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KFDM learns State Comptroller has seized Finch Hutton Restaurant for nonpayment of sales and franchise tax

NEDERLAND - KFDM News has learned the State Comptroller's Office has seized Finch Hutton Restaurant in Nederland for nonpayment of taxes while the office is working with the taxpayer to resolve the liability, according to a spokesman for the Comptroller's Office.

A sign on the door of the restaurant states 'this property has been seized for nonpayment of taxes owed the State of Texas. The Comptroller of Public Accounts has seized this property for nonpayment of taxes, penalty or interest due the State of Texas. It is against the law to enter, dismantle, take possession of or remove anything from this property.'

Kevin Lyons with the Comptroller's Office told KFDM News the restaurant at 1147 Boston Avenue in Nederland was seized August 28. The liability owed is $32,572.84 related to nonpayment of sales and franchise tax. The period in question is April, May, June, and July of this year. The Comptroller's Office is working with the taxpayer to resolve the liability.

 

Virtual kidnappers use fear, intimidation to pressure victims into wiring money

HOUSTON - from FBI

The Houston FBI seeks to warn the public about a rise in "virtual kidnapping" fraud schemes and the recent targeting of Houstonians in these schemes.  Over the past several years, the FBI and law enforcement agencies around the country, and particularly along the border, have received reports from the public regarding extortion or fraud schemes, often referred to as "virtual kidnappings."  These schemes typically involve an individual or criminal organization who contacts a victim via telephone and demands payment for the return of a "kidnapped" family member or friend.  However, no actual kidnapping has taken place.  It's all a fraud scheme designed to scare victims into wiring them money.  

The callers often use co-conspirators to convince their victims of the legitimacy of the threat.  For example, a caller might attempt to convince a victim that his daughter was kidnapped by having a young female scream for help in the background during the call.  Callers, sometimes representing themselves as members of a drug cartel or corrupt law enforcement, will typically provide the victim with specific instructions to ensure the safe "return" of the allegedly kidnapped individual.  These instructions usually involve demands of a ransom payment.  Most schemes use various techniques to instill a sense of fear, panic, and urgency in an effort to rush the victim into making a very hasty decision.  Instructions usually require the ransom payment be made immediately and typically by a wire transfer.  These schemes involve varying amounts of ransom demands, which often decrease at the first indication of resistance.

Callers will often go to great lengths to engage victims in ongoing conversations to prevent them from verifying the status and location of the "kidnapped" individuals.  Callers will often make their victims believe they are being watched and were personally targeted.  In reality, many of these calls are originating outside of the United States.  The fraudsters are simply making hundreds of calls, possibly using phone directories or other phone lists, knowing at least some of those targeted will fall for the scam. 

While the reported number of "virtual kidnapping" schemes appears to be increasing, a recent trend indicates perpetrators of these schemes may be targeting physicians- to include dentists, general practitioners, and various specialists- in Houston and across Texas.  During the past few weeks, the FBI has fielded calls from victim physicians located in the Houston area.  In June and July, the FBI received multiple reports indicating physicians in McAllen, Laredo, Brownsville, and Del Rio, Texas, were targeted in similar "virtual kidnapping" schemes. 

Due to the rising prevalence of these types of incidents, coupled with the increased victimization of members of the medical community in the Houston area and across Texas, the FBI is attempting to raise awareness within the health care industry and the public at large. 

To avoid becoming a victim of this extortion scheme, look for the following possible indicators:

*         Incoming calls made from an outside area code

*         Multiple successive phone calls

*         Calls do not come from the kidnapped victim's phone

*         Callers go to great lengths to keep you on the phone

*         Callers prevent you from calling or locating the "kidnapped" victim

*         Ransom money is only accepted via wire transfer service

If you receive a phone call from someone who demands payment of a ransom for a kidnapped victim, the following should be considered: 

 *         Stay calm

*         Slow the situation down

*         Avoid sharing information about you or your family during the call

*         Listen carefully to the voice of the kidnapped victim

*         Attempt to call or determine the location of the "kidnapped" victim

*         Request to speak to the victim

*         Ask questions only the victim would know

*         Request the kidnapped victim call back from his/her cell phone If you have any question about whether the call is a scheme or a legitimate kidnapping, contact your nearest FBI office immediately.  Tips can also be submitted online at https://tips.fbi.gov.  All tipsters may remain anonymous.

Bishop Mark Smith invites public to community-wide Labor Day picnic

BEAUMONT - Bishop Mark Smith is inviting the public to a community-wide Labor Day picnic.

The Monday picnic runs from 11 a.m. - 5 pm. at Solid Rock Community Church, 5095 Pine Burr Boulevard in Beaumont.

