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’Banking while black’: Woman sues Wells Fargo alleging teller refused to cash her check

All Satara Monroe wanted to do was cash her paycheck, make a stop at the grocery store and go home. But she said her plans were ruined when a bank teller at a Pompano Beach Wells Fargo accused her of committing fraud.

The quick errand back in 2015 turned into an hourlong interrogation by police, according to a lawsuit filed Nov. 5 in federal court in South Florida.

Michelle Palomino, a spokeswoman for Wells Fargo, said in a statement, “Wells Fargo opposes discrimination of any kind, and strongly denies Ms. Monroe’s allegations.”

Monroe, 40, who is black, said she turned to a lawyer after seeing similar stories of black people being discriminated against while banking with Wells Fargo.

According to Yechezkel Rodal, her attorney, Monroe — who works for a marketing firm — went to a Pompano Beach branch to cash her check and presented two forms of ID because she is not a customer.

She also left her fingerprint on the check, a standard practice for non-customers. The check was drawn on a Wells Fargo account.

According to the suit, the teller, a white woman, told Monroe that she called the owner of the firm — the person on the check — to verify, and told Monroe the owner said the check was fraudulent.

Monroe called her boss, and he said he never received a phone call from Wells Fargo. He even spoke to the teller on the phone, at Monroe’s behest, but Monroe was still escorted to a room by the branch manager. In the room, at least four Broward Sheriff’s Office deputies confronted her, Monroe said.

The bank eventually cleared Monroe and she cashed her check.

Wells Fargo has been accused of similar actions by other minorities.

In 2017, Barbara Carroll, 78, filed suit after she said she was accused of forgery at a Fort Lauderdale branch, according to the Washington Post.

Carroll, who is black, tried to cash a $140 check, but instead was interrogated, the paper reported. That case ended in an “amicable solution,” said Rodal, who also represented Carroll.

Also in 2017, Jean Romane Elie tried to withdraw money for rent from a branch in West Palm Beach and instead was detained by sheriff’s deputies, according to the New Times. He sued.

Another University of Iowa fraternity suspended, accused of hazing

IOWA CITY — Another University of Iowa fraternity has been added to a growing list of those under investigation and temporary suspension — this time for alleged hazing violations.

Kappa Sigma on Nov. 2 joined 11 other temporarily suspended UI fraternities “pending further investigation into violations of university policy due to hazing allegations,” according to UI spokeswoman Anne Bassett.

UI officials declined to share details of alleged behavior at Kappa Sigma, which debuted its UI chapter in 1902 and went dormant in 2003 before returning in 2014. But UI Interfraternity Council President Jason Pierce told The Gazette his understanding is, “It was just a really bad situation.”

Allegations involved alcohol and “wall sits” and other forms of abuse, according to Pierce, who said, “110 percent it’s concerning to me.” It’s concerning, Pierce said, in its impact on a chapter’s culture and on those pledges involved.

“If you care about someone, you don’t want to embarrass them,” he said. “For those who are getting hazed, my advice is that it’s not a place you want to be. Why would a group of friends who supposedly care about you put you in that situation?”

As to whether a police report describing the incident might be available, UI spokeswoman Hayley Bruce said, the UI Department of Public Safety is not investigating any incidents of hazing at this time.

The university in October temporarily suspended nine fraternities accused of “blatant and systemic failure” to halt dangerous and prohibited events with alcohol — a directive the Greek community received after a freshman died during an out-of-town formal in April 2017.

When combined with other fraternities suspended earlier in the semester for alleged alcohol and policy violations, the total under investigation came to 11 — and now 12 with the Kappa Sigma addition.

The earlier suspensions followed an Oct. 4 warning from Vice President for Student Life Melissa Shivers regarding “policy violations and prohibited alcohol use at open events, including tailgates, despite repeated efforts to end this behavior.”

“Since that time,” she wrote in another message the following week, “the severity of the situation has intensified.”

