally charged in connection with the Capitol riot. To date, the number of people charged totals more than 500.

Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Iowa Capital Dispatch maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kathie Obradovich for questions: Follow Iowa Capital Dispatch on Facebook and Twitter.

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IRS stands by decision to deny tax-exempt status to Iowa church that uses hallucinogenic ayahuasca brew in ceremonies

The Internal Revenue Service is standing by its decision to deny tax-exempt status to a self-described church in Des Moines that allegedly uses a hallucinogenic drug in religious ceremonies.

Earlier this year, the Iowaska Church of Healing sued the IRS in U.S. District Court, challenging the federal agency’s decision to deny the church status as a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization.

State records indicate the church was formed in Iowa in September 2018, and is run by Admir Dado Kantarevic, along with Billy Benskin and Merzuk Ramic. The church’s official location is Kantarevic’s home, located at 4114 27th St., Des Moines. The lawsuit makes references to the church having 20 members at one point in time.

Kantarevic says the church has never conducted any ceremonies at his home or anywhere else in the state of Iowa.

In court filings, the church says that in January 2019, it filed an application with the IRS seeking tax-exempt status and was denied. With the assistance of U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley’s office, the lawsuit alleges, the appeals process at the IRS was expedited and an appeal conference was held in April of this year.

A final determination letter denying tax-exempt status was issued in June of this year, stating that the church’s use of the “Sacrament of Ayahuasca” in its religious practices was illegal, the lawsuit claims.

In response to the church’s lawsuit seeking judicial review of its decision, the IRS said in recently filed court papers that the denial “was made for multiple reasons,” including the findings that the church’s “activities are illegal under federal law and violate public policy,” and that it is “not a church or a convention or association of churches” as defined by federal tax regulations.

The church’s teachings are built around the use of ayahuasca, which is brewed from the leaves of the shrubs and vines found in the Amazon. Elements of those plants have powerful hallucinogenic properties, which the church says can be used to awaken “the Third Eye” of its followers.

The Third Eye is described by the church on its website as “an organ that no one speaks about at school or in private” and which is “secretly protected in the geometric center of your skull.”

In court filings, the church acknowledges that under the federal Controlled Substances Act, an ingredient of ayahuasca called dimethyltryptamine or DMT, is a Schedule I drug and a hallucinogenic alkaloid, and that there is no statutory exemption allowing for its use in religious ceremonies.

The lawsuit states that ayahuasca is consumed in the form of a tea during the church’s religious ceremonies and that its services also “involve prayers, smudging and spiritual music.” The basis of its doctrine emanates from the Ayahuasca Manifesto, a document that details the role of ayahuasca in the expansion of consciousness, the church says.

In February 2019, the church filed a request with the Drug Enforcement Administration, seeking a religious exemption from the Controlled Substance Act. To date, the church alleges, the DEA has delivered no “substantive response” to the request, despite repeated follow-up inquiries.

Court records indicate that in December 2005, Kantarevic, then a personal trainer, was convicted of possession of anabolic steroids and sentenced to one year of probation. He was charged in connection with a federal investigation into the illegal importation of steroids for bodybuilders.

As part of Kantarevic’s guilty plea, he acknowledged that it was his understanding the drugs came from an internationally known bodybuilder and were intended for another competitive bodybuilder who was a top competitor in the 2004 Mr. Universe contest.

Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Iowa Capital Dispatch maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kathie Obradovich for questions: Follow Iowa Capital Dispatch on Facebook and Twitter.

Iowa man gets life sentence on sex-trafficking charges

A Des Moines man has been sentenced to life in prison on charges on charges of sex trafficking.

Marlin Santana Thomas, 46, was sentenced this week to life in prison for trafficking six people by force, fraud and coercion, for the purpose of having them engage in commercial sex acts.

In May, Thomas pleaded guilty to the charges and admitted to trafficking a 14- year-old victim. In his written plea agreement, Thomas said he began human trafficking in 2009, nine years before his arrest in February 2018 on drug charges that grew out of a separate federal drug investigation. That arrest resulted in convictions and a prison term Thomas is currently serving.

At Thomas' sentencing this week on the sex-trafficking charges, Des Moines Police Sgt. Brady Carney testified that in addition to the six victims tied to Thomas' conviction, he had interviewed 11 women Thomas had either raped, assaulted or attempted to traffic for sex.

As part of his plea agreement, Thomas admitted using physical violence against all six of his victims in an effort to force them into engaging in commercial sex acts. He admitted punching one victim in the face and assaulting another in her home after she told Thomas she was done working for him.

Thomas also admitted to arranging for a 14-year-old to engage in commercial sex acts, knowing that she was not an adult. He said he posted online escort advertisements, then transported his victims to hotels and motels in Iowa, Illinois, Missouri and North Dakota.

Thomas allegedly targeted vulnerable individuals, in part by approaching women who lived at residential treatment centers and by providing drugs to women who were already struggling with addiction.

At Thomas' sentencing this week, U.S. District Court Chief Judge John A. Jarvey characterized the crimes as depraved, stating that Thomas had treated humans like currency. He also found Thomas had engaged in serial rape and noted that Thomas had not expressed any remorse for his crimes.

Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Iowa Capital Dispatch maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kathie Obradovich for questions: Follow Iowa Capital Dispatch on Facebook and Twitter.