Cruelty charges filed in dogs case

STERLING HEIGHTS, Mich. (AP) — A suburban Detroit prosecutor has filed animal cruelty charges against two brothers accused of hoarding 53 dogs before the animals were rescued.
Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith told the Detroit Free Press that his office charged each of the men with one count of animal cruelty. He did not name the men because they haven’t been arraigned,
He said Sterling Heights Police will have the men surrender for arraignment.
Macomb County Animal Control seized the dogs Feb. 13 while they were being loaded into a moving van.
Smith says one of the dogs was euthanized and the other 52 also were in poor health. He says they were “very emaciated, dehydrated, all covered in filth and some covered with wounds. It’s a terrible case of animal abuse.”

Police: Couple thought murder plot would be untraceable on Snapchat

ST. JOSEPH, Mich. (AP) — A woman and her boyfriend were deployed with the U.S. Army in South Korea when they conspired via Snapchat to kill her husband so she could claim the life insurance money, police in Michigan said.
Berrian County Judge Sterling Schrock ruled Wednesday in a preliminary hearing that the murder trial of Kemia Hassel, 22, and Jeremy Cuellar, 24, will begin April 30.
Both have pleaded not guilty in the Dec. 31 killing of U.S. Army Sgt. Tyrone Hassel III. Cuellar was also charged with a felony firearms count.
Authorities say the 23-year-old Hassel was ambushed while visiting his family in St. Joseph Township. He died of multiple gunshot wounds, including one to the head, according to the autopsy report.
All three were soldiers stationed at Fort Stewart in Georgia.
Kemia Hassel told police in a signed statement that she spent months planning how to kill her husband so she could continue her romantic relationship with Cuellar, Township Police Officer Mike Lanier testified Wednesday.
Kemia and Tyrone Hassel married in 2016 and had a 1-year-old son. She told police she was unhappy with her marriage, but didn’t want to go through a divorce because she then wouldn’t be able to receive any life insurance money, Lanier said.
Hassel and Cuellar began plotting while they were deployed in South Korea last year, Lanier said. The pair communicated through Snapchat because they believed the social media app’s temporary messages would make it difficult for police to trace, he said.
Army Specialist Jaquan Hamilton and Army Corporal Tatanya Butler testified that they were aware of Kemia Hassel and Cuellar’s affair and their plan.
Edwin Johnson, Cuellar’s lawyer, said it would be hard to pin the shooting on Cuellar.
“No one saw him at the scene. He was going to give up on this. He wasn’t going to do it. There were several other suspects,” Johnson said.
Kaitlin Locke, Kemia Hassel’s lawyer, said her client shouldn’t be charged with first-degree murder because she didn’t pull the trigger. But Schrock said there was enough evidence to prove she aided and abetted.
Tyrone Hassel’s father, Tyrone Hassel Jr., said it was difficult to hear the details about the plot to kill his son.
“It’s hard to take it in without crying,” Hassel Jr. said.

Ford begins probe into whether gas mileage was overstated

DETROIT (AP) — Ford Motor Co. has launched an investigation into whether it overstated gas mileage and understated emissions from a wide range of vehicles.
The company said Thursday that in September, a group of employees reported possible problems with a mathematical model used to calculate pollution and mileage, prompting the company to hire an outside firm to run tests. Testing will start with the 2019 Ford Ranger small pickup truck, and if problems are found, the company will start looking at models dating to 2017.
Ford said it has no evidence yet that mileage or pollution numbers are wrong, but the investigation has just started. The company says it’s too early to tell how many and which models might be involved.
Depending on what is found, Ford could be required to restate the mileage on EPA-approved window stickers as well as reimburse owners for the mileage difference. The company could also face penalties from the government agencies.
“At Ford, we believe that trust in our brand is earned by acting with integrity and transparency,” Kim Pittel, the company’s vice president for environment and safety engineering, said Thursday. “We have a process for looking at how we perform and behave in our broad and complex company.”
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the California Air Resources Board, which monitor emissions and mileage, have been informed of the probe, according to the company.
The EPA said in a statement that Ford disclosed the issues on Tuesday. “The investigation is ongoing and the information is too incomplete for EPA to reach any conclusions,” the agency said. “We take the potential issues seriously and are following up with the company to fully understand the circumstances behind this disclosure.”