The university last year banned Greek parties with alcohol and out-of-town formals after Kamil Jackowski, 19, died while attending a Sigma Chi event at Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri. The Camden County Sheriff’s Office reported Jackowski died from alcohol and drugs.

In a step toward thawing the alcohol freeze, UI last fall rolled out a “formal and date party pilot” program for its 36 fraternities and sororities permitting chapters to hold one event with alcohol under strict monitoring and guidelines — including the use of wristbands, preapproved guest lists, and consumption restrictions.

A handful of fraternities and sororities have engaged in the extensive pilot-application process and held approved events with alcohol.

Those suspended fraternities accused of skirting the application and approval process cannot participate in any fraternity and sorority life meetings, programs, social events, recreational intramurals, homecoming activities, or other events pending the UI investigation.

They also can’t reserve space in campus buildings or on outdoor facilities and face a range of outcomes — depending on the result of the university investigations.

UI spokeswoman Bassett this week told The Gazette administrators have ended those earlier investigations into fraternity tailgates and other suspected violations of its Greek-system alcohol ban. But most of the 11 fraternity investigations have yet to be adjudicated and resolved, according to Bassett, who said the administration “plans to update individual chapters regarding their chapter’s status in the coming weeks.”

“The university does not have a specific timeline for the final decisions related to the investigations,” Bassett said in an emailed response to questions from The Gazette.

UI Interfraternity Council President Pierce told The Gazette the waiting and lack of communication from the administration can hurt chapter moral, hinder the ability welcome new members, and limit philanthropic endeavors.

“That begins to start affecting the outside community as well,” Pierce said.

l Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

Wall Street sells off — again

NEW YORK — Stocks sold off for a second day on Tuesday as energy shares dropped with oil prices. Retailers including Target and Kohl’s sank after weak earnings and forecasts, fueling worries about economic growth.

The Nasdaq closed at its lowest level in more than seven months while the S&P 500 and Dow ended at their lowest since late October.

This came a day after Apple, internet and other technology shares dropped, further shaking confidence in a group of stocks that has propelled the long bull market.

Apple shares dropped again on Tuesday, falling 4.8 percent to its lowest level since early May, as concerns lingered over slowing demand for iPhones.

Target Corp shares slumped 10.5 percent after third-quarter profit missed analysts’ estimates. The company’s investments in its online business, higher wages and price cuts hurt margins.

Department store operator Kohl’s shed 9.2 percent after its full-year profit forecast fell below expectations.

Warnings from retailers added to caution for investors, already on edge over recent sharp losses in technology shares, a slowdown in global growth, peaking corporate earnings and rising interest rates.

“It’s the market adjusting to an early 2019 that looks different from the months of 2018 in that there have been mounting concerns over global growth,” said Quincy Krosby, chief market strategist at Prudential Financial in Newark, N.J. “U.S. growth is not weakening dramatically but slowing.”

The day’s losses left the S&P 500 and Dow in negative territory for the year, with the Dow now down about 1 percent and the S&P 500 down 1.1 percent since Dec. 31.

Trial set for Marion man charged in motel stabbing

CEDAR RAPIDS — A Marion man accused of stabbing a man at a motel last month pleaded not guilty Tuesday in Linn County District Court.

Taaun Jackson, 42, was charged with one count each of attempted murder, first-degree burglary and willful injury resulting in a serious injury. He is accused of stabbing Shannon Coleman, 46, in the neck Oct. 30 at the Marion Motel, 2330 Seventh Ave., according to a criminal complaint.

Jackson remains in jail on a $300,000 bond. His trial is set for Jan. 28.

Coleman told police Jackson broke into his motel room and stabbed him, the complaint shows. Officers responded to the motel just before 7 p.m. and found Coleman in the lobby area.

Police later found Jackson, who had a knife and admitted to having a fight with Coleman.

Police said the two men are acquaintances who got into an argument, which ultimately led to the stabbing.

Coleman was taken to a hospital for emergency treatment, the complaint shows.

