Key player in Jamaican lottery scam could face long sentence

BISMARCK (AP) — Federal prosecutors in North Dakota are seeking a prison sentence for a Rhode Island woman who funneled lottery scam money between the U.S. and Jamaica that’s more than double what they sought for the scheme’s ringleader.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan O’Konek said a lack of contrition and cooperation on the part of Melinda Bulgin are big reasons why the state is seeking a 14-year sentence for her, which is about eight years more than they sought for kingpin Lavrick Willocks.
Defense attorney Chad McCabe said he’ll seek a sentence “more reasonable and appropriate.”
A jury in September convicted the 28-year-old Bulgin of conspiracy, fraud and money laundering in a scam that authorities say bilked more than 100 mostly elderly Americans out of more than $6 million. It’s believed to be the first large-scale Jamaican lottery scam tried in the U.S. It involved 31 defendants, including 14 Jamaican nationals, most of whom accepted plea deals with the government.

Tougher for lawmakers to tap oil savings under resolution

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota voters may get to decide if it should be tougher for the Legislature to tap earnings from the state’s oil tax savings account.
Democratic Rep. Corey Mock, of Grand Forks, told the Senate Finance and Taxation Committee on Monday that he thinks voters should decide if earnings from the Legacy Fund should be “retained and reinvested” instead of automatically going into the state’s general fund for lawmakers to spend.
Mock is the primary sponsor of a bipartisan resolution that would require a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate to spend earnings from the constitution-mandated Legacy Fund, which voters enacted in 2010.
“The default position is for earnings to be reinvested unless the Legislature initiates a transfer,” said Mock, who called the move “a critical shut-off valve.”
The resolution needs only approval from both chambers of the Legislature before going to voters in 2020. It has broad support from top legislative leaders, including the majority and minority leaders in the Senate. It passed the House earlier this month. The Senate committee is expected to take action on the resolution later this week.
The state is required to put 30 percent of its tax revenue from oil and natural gas production into the Legacy Fund.
The constitutional amendment barred the Legislature from spending any of the fund’s assets until June 2017. Currently, a two-thirds vote of the North Dakota House and Senate is needed to spend any of the fund’s principal. Lawmakers may not withdraw more than 15 percent of the principal every two years.
Earnings from the fund are now put into the general fund, which is spent on an assortment of programs and projects.
The fund now holds about $6 billion and has grown faster than predicted with increased oil activity in the state. Earnings from the fund increasingly have been targeted for spending, including in 2017 when $200 million of the fund’s earnings was used to balance the state’s budget.
Lawmakers are reviewing several proposals to spend the interest this session, including a plan by GOP Gov. Doug Burgum to use $300 million for education loans and grants, and projects that include a $50 million Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library in western North Dakota.
Burgum spokesman Mike Nowatzki said the first-term governor would not comment on the resolution.
The Legislature has attempted to protect the fund’s earnings before, but through legislation that needed the blessing of the governor.
In 2015, then-Gov. Jack Dalrymple, a Republican, vetoed the bill that would have barred him or any future governor from budgeting money from the fund. It also would have required the fund’s earnings to be invested back into the fund’s principal.
Dalrymple said at the time that doing so “would clearly contradict the will of voters.”