New attorney general to investigate priests, Nassar, Flint

By DAVID EGGERT
Associated Press
LANSING— Michigan’s new Attorney General Dana Nessel said Thursday that an investigation into sexual abuse by clergy in the Roman Catholic Church will be lengthy and could uncover more than 1,000 victims in Michigan over the course of decades.
Nessel, who took office last month, disclosed the figure in a wide-ranging news conference at which she announced updates on probes that also began under her predecessor: Michigan State University’s handling of serial sex abuser Larry Nassar and government officials’ actions related to Flint’s drinking water crisis.
Among the news — her office is taking over an investigation of former U.S. Olympic women’s gymnastics team coach John Geddert, and investigators are looking into the circumstances surrounding former MSU trustee George Perles’ resignation.
The three major probes, she said, aren’t over. Here’s a look at the top developments in each:
CLERGY ABUSE
Nessel is among at least 14 attorneys general investigating or reviewing clergy abuse following a shocking Pennsylvania grand jury report detailing seven decades of child sex abuse by more than 300 predator priests.
She said her office has asked Michigan’s seven dioceses to suspend their own internal reviews until the investigation — which began last summer and could take two years — is complete. She said such “self-policing” can interfere, and investigators have heard “many stories” of victims being encouraged to sign non-disclosure agreements to stay quiet.
“Victims may believe they cannot or should not report abuse to us because the church is going to handle it. Simply put, that’s just not true. If you signed an NDA, you still have a right and I would say a responsibility to speak to law enforcement authorities,” said Nessel, who said victims should ask to see investigators’ “badge and not their rosary.” She said there may be more than 1,000 victims in Michigan and that the breadth of the probe will help unearth cover-ups in which accused priests were moved to other parishes.
The Archdiocese of Detroit said in a statement that the attorney general’s office hasn’t asked it to halt its internal review, but that it looks forward to working with Nessel to clarify “some of the broad generalizations” that were made during the press conference.
“These internal investigations are required under Church law, and their purpose is to restrict or remove from ministry anyone who has committed sexual abuse of a minor or vulnerable adult,” it said. The archdiocese said it immediately notifies law enforcement when it learns of an allegation of sex abuse against minors.
It said it hasn’t entered into an NDA since 2002, unless specifically requested by a victim, and that it doesn’t enforce NDAs that were signed before 2002.
Archdiocese of Detroit public affairs director Ned McGrath said it’s “troubling” that Nessel used the rosary “as a punchline. Here’s hoping future statements show no additional disrespect.”
Nessel urged victims to report suspected abuse on the state’s hotline or at www.michigan.gov/clergyabuse .
NASSAR
Nessel announced that her office will investigate unspecified complaints against Geddert, who owned and operated Twistars, a Lansing-area gym where former sports doctor Nassar offered treatments. Eaton County Prosecutor Doug Lloyd had been reviewing whether to file charges.
During Nassar’s 2018 sentencings, some victims complained that Geddert was physically abusive and indifferent to injuries, and forced them to see Nassar. He has insisted he had “zero knowledge” of Nassar’s crimes.
Nessel said Lloyd did everything in his power, but that victims trust the attorney general’s office after its successful prosecution of Nassar.
“They felt as though we might get more information and people might feel more willing to come forward if the case were handled by this office,” she said, adding that her office has more manpower and previously charged three other former Michigan State officials.
Nessel also again pressed MSU and its board to waive attorney-client privilege and turn over more than 6,000 unredacted documents to investigators. Her office wants to interview former interim school president John Engler, who was hired in the aftermath of the Nassar scandal but was forced to resign last month over his comments about victims.
Nessel said investigators are reviewing university documents following a Detroit Free Press report that trustee George Perles resigned in December in exchange for the school wiping clear a $200,000 debt.
FLINT
Nessel said she is working to settle 79 lawsuits filed against the state or its employees by Flint residents — a departure from former Gov. Rick Snyder’s bid to dismiss the suits. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, would have to authorize financial settlements.
Unlike former Attorney General Bill Schuette, Nessel will be involved with the civil litigation rather than the criminal probe that led to charges against 15 people related to lead-contaminated water or a deadly Legionnaires’ disease outbreak. Seven defendants have pleaded no contest to misdemeanors.
Their records eventually will be scrubbed clean.
Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud, who has been leading the Flint criminal investigation for more than a month, announced that Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy and her office will help investigate and prosecute the cases. Special prosecutor Todd Flood, whose law firm the Republican Schuette hired to lead the probe, will remain involved.