Jackson has an outstanding warrant from Hennepin County in Minnesota for domestic assault by strangulation. Jackson previously waived extradition back to Minnesota, but he will remain in Linn County pending the outcome in the Marion case.

l Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

Judge’s ruling means Trump administration must allow illegal border crossers to seek asylum

The Trump administration on Tuesday was forced to resume processing asylum claims from migrants apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border, a bitter blow for a president who has waged an all-out effort - including the deployment of thousands of military troops - to stanch the flow of Central American families into the country.

President Donald Trump tried to bar those who cross the border illegally from seeking asylum earlier this month, saying they could only qualify if they waited in line at a legal checkpoint.

As several migrant caravans trudged through Mexico toward the United States, Trump had troops unfurl miles of razor wire at border hotspots and pelted migrants with tweets, calling them “thugs” and ordering them on Sunday to “Go home!”

But U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar froze the president’s new asylum policy late Monday, saying federal law clearly states that migrants can seek asylum anywhere on U.S. soil. Tigar said the president’s new rules exposed adults and children to “increased risk of violence and other harms.”

“Whatever the scope of the President’s authority, he may not rewrite the immigration laws to impose a condition that Congress has expressly forbidden,” the 37-page ruling said.

The Trump administration signaled Tuesday that it would continue to fight in court to implement the asylum policy, which a joint statement from the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department compared to the version of the travel ban that was narrowly upheld by the Supreme Court in June.

“As the Supreme Court affirmed this summer, Congress has given the President broad authority to limit or even stop the entry of aliens into this country,” DHS spokeswoman Katie Waldman and Justice spokesman Steven Stafford said in the statement. “We look forward to continuing to defend the Executive Branch’s legitimate and well-reasoned exercise of its authority to address the crisis at our southern border.”

Tigar’s decision is the latest in a string of defeats for a president who had pledged to crack down on illegal immigration, and has threatened to oust Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen as the number of families caught crossing the border each month continues to spiral.

Federal judges have frustrated Trump’s efforts to strip funding from sanctuary cities and rescind temporary work permits and deportation protections from roughly 1 million immigrants who were protected under past administrations. His “zero tolerance” policy, which forcibly separated parents and children at the border this spring, exploded into a public crisis. And the Republican-led Congress so far has declined to fund his promised border wall.

Four immigrant advocacy groups - the East Bay Sanctuary Covenant, Al Otro Lado, Innovation Law Lab, and Central American Resource Center of Los Angeles - filed suit over the asylum policy hours after the administration issued the new rule in early November.

American Civil Liberties Union attorney Lee Gelernt, who argued the groups’ case before Tigar at a court hearing Monday, said the judge’s ruling means that migrants can apply for asylum anywhere along the nearly 2,000 mile Mexican border, as they have done for decades.

But he said the decision to cross illegally is theirs alone.

“We don’t, and would not advise anybody to break the law,” he said. At the same time, he said, advocates believe many will attempt to sneak across the border because the U.S. government is limiting the number of asylum seekers who can cross legally.

On Monday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection temporarily closed the entire San Ysidro crossing in San Diego, where thousands are waiting to seek asylum. After installing additional layers of razor wire and concrete barriers, officials reopened the port with 10 of 26 vehicle lanes closed.

“The wait is so long, and it’s dangerous,” Gelernt said. “I think that there’s going to be people crossing between ports (of entry), as they always have.

“Out of necessity, historically, people have done what they need to do to save their lives,” he added. “That’s why Congress has this provision in the statute, and has never changed it.”

Tigar’s temporary restraining order against Trump’s policy is in place until Dec. 19, when he will hear arguments on whether to issue a permanent injunction prohibiting it.

Advocates say asylum-seeking migrants are fleeing violence and poverty in Central America, but the Trump administration claims they are filing false asylum claims to gain entry into the United States.

Because of a fixed number of family detention beds and legal limits on how long the government can detain children, most migrant families are released. Many do not later show up for their deportation hearings.