Legislature mulls abortion, budget, missing people, logo

BISMARCK (AP) — North Dakota’s Republican-led Legislature is standing by to see whether first-term GOP Gov. Doug Burgum signs or vetoes the first bill restricting abortion that he’s been sent since taking office.
Meanwhile, several pieces of major legislation are still being negotiated by both chambers, including all remaining budget bills.
Monday is Day 47 of the session that is limited to 80 days.
The North Dakota Legislature has passed its first abortion law in six years. The bill, approved Friday, would require abortion providers to inform women undergoing drug-induced abortions that if they changed their minds, they could still have a live birth — a claim critics argue isn’t supported by medical evidence.
A second House bill restricting abortion is likely headed to a Senate vote this week. That bill would ban the dilation and evacuation method of abortion, which opponents call “human dismemberment abortion.” The bill would make it a felony to perform such a procedure, punishable by up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Abortion-rights groups argue that banning the procedure is unconstitutional because it interferes with private medical decisions.
Burgum has refused to comment on those bills but has said he would have signed several anti-abortion measures approved by lawmakers and Republican then-Gov. Jack Dalrymple in 2013.
Lawmakers have been holding off on major appropriations bills until they got a better idea how much money will be available for the next two-year budget cycle.
Now they think they know and have bet on stable oil prices and oil production for the 2019-2021 budget period that begins July 1.
Senate and House appropriation committees on Thursday slightly increased tax collection expectations, predicting general fund tax collections at just under $4 billion, or less than 1 percent more than what the Legislature used as a budgetary starting point in January.
The state’s executive budget endorsed by Burgum showed the state treasury expects to collect about $4.95 billion in oil tax collections for the budget period that begins July 1. The Legislature’s estimate is about $100 million less than that.
Burgum and the Legislature have become embroiled in their first public squabble of the session, and it has to do with the placement of some earnings from the state’s oil savings account.
Burgum says the Legislature’s new budget forecast “hides at least $200 million” in earnings from the state’s Legacy Fund, which voters enacted in 2010.
The Legislature’s new budget forecast accounts for only $100 million in Legacy Fund earnings for the state’s general fund, instead of $300 million that lawmakers included in January.
Sen. Majority Leader Rich Wardner and other GOP leaders say it comes down to bookkeeping. Warder says the earnings won’t be deposited in the state treasury until the end of the next budget cycle.
Said Wardner: “We can’t hide money we don’t have.”
Burgum’s office argues the state’s budget always is set from revenue assumptions.
Lawmakers are reviewing several proposals to spend the interest this session, including a plan by Burgum to use $300 million for education loans and grants, and projects that include a $50 million Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library in western North Dakota.
North Dakota’s Senate will consider a bill this week that would require more law enforcement training related to missing and slain Native Americans.
North Dakota’s House has already approved the measure sponsored by Fargo’s Rep. Ruth Buffalo, the first female Native American Democrat elected to the state Legislature.
The Senate also will consider legislation sponsored by Buffalo that would require data collection on missing and slain people.
Buffalo’s bill initially included missing and slain Native Americans in North Dakota, but she expanded it to include all people.
North Dakota’s Senate will decide whether to hold a contest for a replacement state logo.
The bill sailed through the House last month after lawmakers learned a new “Be Legendary” logo was awarded to a Minnesota firm. The business was awarded the $9,500 job without competition because it came in below the $10,000 threshold required for additional bids.
The bill requires the Commerce Department to hold the contest and have a logo awarded in time for the 2020 state travel guide.
The winner of the new competition would be paid $9,500.
The session opened in January with more than 900 bills and resolutions. As of Friday, Burgum had signed 106 bills.

Project says provides ‘hope’ for 16K abused, neglected kids

ROGERS (AP) — Project Ignite Light, which provides backpacks filled with basic but useful items to abused or neglected children entering the social services system, has helped more than 16,000 children North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota since its launch in 2008, group representatives say.
Pebbles Thompson, Project Ignite Light founder, said it was more than 10 years ago that she recognized the need to provide support for children in abuse and neglect situations.
“What we do is serve children of extreme child abuse when they’re brought into their local child advocacy center, which is strategically placed in the largest cities of every state,” Thompson said. “When a child is brought in for a forensic exam or an interview to determine the extent of abuse that they’ve suffered, we provide that child with a backpack on the off-chance this child isn’t going to be returning home. We wanted to make sure they had everything they needed.”
Thompson said these backpacks, called “Bags of Hope,” include fleece tie blankets, pajamas, toothbrushes, books, flashlights, shampoo and other items, KOVC-AM reported.
The nonprofit swiftly grew after word of the program spread around North Dakota, where there were 3,982 reports of child abuse and neglect in 2017.
Amanda Geisler, vice president of Growth and Development, said the group has been able to serve more than 16,000 children so far because other organizations and communities have backed them up.
“We couldn’t do this without the support of the communities, of churches, local businesses and individual donors,” Geisler said. “We just turned 11, and so our nonprofits started in the Fargo area. We’re just grown over the year. Currently, we’re serving a few hundred children each month.”
Costs are always rising, so it’s important that organizations continue to help, Thompson noted.
First Community Credit Union in Rogers is currently holding a pajama fundraiser for Project Ignite Light. People are encouraged to contribute new, two-piece pajamas in sizes newborn through 18 years of age.
“We have found that when people come together that, really, it’s affordable. It’s possible and it’s doable. So often we say we don’t know what to do when we see somebody hurting, but doing nothing is not an option,” Thompson said. “When we come together, we are able to do something that’s profound. It’s almost like a first responder situation.