The event includes free barbeque, a live gospel concert, dominoes, checkers, football, basketball, sack races, moon walk, water sports and more.

Bishop Mark Smith, 5095 Pine Burr Blvd., Beaumont, TX, 77708. RSVP to 409-658-7475

Up to 5 inches of rain possible in isolated spots between today and Sunday morning

SOUTHEAST TEXAS - by Greg Bostwick

Quite a bit of rain is expected to move into our area later Friday afternoon with the heaviest activity Friday night and Saturday.

Isolated rainfall totals to 5 inches will be possible between now and Sunday morning.

Watch KFDM Weather and stay with kfdm.com for updates.

Judge rules Texas school finance system unconstitutional

AUSTIN (AP) -- A judge declared Texas' school finance system unconstitutional for a second time Thursday, finding that even though the Legislature pumped an extra $3 billion-plus into classrooms last summer, the state still fails to provide adequate funding or distribute it fairly among wealthy and poor areas.

State District Judge John Dietz's written ruling reaffirms a verbal decision he issued in February 2013. He found then that the state's so-called "Robin Hood" funding formula fails to meet the Texas Constitution's requirements for a fair and efficient system that provides a "general diffusion of knowledge."

Dietz's final, 21-page opinion took the extra step of blocking Texas from using portions of its current system to pay for schools -- but also put that order on hold until next July. That gives the Legislature, which reconvenes in January, an opportunity to "cure the constitutional deficiencies," the ruling says.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott's office, which had argued that the system was flawed but nonetheless constitutional, said Thursday that the state "will appeal and will defend this law, just as it defends all laws enacted by the Legislature when they are challenged in court." That means the case is likely headed to the Texas Supreme Court.

If the high court upholds the Dietz decision, it will be up to state lawmakers to design a new funding method. Still, all appeals may not conclude until well after the 2015 legislative session is over.

In the meantime, Dietz wrote that the Legislature "has failed to meet its constitutional duty to suitably provide for Texas public schools" because the funding system is "structured, operated and funded so that it cannot provide a constitutionally adequate education for all Texas schoolchildren."

The case grew out of the Legislature's cutting $5.4 billion from public education in 2011, prompting more than 600 school districts responsible for educating three-quarters of Texas' 5 million-plus public school students to sue.

They claimed they no longer had sufficient resources to educate students. The lawsuit cited Texas' school enrollment growth of nearly 80,000 students per year due to a booming population and the Legislature's increased demands for standardized testing and lofty curriculum requirements to graduate high school.

Schools in rich and poor areas were on the same side in the case because the Robin Hood system requires districts with high property values to turn over part of what they collect in property taxes to poorer districts. Poor districts said that wasn't enough, while schools in wealthy areas argued that voters often refuse to approve local tax increases they might otherwise support since much of the money would go elsewhere.

Dietz's initial verbal ruling came after 44 days of testimony, but he held off compiling a written ruling that would start the appeals process. Four months later, lawmakers restored more than $3.4 billion to classrooms and slashed the number of standardized tests required for high school graduation from 15 to five.

Dietz then reopened the case in January, but the new evidence wasn't enough to change his mind.

Rick Gray, an attorney who represented a coalition of 443 suing school districts said he hoped the Legislature will now "once and for all permanently fix the school finance system."

Abbott is running for governor and didn't argue the case, but his Democratic opponent, state Sen. Wendy Davis, has made it a campaign issue.

Davis called the ruling a victory for schools, saying in a statement that, "The reality is clear and indefensible: insiders like Greg Abbott haven't been working for our schools."

Though Abbott's office is appealing, the attorney general himself said Thursday that Texas should "improve education for our children rather than just doubling down on an outdated" funding formula "constructed decades ago." That highlights the difference between Abbott's candidacy and the duties of his job as attorney general.

The issues aren't new. Dietz also found the state school finance system unconstitutional after a lengthy trial in 2004, and similar legal battles have raged for decades.

Education Commissioner Michael Williams said the ruling will have no immediate effect on the way schools statewide are funded, calling it "just a first step on a very familiar path for school finance litigation in Texas."

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Kelvin Roy sentenced to 75 years in prison

ORANGE - The jury has decided Kelvin Roy should spend 75 years in prison for murdering a teenage girl by deliberately crashing into her family's car in Vidor.  Roy briefly closed his eyes, gave a small shake of his head and looked away, according to Haley Bull, our reporter in the courtroom, who reports that during a victim's impact statement, Alexandria Bertrand's mother said "when Kelvin Lee Roy murdered my daughter he cheated Lexy. Most of all she loved life and she loved her family and friends." 