Across the border in Mexico on Tuesday, migrants struggled to chart their next steps. Many said they were unaware of Tigar’s ruling, and some were still unwilling to make the journey illegally.

But others said they were growing increasingly impatient in their dirty, makeshift shelters in a crowded sports complex in Tijuana, where the bulk of the migrant caravan is staying. Migrants say tempers are starting to flare and sometimes boil over into fights.

“Yesterday we tried to go get on the list for asylum, but there was no one there,” said Pablo Rio, a 45-year-old Nicaraguan man who sitting on the street outside the sports complex. He said he fled his country after gun-wielding paramilitaries threatened him at his house in the city of Leon for protesting against President Daniel Ortega.

“We want to go legally, but we also can’t wait anymore,” he said. “I can’t go back to my country. . . If there were another option than wait here for three months or however long we have to wait to apply, I’d take it. But we want asylum.”

Quenedi Valladares, 53, from Olancho, Honduras, said he went to the border on Monday to put his name on a list for asylum.

“They said it would be a long time before it would be my turn. Months. I don’t really know what to do,” Valladares said. “I just want to get to my family in Virginia, and I really don’t want to wait that long. It’s pretty rough in here and I’m getting tired. But I want to go legally.”

“All I know is that Trump said he wants to deport us all,” Valladares added. “But we are coming.”

But Ingrid Yolanis, a 24-year-old from Santa Barbara, Honduras, said she would wait to cross legally to seek asylum.

“My plan has always been to go to an official gate,” she said. “I don’t want to be treated like a criminal. I’m ready to wait however long it takes.”

Erika Pinheiro, who is coordinating legal services in Tijuana, is a lawyer with Al Otro Lado, one of the plaintiffs in the asylum-ban lawsuit. She said U.S. Customs and Border Protection has said they could start processing as many as 250 asylum seekers a day, but that has not happened. Instead, she is holding a series of meetings to explain migrants their rights and discuss how to proceed.

As Pinheiro thumbed through her 35-page powerpoint presentation on Tuesday, she crossed off the bullet point under the asylum process section that said “Enter the United States legally.”

“I’ve spent so long updating this over the past few months,” she said. “People are just desperate for information.”

The U.S. military’s role at the border also appeared unclear Tuesday. As of this week, about 5,800 service members were still deployed to the border, including about 2,800 in Texas, 1,500 in California and 1,500 in Arizona.

On Tuesday, a U.S. defense official speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue, said that the military was examining whether Tigar’s order changes anything for their operations. The troops had been acting in a support role to the Department of Homeland Security, with only incidental contact with migrants expected.

Michael Kucharek, a military spokesman, said Tuesday that U.S. troops will continue to assist U.S. Customs and Border Protection in a support role, providing helicopters, medical assistance and logistics help that includes installing barbed wire and other barriers along the southern border.

“We’re working closely with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to identify the areas along the border that need to be hardened and we apply the capabilities and capacity where needed,” he said.

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Kinosian reported from Tijuana. The Washington Post’s Dan Lamothe and Nick Miroff contributed to this report from Washington.

Trump defends Saudi Arabia’s denial about the planning of Khashoggi’s death

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Tuesday declared his strong support for Saudi Arabia while undermining the CIA’s conclusion that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was responsible for the brutal death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, issuing a remarkable exclamation-mark packed statement that effectively called for an end to the debate over whether to stand by the kingdom.

Even for a president who routinely equates global affairs with business transactions, Trump’s calculation was startling. In weighing how to respond to what his own intelligence officials have essentially deemed a state-sanctioned murder, the president decided that oil production, weapons sales and geopolitical advantage were more important than holding an ally to account.

The United States “may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder,” Trump said, noting that both King Salman and his son, Mohammed, “vigorously deny any knowledge of the planning or execution of the murder of Mr. Khashoggi,” which Trump called a “crime.”