ND Supreme Court justice learns to play bagpipes

BISMARCK (AP) — Lisa Fair McEvers blew air into her bagpipes, careful not to be too loud as the drones began to sound.
“I don’t want to be bothering Al Jaeger. He’s right next door to me,” the North Dakota Supreme Court justice said, standing in her office near the wall she shares with the secretary of state at the Capitol.
Music is a joy for McEvers, who, in addition to the bagpipes, plays trumpet and sings as an alto, as she is able, the Bismarck Tribune reported. She considers her musical interest a product of her school years in Minto in northeastern North Dakota, participating in multiple activities.
“I think I was a typical Class B kid who played sports, played music, was in different drama opportunities,” McEvers said. “Whatever there was to do, you just did it because it was fun.”
Music has stayed with her as her athletic pursuits have faded, though she still coaches softball.
“The music is something I figure I can do until I don’t have any breath to blow anymore,” McEvers said.
She’s sung in church choirs and vocal groups. She has played the trumpet since her grade school years, participating in church musical groups and occasionally stepping in as a bugler for taps at military burials, including a Memorial Day service last May in Steele.
With advance notice, she’ll try to accommodate requests, but doesn’t solicit them.
If it’s for the bagpipes, she said she’ll need a bit of practice.
McEvers began to learn the pipes in 2011 as a tribute to her Scottish and Irish heritage, but also to honor her late uncle, Earl McKay.
He learned the bagpipes while stationed as a medic in Europe during World War II, serving with the 42nd Infantry “Rainbow” Division that liberated the Dachau concentration camp.
“I mostly wanted to carry on the family tradition,” McEvers said. Her uncle’s son also has taken up the pipes.
But the bagpipes are not an easy instrument.
McEvers spent a year learning the practice chanter — similar to a recorder — before transitioning to the pipes, which require practice, coordination and memorizing tunes.
“It’s like keeping four instruments going with the air that you have in the bag,” McEvers said. “That’s the challenge, is to try to keep enough air pressure to keep everything going and not cutting out.”
McEvers enjoys piping in parades and also has performed for the Kirkin’ o’ the Tartan church services, always playing in traditional regalia, including a kilt.
But she has to be ready for requested performances. She spent six weeks playing two or three times a day before an event last summer.
“I don’t practice every single day like I should,” McEvers said, but a couple times a week.
She keeps two trumpets and two sets of pipes for practicing at her office in Bismarck and her home in West Fargo.
While a district judge in Fargo, she took lessons through Heather and Thistle Pipes and Drums in Moorhead, Minnesota, led by pipe major Dan Aird. He has played the bagpipes since 1965 and said practice counts, as for every instrument.
But anyone who wants to learn, can.
“You always hear people saying, especially when they’re older, ‘Well, I wish I had learned to play an instrument.’ Well, they should just do it,” Aird said. “It doesn’t matter. You can start when you’re 78 or 90 or whenever you want. If you’re willing to put the work in, you can learn.”
Aird considers McEvers to be a “fine” bagpiper and a “serious student.”
North Dakota Supreme Court Chief Justice Gerald VandeWalle said he’s heard McEvers play and considers her bagpipes “a unique instrument” and “a great talent.”
“I’m envious of her,” VandeWalle said. “I have no musical talent. She sings, she plays the bagpipes, she plays the trumpet.”
McEvers considers her music an outlet from the court; and likewise, VandeWalle said he played competitive bridge for years as a hobby or a release.
“It’s a step away from what we do day in and day out, divorces and crimes and that type of thing,” VandeWalle said.
McEvers said she enjoys “a haunting beauty” of the bagpipes and the sense of pride the music evokes for her heritage.
Her favorite tune is “Highland Cathedral.” Most folks would recognize “Amazing Grace” or “Scotland the Brave” on the bagpipes, she said.
Moreover, music is simply a joyful expression for her, she added.
“It’s just fun,” McEvers said.