KFDM's Haley Bull is covering the trial. Watch KFDM News and stay with kfdm.com for reaction.

The jury decided Roy should not pay a fine. He faced a possible sentence of five years to life in prison and up to a $10,000 fine for the death of 16-year-old Alexandria 'Lexy' Bertrand.

The judge called it an "emotionally draining trial" and offered the jury the opportunity to remain in the courtroom or step outside when the victim's impact statements were read.

Lexy's mother and brother delivered victim's impact statements in the courtoom following the decision.

Her brother described finding out about the wreck and seeing Lexy after the crash. He finished his statement by saying "I will always remember my big sister, Lexy."

Lexy's mother, April Bertrand, then read her statement.

From Haley's Twitter feed:

Bertrand:"when Kelvin Lee Roy murdered my daughter he cheated Lexy. Most of all she loved life and she loved her family and friends."

Bertrand describes everything she will never get to see Lexy do.

Bertrand: "I hope and pray that Kelvin can take this horrific act to heart and realize the error in your ways.

"She has survived and will continue to live on through the gift of organ donation."

Family is finished, Roy tried to address Bertrand as he was taken out of the courtroom.

Some jurors cried as they left the courtroom, the judge shared a moment with Bertrand as he left. 

She testified during the punishment phase Thursday morning that her daughter "had such a huge heart and wanted to help people."

The jury in Judge Powell's court in Orange convicted Roy Wednesday of murder for the February 7, 2014 crash on Old Highway 90 in Vidor. He deliberately drove into a van and caused a crash that killed Alexandria "Lexy" Bertrand. Roy faces a punishment ranging from 5 years to life in prison.

Testimony in the punishment phase began shortly after 9 a.m. Thursday and ended at about 10:30. Closing arguments began after a short break and ended at about 11:20 a.m. The jury began deliberating and is taking a lunch break from noon until 1.

Here is some of April Bertrand's testimony and other testimony through Haley's Twitter feed from the trial:

Bertrand says her daughter "was absolutely the little mama" to her three younger brothers and sister.

Lexy would have been a senior this year. Bertrand says she wanted to become a nurse.

Bertrand: "she had such a huge heart and wanted to help people."

Bertrand: "Lexy was such a bright and shining spirit that she affected everyone around her."

Bertrand describes schools Lexy attended supporting the family after her death, she says "you don't prepare to lose a child."

Bertrand is talking about community support following the crash, including benefits and fundraisers for Lexy.

Prosecutor is showing Bertrand pictures of smiling Lexy, she smiles too.

Bertrand:"this is my Lexy girl she had that smile and those bright blue eyes that spirit that anybody could see by looking at her."

Tearful moment on the stand as the prosecutor shows a picture of a balloon release at Lexy's funeral.

Lexy's brothers tearful in the audience as Bertrand describes pictures of Lexy with her brothers.

Bertrand: "there's just this emptiness and this void that our family's missing that important loved one."

About Lexy's brothers, Bertrand says "it's really hard for them not to have their sister anymore."

Woman who raised Kelvin Roy takes the stand, says she considers him her son.

She says:"he makes bad decisions,using the drugs that was a bad decision to make, I'm not gonna say he's been the model citizen.."

"but deep inside Kelvin is actually a good person, he's a caring person."  

She says Kelvin wouldn't deliberately hurt someone, and isn't a violent person. Says Kelvin has expressed remorse.

She says "the drugs caused the behavior, the reckless driving, an accident on Feb. 7th, there's no doubt in my mind."

She never witnessed his drug use, but "the addiction to whatever he was using played a huge role in the way he turned out.

She says Roy needs to be held responsible, but asks the jury for leniency in his punishment.

"I believe if he hadn't been under the influence Lexy Bertrand would still be alive.

She says he can be rehabilitated "he just kind of strayed away from his upbringing."

"It was a selfish act to do it. He's wrong and he deserves to be punished for what he did..."

"Then at the same time forgive him, forgive me if you feel I wasn't adequate in raising him forgive me as well.."

"... And I would like the Bertrand family to forgive him."

She tells April Bertrand she prays for her, "I'm not insensitive to what she's going through because I'm going through something as well."

Prosecutors question her, she maintains he makes "very poor choices" but isn't a violent person.

Prosecutor asks her "the bottom line is you weren't there in the car were you?"

She maintains she knows Roy well enough to know what he's capable of, and how she was showing him tough love.

Roy's brother takes the stand.

He is in a wheelchair and describes how Roy helped him after his injury.

Says he knew Roy used marijuana, but not PCP. He describes changes in Roy he attributes to drugs..