He offered dubious examples of how the Saudis enhance the U.S. economy, and stressed the importance of staying in the kingdom’s good graces.

At the same time, the president acknowledged that the young crown prince may well have ordered the murder of Khashoggi, a prominent critic of Mohammed’s policies who lived in Virginia and wrote columns for The Washington Post, while seeming to shrug off how much that mattered.

“Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event - maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!” Trump said.

Despite mounting evidence of the prince’s role, some of which the president has seen during intelligence briefings, Trump indicated that U.S. economic and national security interests - especially the billions of dollars in arms purchases he said the Saudis would make - outweighed the need to establish whether Mohammed was involved and, if so, punished.

“They have been a great ally,” he said of the Saudis, and “the United States intends to remain a steadfast partner.”

Later, speaking to reporters before leaving the White House for his resort in Florida, Trump frankly explained his rationale, saying that Saudi Arabia “has helped me keep oil prices down.”

“I’m not going to destroy our economy by being foolish with Saudi Arabia,” he said.

The president’s statement, and further comments by the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, left little doubt that as far as the administration was concerned, relations with Saudi Arabia would continue as normal and that he planned to put the Khashoggi crisis behind him.

“It’s a mean, nasty world out there. The Middle East in particular,” Pompeo told reporters, echoing comments in Trump’s statement that “the world is a very dangerous place!”

“It is the president’s obligation and indeed the State Department’s duty as well to ensure that we adopt policy that furthers America’s national security. So as the president said today, the United States will continue to have a relationship with the kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” Pompeo said.

Khashoggi was killed Oct. 2, soon after entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul to obtain documents he needed to remarry.

Trump’s statement came after he said he would receive a full report on the killing in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last month, and after The Washington Post reported that the CIA had determined it was effectively impossible that Mohammed wasn’t involved.

It appeared that no report was forthcoming, and it wasn’t clear that the president had received any new information. CIA Director Gina Haspel had already shown the president details of the crown prince’s involvement, officials said. The agency’s assessment of Mohammed’s involvement relied on audio recordings provided by Turkey, intercepted phone calls, as well as other analysis performed by Saudi experts at the CIA, according to people familiar with the agency’s work.

Trump said the CIA was still looking into the issue.

The agency declined to comment.

Lawmakers from both parties reacted with frustration to the president’s remarks and signaled that they would take up the matter after the Thanksgiving holiday.

South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey O. Graham said he is more determined than ever to push legislation that will press the Saudi regime and he urged the U.S. government to focus on the crown prince and his actions.

“When it comes to the Crown Prince it is not wise to look away,” Graham said Tuesday afternoon. “It does not serve our national interest well.” He described the crown prince as “a wrecking ball,” citing actions including initiating an embargo against Qatar as well as having a role in the death of Khashoggi.

Democrats cast the president’s decision as a failure of leadership.

“The President’s failure to hold Saudi Arabia responsible in any meaningful way for the death of Jamal Khashoggi is just one more example of this White House’s retreat from American leadership on issues like human rights and protecting the free press,” Sen. Mark Warner, Va., the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement. “It’s hard to imagine that the Saudis would have taken this action under a Reagan, Bush, Clinton or Obama Administration without facing serious repercussions.”

Washington Post Publisher and CEO Fred Ryan also heavily criticized the president’s statement.

“President Trump’s response to the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi is a betrayal of long-established American values of respect for human rights and the expectation of trust and honesty in our strategic relationships,” he said. “He is placing personal relationships and commercial interests above American interests in his desire to continue to do business as usual with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia.”

He added: “In this failure of leadership from President Trump, it now falls to Congress to stand up for America’s true values and lasting interests.”

Trump’s defense of Saudi Arabia marks another instance when he has sided with the personal assurances of an autocrat, who has an incentive to deceive him, over the objective analysis of his own intelligence officials.