North Dakota Legislature passes ‘abortion reversal’ bill

BISMARCK (AP) — North Dakota’s Republican-led Legislature has approved a bill that would require abortion providers to tell women undergoing drug-induced abortions that they could still have a live birth if they change their mind.
Senators approved the so-called “abortion reversal” legislation on Friday. The House approved the measure in January.
GOP Gov. Doug Burgum has not indicated whether he would sign or veto the measure.
Supporters say doctors can give a woman the hormone progesterone to stop an abortion after she has taken the first of two medications needed to complete the abortion.
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says there is no medically accepted evidence that a drug-induced abortion can be interrupted.
North Dakota’s proposal follows similar and successful bills in Idaho, Utah, South Dakota and Arkansas.

Senate kills bill outlawing sobriety checkpoints

BISMARCK (AP) — North Dakota’s Republican-led Senate has defeated a measure that would outlaw sobriety checkpoints in the state.
Senators voted 36-10 to kill the House bill on Thursday. It would have required “reasonable suspicion for certain traffic stops.”
Bismarck GOP Rep. Rick Becker was the measure’s primary sponsor. He says sobriety checkpoints are ineffective and don’t act as a deterrent.
Opponents of the bill say the checkpoints are effective and probably save lives.
Becker unsuccessfully pushed similar legislation two years ago.

Legislature urges Congress to ban abortion after 20 weeks

BISMARCK (AP) — North Dakota’s Republican-led Legislature has passed a resolution urging Congress to follow the state’s lead and ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
Senators passed the House resolution on Thursday.
North Dakota passed a law in 2013 that outlaws abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, based on the disputed premise that a fetus can feel pain by then.
The Red River Clinic in Fargo is the state’s sole abortion clinic. Officials at the clinic say the ban is unconstitutional but it does not apply to North Dakota because no abortions are performed at the clinic after 16 weeks.

Legislature passes bill to fund projects beyond oil patch

BISMARCK (AP) — The North Dakota Legislature has endorsed a major spending plan aimed at rebuilding infrastructure projects outside of the state’s oil patch.
The Senate voted 46-0 on Thursday for the House bill aimed at providing $250 million in every two-year budget cycle for counties, cities and airports in non-oil producing areas.
The proposal by the Legislature’s Republican majority leaders has been called “Operation Prairie Dog.”
The legislation assumes that that oil production and prices will hold at the current levels.
The measure now heads to Gov. Doug Burgum.

ND Legislature bumps expected tax collections

BISMARCK (AP) — North Dakota’s Legislature slightly increased tax collection expectations Thursday for the next two-year budget cycle due to faith in stable oil prices and increased production.
House and Senate appropriation committees predicted general fund tax collections at just under $4 billion, or just $25 million more than what the GOP-led Legislature used as a budgetary starting point in January.
The general fund, which is financed mostly by taxes on sales, income and energy, is spent on an assortment of programs, including education and human services.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Ray Holmberg called the Legislature’s numbers conservative. They will be used to allow lawmakers to finish their work on the state’s 2019-2021 spending plan.
“We’d rather be conservative at this than to get into trouble with it,” he said in an interview.
Slumping oil and crop prices forced the Legislature to re-evaluate spending plans throughout last session. Those shortfalls were plugged by draining a rainy-day fund, massively cutting most government agencies and skimming profits from North Dakota’s state-owned bank.
Democrat Larry Robinson, a member of the Senate appropriations committee, said the budget numbers were far more positive than two years ago.
“It doesn’t get us out of the woods but it puts in a much better place,” Robinson said.
Lawmakers based their numbers from a pair of competing revenue forecasts presented earlier this week. The tax revenues estimates lawmakers adopted are closer to the forecast done by state budget analysts and Moody’s Analytics, than the one done by the Legislature’s own economic consultancy, IHS Markit.
The forecast done by state budget analysts and Moody’s Analytics showed the state treasury expects to collect about $4.95 billion in oil tax collections for the budget period that begins July 1, or about $1 billion more than the starting point lawmakers set in January.
The Legislature’s expected revenue forecast is now about $100 million less than the state forecast, based on steady oil prices and slightly increased production.