Whitmer keeps intact 2 environmental panels in new order

By DAVID EGGERT
Associated Press
LANSING — Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Wednesday changed direction — for now — and issued an environmental order that keeps intact two business-backed panels that are charged with oversight of state rule-making and permitting.
The move came less than a week after the Republican-led Legislature took the rare step of rejecting her original order to reshape and rename the Department of Environmental Quality, largely because it would have abolished the two commissions that were created under 2018 laws enacted by the GOP. Whitmer, who contends the committees will add bureaucracy to the regulatory process, noted that she is awaiting Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel’s determination on whether the panels are legal.
Nessel’s opinion would bind state agencies unless it was reversed by a court.
“Every Michigander deserves safe, clean drinking water, and I’m not going to let partisan politics slow down the important work that needs to get done right now to protect public health,” Whitmer said in a statement.
One panel oversees environmental rule-making — though the governor ultimately has the final say — while another can approve, modify or reverse permit decisions that have been challenged by companies or other parties.
GOP lawmakers and business lobbyists say the commissions have not yet had a chance to operate and will give people a chance to challenge overzealous regulators. Democrats and environmentalists say the “polluter panels” are stacked with too many industry officials and will hamper Whitmer’s efforts to address the discovery of chemical compounds known as PFAS in at least 40 locations across the state.
Whitmer’s new order is largely the same as her initial one. It renames the agency as the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) and creates new public advocacy offices for clean water and “environmental justice” to investigate complaints about water quality and help ensure fair consideration of low-income and minority community interests.
The order also eliminates the Environmental Science Advisory Board and forms a new office on climate policy to seek ways to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and promote renewable energy while helping Michigan adjust to a warmer world. The order will take effect April 22 unless it is rejected by legislators.
Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, a Clarklake Republican, “sincerely appreciates” Whitmer’s willingness to present a different option, said spokeswoman Amber McCann. GOP Rep. James Lower of Cedar Lake, who sponsored the resolution blocking the initial order, issued a statement saying he is glad Whitmer “realized she needed to come to the table and work with us on this issue.”
Environmental groups backed Whitmer’s latest move.
“We urge the state Legislature to support this common-sense reorganization that puts public health first and not quibble over unnecessary layers of bureaucracy that will only delay, block or slow down real contamination cleanup efforts,” Lisa Wozniak, executive director at the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, said in a statement.

Follow Eggert on Twitter at https://twitter.com/DavidEggert00

Absentee voting option starts today

FLINT TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) — Michigan voters can start casting an absentee ballot without giving a reason.
Today is the first day residents can request to vote by mail in the May election. It is the first election since voters last fall approved no-reason absentee voting as part of a ballot initiative.
Previously, absentee voters had to be at least 60 years old, be out of town when the polls are open or be unable to vote on Election Day due to a physical disability, religious tenets or incarceration.
Requests for an absent voter ballot can be submitted in writing to the local city or township clerk.
Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Flint Township Clerk Kathy Funk are holding a news conference today to welcome the new era of no-reason absentee voting.

Michigan AG set to give updates

LANSING (AP) — Michigan’s new attorney general is preparing to provide updates about state investigations of the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal, Flint’s water crisis and clergy abuse in the Roman Catholic church.
Dana Nessel took charge of the office in January. She will update reporters today.
All three probes began under her predecessor, Bill Schuette.
The office is investigating Michigan State University’s handling of Nassar , a former campus doctor convicted of molesting young athletes. A former school president is among those facing charges.
Fifteen officials have been charged over Flint’s lead-tainted drinking water, including seven who have struck deals.