"It changed him, turned him from a person you could rely on to, I guess you could say he became unreliable," but says Roy isn't violent.

He asks the jury for leniency, "he has a lot of good in his heart, he has a lot of good he just make bad decisions."

Both Roy's mother and brother maintain he has good left in him and can be rehabilitated, testimony describes impact of drugs.

Jury returns. State calls an OCSO worker who oversees records of inmates phone calls and visitation recordings.

Prosecutor questioning her about a visitation between Roy and a woman.

Playing a portion of recording in court now, the defense objected but judge overrules.

Hard to make out what is said in the audio recording, but can hear "nah, nah, nah" at the end.

State calls April Bertrand back to the stand.

Bertrand says Lexy wanted to be a blood donor, Lexy told her, "I feel like I've done something so extremely important for human life."

Bertrand says Lexy gave so much blood she became anemic, and that she decided to become an organ donor.

Bertrand: "she was able to fulfill her last wish to become an organ donor.

Bertrand describes who Lexy's organs have helped, "I would love to hear my baby's heart beat one more time that would be a beautiful thing."

Lexy's organs have gone to two men, a woman and a child. Bertrand says "it gives me some sort of peace to know.."

"... Even though our family has lost so much... That there are pieces of her living on in other people."

Arguments are finished. The jury is taking a break before closing arguments.

Judge is reading the jury sentencing instructions.

State is starting their closing argument now. Prosecutor is asking jury to sentence Roy to life in prison.

She's showing the jury a stack of papers, they're Roy's prior convictions.

They include more than a dozen felonies and misdemeanors.

She says "he's still out there doing the same things and worse."

She tells the jury she'll wait for her rebuttal to give them all the reasons they should sentence Roy to life.

He asks the jury to "keep your eye on the culpability of my defendant."

About Roy's intent, he says "I believe it was an intent that was less culpable than other kinds of intent."

He tells the jury there's a difference between an intoxicated, sober and premeditated intent.

He believes Roy had an intoxicated intent, and points to his family's testimony about Roy's poor decision making.

He asks the jury to think about the length of a year.

He is asking the jury for a 20 year sentence, the maximum prison time for a manslaughter charge.

He says "not that it ever compensates for the true tragedy of the situation but it punishes the crime."

State addressing jury once more.

About Roy and his record: Obviously nothing is helping, nothing is making a difference. He's a threat to our community and he need to go away for life."

She described how he will still get a life with visitations but Lexy won't. "That's forever. That's not just for a term of years, that's forever. It's final. It's done. Lexy would have been a senior.

Tells the jury "your job is to remove the threat"..."this isn't just 1 mistake the defendant made on 1 occasion this is his lifestyle."

Tells the jury "your job is to remove the threat"..."this isn't just 1 mistake the defendant made on 1 occasion this is his lifestyle."

She compares Roy launching the car to launching a missile into a crowded intersection.

She describes the people also at the intersection the night of the crash and how their lives "came together so tragically."

Prosecutor tears up as she shows a picture of Lexy's brothers with their sister and one without.

She says "there's a void, there's something missing that's never coming back."

Jury now going into deliberations.

(Wednesday) ORANGE - A jury has convicted Kelvin Roy of murdering a Vidor teenage girl after crashing into her family's car.

KFDM's Haley Bull is covering the trial of Kelvin Roy. Stay with KFDM and kfdm.com for updates.

The jury in Judge Dennis Powell's courtroom began deliberating at about 2:15 p.m. Wednesday and returned with the guilty verdict shortly before 4:45 p.m. The judge told the crowd there should be on outbursts. There were gasps and cries from the audience when the verdict was announced.

Roy, 32, could receive up to a life sentence. The punishment phase is set to begin at 9 a.m. Thursday.

The trial began Monday in Judge Dennis Powell's court.

Roy was convicted of murder in the death of Alexandria Bertrand, 16, known as Lexy to her family and friends. She was a student at Vidor High School.

The teen died following a collision February 7 on Old Highway 90 in Vidor. Investigators say Kelvin Roy crashed into a van driven by the teen's mother. They were driving to Walmart so Bertrand could buy a present for a boy she liked. Bertrand died at a hospital the following day.

Prosecutors say Roy deliberately drove into the van while high on drugs. His girlfriend was in the car with him when he left Beaumont and got onto the Interstate. She says he never tried to stop when he crashed into the van. Roy's attorney says his client didn't intend to crash into the van.

During closing arguments, prosecutors showed a picture of Lexy smiling and then showed the jury an autopsy picture. There were gasps and tears.