Trump also took the word of Russian Vladimir Putin that he didn’t meddle in the 2016 elections, despite the unanimous conclusions of the U.S. intelligence community to the contrary. And Trump continues to praise North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jung Un, and declare the threat from its nuclear weapons program neutralized, even though U.S. intelligence is still tracking the development of missiles and nuclear weapons material.

“We ‘may never know’ because we don’t want to know,” Bruce Riedel, a former career CIA officer and longtime Saudi expert, said.

“The administration is defending a country most Americans have little affection for and an individual who most Americans have come to the conclusion is a murderer,” Riedel said.

But relations with Russia and North Korea have nothing to do with jobs and weapons sales. Trump’s decision to side with the Saudis, in the end, came down largely to the money he claimed the kingdom would bring to the U.S. economy.

In the eight-paragraph statement, the president lauded Saudi Arabia’s economic ties with the United States and personally took credit for what he called historic investments.

“After my heavily negotiated trip to Saudi Arabia last year, the Kingdom agreed to spend and invest $450 billion in the United States. This is a record amount of money,” Trump claimed, citing a figure that many experts have said greatly exaggerates the real value of Saudi deals.

Trump had initially resisted making his first visit abroad as president to Riyadh, but he acquiesced after the Saudis promised to commit to weapons purchases.

“It will create hundreds of thousands of jobs, tremendous economic development, and much additional wealth for the United States,” he said, again citing a claim without any evidence and that is at odds with the estimates of experts, who have said that Saudi weapons purchases have a negligible effect on the overall economy.

Trump also called out U.S. defense contractors by name, claiming that Saudi Arabia would spend $110 billion with Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, as well as other companies. Trump’s invocation could put the companies in an uncomfortable position of being seen as benefiting from the largesse of a Saudi ruler who is being increasingly isolated on the world stage, and who even members of the president’s own party in Congress said has lost all credibility.

“If we foolishly cancel these contracts, Russia and China would be the enormous beneficiaries - and very happy to acquire all of this newfound business. It would be a wonderful gift to them directly from the United States!” Trump said, repeating his argument that the Saudis would simply buy their weapons elsewhere if the United States refuses to sell to them.

Trump also took up a Saudi claim, fanned by some on the American political right, that Khashoggi was seen as an “enemy of the state” and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group opposed by Riyadh. That amounted to an unsubstantiated slur toward Khashoggi, a U.S. resident, who though he had friends within the movement had also once been a loyal supporter and close ally to the Saudi royal family.

Trump insisted that “my decision was in no way based on that,” referring to the claims Khashoggi was a danger to the kingdom. When The Washington Post first reported on Nov. 1 that the crown prince privately described Khashoggi as a dangerous Islamist to senior administration officials, Saudi officials denied making any such claims and portrayed Khashoggi as a friend of the kingdom.

Trump also portrayed Saudi Arabia as a crucial partner in countering Iran’s malign actions. He led his statement by enumerating the places where Iran poses a threat to U.S. interests and regional stability and called out the Islamic republic for its support of terrorist groups that have killed Americans.

Iran “is responsible for a bloody proxy war against Saudi Arabia in Yemen, trying to destabilize Iraq’s fragile attempt at democracy, supporting the terror group Hezbollah in Lebanon, propping up dictator Bashar Assad in Syria (who has killed millions of his own citizens), and much more,” Trump said.

He praised the Saudis for agreeing “to spend billions of dollars in leading the fight against Radical Islamic Terrorism.”

The president often writes with exclamation marks, and several advisers said he dictated much of the statement, which he released shortly before leaving Washington to spend the Thanksgiving holiday at his resort in Florida.

Trump had said over the weekend that a “very complete” report on the Khashoggi case would be forthcoming on Tuesday. But there was no sign of it, leaving open the question of whether Trump had sought to delay acting on the CIA’s findings.

Trump has told advisers for weeks that he was uninterested in punishing the kingdom in any sort of substantive way and has noted that other countries, like China, treat dissidents terribly too.