Woman killed 3 daughters, self

SOLON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) — Authorities say a Michigan woman fatally shot her three young daughters in a wooded area with a bolt-action hunting rifle before driving home with their bodies and shooting herself.
Kent County sheriff’s Sgt. Joel Roon identified them Wednesday as 28-year-old Aubrianne Moore, 8-year-old Kyrie Rodery, 6-year-old Cassidy Rodery and 2-year-old Alaina Rau. The bodies were found Monday at a property near Cedar Springs, a community about 30 miles north of Grand Rapids.
Newaygo County Probate Court records show Moore spent 10 days at a Grand Rapids psychiatric hospital in September.
A social worker wrote in a Sept. 17 petition requesting the hospitalization that the woman was paranoid and had visual and auditory hallucinations.
The social worker wrote Moore “stays awake at night believing people will break into her home” and “is not eating believing food is being poisoned.”

Woman accused of keeping mail

CLINTON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) — Authorities say they found nearly 15,000 pieces of undelivered mail at the suburban Detroit home of a U.S. Postal Service worker.
A federal criminal complaint unsealed this week charges Tiara Vann of Macomb County’s Clinton Township with mail theft. Documents say Vann, who worked as a city carrier assistant for the Warren post office, told investigators that she had been bringing home mail since September.

GOP lawmakers ask Michigan court to rule on lame-duck laws

By DAVID EGGERT
Associated Press
LANSING — Seeking to avoid a lengthy legal fight, Republican lawmakers on Wednesday asked the Michigan Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality of their unprecedented strategy to preemptively approve citizen-initiated minimum wage increases and paid sick leave requirements and then water down the laws after the election.
The move came a week after a Democratic senator requested Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel’s opinion on the maneuver. If she determines that the tactic was illegal, the more generous minimum wage and earned sick day laws could take effect March 28 — likely prompting a lawsuit from businesses or other groups that support the scaled-back measures.
“Every step, one side or the other, will be disappointed and appeal. And so I say, ‘Why leave the state in the condition of uncertainty? Let’s just take it all the way to the Supreme Court, which is within our prerogative to do so, and get it taken care of as soon as possible,” said Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, of Clarklake.
It is rare for the high court to issue an advisory opinion, which could pre-empt any court challenge against the laws. The last time the justices did so was in 2011, when — at then-Gov. Rick Snyder’s request — they opined on changes to how pensions would be taxed. The court later denied his requests to rule early on a “right-to-work” law and a law to reimburse private schools for the cost of adhering to state requirements.
To prevent the minimum wage and paid leave ballot drives from going to the electorate in November, after which they would have been much harder to change if voters had passed them, GOP legislators preemptively approved them in September so they could be pared back after the election with simple majority votes and the signature of Snyder.
Former Attorney General Bill Schuette, a Republican, endorsed the legality of the contentious strategy in December. But his opinion differed from one issued in 1964 by former Attorney General Frank Kelley, a Democrat.
One new law will gradually increase the state’s $9.25 minimum wage to $12.05 an hour by 2030 — maybe later in the case of a recession — instead of $12 by 2022 as was initially enacted. The wage will rise to $9.48 this year rather than $10, and a yearly inflationary adjustment in 2023 and beyond is gone. The wage could have hit $14.16 in 2030 if the original inflation provision had stayed intact, according to the nonpartisan House Fiscal Agency.
The other new law will exempt employers with fewer than 50 employees from having to provide paid sick days, a change that is estimated to leave up to 1 million employees without the benefit. It also limits the amount of annual minimum mandatory leave at larger employers to 40 hours instead of 72 hours as proposed by the initiative.
Business organizations have praised the GOP-led Legislature’s moves, saying Michigan would have been an outlier and its economic competitiveness would have been jeopardized without the revisions. The ballot drive groups and Democrats have criticized the maneuver as clearly unconstitutional because it occurred in the same legislative session as when the initiative bills were proposed.
Sen. Stephanie Chang, a Detroit Democrat who sought the attorney general opinion, had no qualms with the Republican-led Senate’s request — by voice vote — for the Supreme Court to get involved. The GOP-controlled House also asked for the opinion Wednesday.
“What this is about for me is making sure that we’re giving workers the paid sick time that they deserve and about making sure that people have a living wage,” she said.