The prosecutor said, "this case is about Lexy Bertrand, this beautiful, 16 year old girl, a big sister to three young brothers."

The prosecutor showed a picture of an identification bracelet around Bertrand's ankle and said, "this band around her ankle is the last piece of jewelry Lexy will ever receive or wear. There won't be a senior ring. There won't be a wedding ring. There won't be a locket that had maybe a lock of her child's hair in it. This is it."

Here is a summary of closing arguments and reporting from Haley via Twitter (from most recent to earliest):

Roy's handcuffs are back on as he is taken out of the courtroom during the recess.

Arguments are finished. Jury deliberations are starting.

Prosecutor: "the loss to Lexy's family and the community cannot be restored."

Roy appears neutral throughout the arguments.

Prosecutor tells jurors voluntary intoxication is not a defense.

Prosecutor says about Roy's testimony: "that's not what happened... That's not what the evidence shows in this case, not at all."

Prosecutor asks jury about Brown: "what reason does she have to lie? Really? She doesn't."

State making final argument.

"... There's no way he intended to hurt anybody."

He says "a murder indictment doesn't fit these facts. It's a manslaughter case clear and simple"..

Attorney: "if this was less tragic I believe it would have been charged as manslaughter."

Attorney says jury will have to decide between Roy and Brown's story, "would you invest with her? I wouldn't feel comfortable."

Attorney said "there really wasn't much an investigation done", that state is asking jury to believe intoxicated woman

Attorney about Roy: "I'm not trying to say he's innocent..." Goes on to say but "the intent to murder doesn't add up."

Attorney says about Brown: "the greater fact is the inconsistency, someone going back and forth on this can't be trusted."

Attorney says medical records and notes do not show Brown mentioning Roy tried to kill her.

Attorney shows Brown's record from the emergency room, showing intoxication, claiming that contradicts her statements to jury.

Attorney says all of the sudden she's involved in a huge wreck and thinks "I need to get out of this situation."

Attorney argues Brown had a reason to lie.

Attorney: "all the evidence they had supported intoxication and not intent", toxicology reports showed clear evidence of drinking and drugs."

Attorney: "the evidence is overwhelming for intoxication."

Attorney says Brown's testimony was only one for intent.

Asks jury to "ignore the emotional onslaught" prosecutors showed, says it was added for shock value.

And the consequences are what they are."

Prosecutor: "basically what he did was he might have strapped a parachute to his back, stepped out of a plane..."

Talking about Roy's drug use, prosecutor says "picking up that PCP cigarette was a choice the defendant made."

Prosecutor tells jury witness accounts contradict Roy's statements, asks where was the man he was going to pay during the case?

Prosecutor quotes a witness, saying Brown told the witness after the impact "he's trying to kill us.

Prosecutor is summarizing witness testimony on hearing the acceleration right before the crash.

Prosecutor says Brown is "no shining nickle"... But "that's his association, that's his girlfriend."

".. There won't be a locket that had maybe a lock of her child's hair in it, this is it."

"Is the last piece of jewelry that Lexy will ever receive or wear. There won't be a senior ring, there won't be a wedding ring."

Showing picture of identification bracelet around Bertrand's ankle, prosecutor says: "This band around her ankle..."

Prosecutor shows a picture of a smiling Bertrand to the jury, followed by an autopsy photo. Gasps and years from audience follow.

Prosecutor: "this case is about Lexy Bertrand, this beautiful, 16 year old girl, a big sister to three young brothers."

Prosecutor: "Lexy is a victim of the defendant's intended consequences."

State starting closing arguments.

And if the act caused Bertrand's death.

The jury will consider if Roy intentionally tried to injure Brown, if Roy intentionally drove the vehicle into another...

And committing an act, running his vehicle into another, causing the death of Lexy Bertrand.\Judge is explaining to the jury the charge. Roy's accused of intending to cause serious bodily injury to Taralynn Brown (his gf).

Trial is back underway. Roy is charged with murder, he pleads not guilty


BISD embezzlement case suspect pleads not guilty in court
BEAUMONT - The woman who's married to a former BISD employee -- who's accused of placing her (his wife) on the Beaumont school district's payroll without authorization -- was in court today.

Erin Gipson Johnson pleaded not guilty in court Thursday to defrauding the school district.

Federal investigators believe Johnson's husband, Daryl Glenn Johnson, used his authority as a BISD maintenance warehouse supervisor to place his wife (Erin) as well as friend, Kailyn Pete, on the district's payroll, allowing them to receive hundreds of thousands of unearned dollars.

If convicted, Erin Johnson could face up to 10 years in prison and a fine up to $250,000 dollars.

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