As international condemnation over Khashoggi’s killing has mounted in recent weeks, the president has grown frustrated and has looked for reasons to believe that the crown prince was not involved, aides said. He has repeatedly talked about keeping oil prices low and arms sales flowing - and the benefit for the United States - while downplaying the killing.

The president also seemed to preempt likely criticism from Congress, where a number of pending bills seek to punish Saudi Arabia.

“I understand there are members of Congress who, for political or other reasons, would like to go in a different direction - and they are free to do so. I will consider whatever ideas are presented to me, but only if they are consistent with the absolute security and safety of America,” Trump said.

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The Washington Post’s John Hudson, Tom Hamburger and Karoun Demirjian contributed to this report.

House Democrats plan to investigate Ivanka Trump’s use of personal email for government business

WASHINGTON — The House Oversight Committee plans to investigate whether Ivanka Trump violated federal law by using a personal email account for government business, the panel’s incoming chairman, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said Tuesday.

In a statement, Cummings said the committee launched a bipartisan investigation last year into White House officials’ use of personal email accounts, but the White House did not provide the requested information.

“We need those documents to ensure that Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner and other officials are complying with federal records laws and there is a complete record of the activities of this Administration,” Cummings said.

In what appeared to be an acknowledgment of the potential risk of a backlash against Democrats for aggressively probing the Trump administration, Cummings also emphasized that his focus upon becoming chairman of the committee will be to address the everyday issues impacting Americans.

“My goal is to prevent this from happening again — not to turn this into a spectacle the way Republicans went after Hillary Clinton,” he said.

House Republicans created a special committee to investigate the deadly 2012 attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya, and it was that panel that uncovered Clinton’s use of a personal email server for government business during her tenure as secretary of state under President Barack Obama.

Republicans excoriated Clinton’s use of personal email during her 2016 bid for president, prompting an FBI investigation that found that she had been “extremely careless” but that there was no intention to violate laws on handling classified information.

During the yearslong Benghazi panel’s investigation, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., had acknowledged the political impact, saying the committee’s inquiry hurt Clinton’s poll numbers.

The Washington Post contacted representatives for all of the Republicans still in office who served on the Benghazi committee or as chairmen of the Oversight and Government Reform committee about Trump’s email use. Of those, only one — a spokesman for Rep. Susan Brooks, R-Ind. — replied: “No comment.”

American Oversight, the liberal watchdog group whose record requests led to the discovery regarding Trump’s use of her personal email, said in a letter to the top members of the panel and the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier Tuesday that “it is incumbent on Congress to investigate this matter immediately.”

“The parallels between Ms. Trump’s conduct and that of Secretary Clinton are inescapable,” Austin Evers, the group’s executive director, said in the letter. “In both her use of personal email and post-discovery preservation efforts, Ms. Trump appears to have done exactly what Secretary Clinton did — conduct over which President Trump and many members of Congress regularly lambasted Secretary Clinton and which, they asserted, demonstrated her unfitness for office.”

Evers added that “while much of the rhetoric surrounding Secretary Clinton’s use of personal email was hyperbolic and untethered to the law or facts, the extensive use of personal email by a senior public official raises important questions that merit investigation.”

The White House has been bracing for the new revelation to spur a deeper investigation next year by House Democrats of Ivanka Trump’s correspondence in her personal, official and business life.

Ivanka Trump first used her personal email to contact Cabinet officials in early 2017, before she joined the White House as an unpaid senior adviser, according to emails obtained by American Oversight and first reported by Newsweek.

When she joined the White House, Trump pledged to comply “with all ethics rules.” But she continued to occasionally use her personal email in her official capacity, people familiar with an administration review of her email use told The Washington Post.

In a statement Monday, Peter Mirijanian, a spokesman for Ivanka Trump’s attorney and ethics counsel, Abbe Lowell, said that the first daughter’s email use was different from that of Clinton, who had a private email server in the basement of her Chappaqua, New York, home. At one point, an archive of thousands of Clinton’s emails was deleted by a computer specialist amid a congressional investigation.

Behind the scenes, White House officials urged supporters and allies to defend Ivanka Trump and make the case publicly that her personal email use was different from that of Clinton, according to two people familiar with the administration’s talking points.

The core of their argument: the volume of private emails she sent was much smaller, the messages did not contain classified material and she did not delete them, they said. The White House is urging surrogates to make the case that it would be Democratic overreach to investigate her, the people added.

A few Trump allies had spoken out on her behalf by Tuesday afternoon, including Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., who tweeted: “There are over 30,000 BleachBit reasons why the Hillary Clinton email scandal isn’t even close to the Ivanka email issue.”

Democratic lawmakers criticized Ivanka Trump over the matter Tuesday, with some arguing that it pointed to larger ethical problems within the Trump administration.

“There’s no way that she had no knowledge of the rules,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said on CNN. “But really there’s a larger story here, which is the mixing of public and private, as with her clothing brand and her public position, the blending and mixing of emails ... There should be some kind of investigative effort.”

In the wake of the news, several lawmakers ridiculed President Donald Trump for having attacked Clinton over her email use.

“Cue the chant?” tweeted Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio, in a nod to Trump supporters’ frequent cries of “Lock her up!” at the president’s rallies.

Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-Mo., tweeted a story about Ivanka Trump’s email and commented, “Karma has a sense of humor.”

Some former Trump White House officials also chastised Ivanka Trump over the matter.

“It’s hypocritical, and, certainly, it looks bad. And I’m sure the media will have a field day with it today,” Marc Short, who served as President Trump’s legislative affairs director, said on CNN. He added that there are “some important distinctions” between the Clinton and Ivanka Trump cases, such as the fact that thousands of Clinton’s emails were deleted.

Anthony Scaramucci, who served as White House communications director for 11 days last year, told CNN that the error was so glaring that Ivanka Trump herself would have to acknowledge it if asked.

“Certainly, I think it’s hypocritical,” he said. “I think even Ivanka, if she was interviewed about it, she’d have to say that it was a mistake. You can’t do that in that position.”

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The Washington Post’s Josh Dawsey, Karoun Demirjian and Carol D. Leonnig contributed to this report.

David’s Bridal is king of the wedding industry. How did it go bankrupt?

If you are an American woman over the age of 20, chances are you have found yourself, at least once, in the fluorescent-lit dressing room of a David’s Bridal store.

The experience is practically impossible to avoid. David’s Bridal is the Wal-Mart of weddings, the convenient, low-priced alternative to traditional bridal shops. And, like Wal-Mart, what the retailer lacks in hipness, it more than makes up for in accessibility. David’s Bridal claims to outfit 1 in 3 American brides (and 2 in 3 who spend less than $600). That is a staggering number of gowns, and doesn’t include quinceañera and prom dresses, mother-of-the-bride outfits, and the half-dozen bridesmaid dresses an American woman could easily end up purchasing in her lifetime.

So it comes as a bit of a shock that David’s Bridal, the nation’s largest wedding retailer, applied for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Monday. How did this happen?

David’s Bridal owns an incredible market share and is almost a mandatory stop along the road to marriage — even for brides who prefer to shop elsewhere for their own gowns. My sister-in-law, for example, purchased her wedding dress at a boutique, but she elected to use David’s for her bridesmaids, who were scattered all over the country. With more than 300 locations, David’s made it easy for each of us, in our respective cities, to try on our dresses (mint green strapless, if you’re wondering), order off the rack, and finalize any necessary alterations on site. All for less than $150.

The experience wasn’t glamorous, but it was affordable and efficient — which has been David’s sweet spot for decades. For women who don’t want to deal with the fuss or expense (or snobbishness) of traditional bridal shops, but who do want a traditional wedding with a fancy gown and a bevy of matching bridesmaids, David’s Bridal has been the perfect middle ground.

In the age of Instagram, however, brides suddenly seem to be fleeing the middle ground. Increasingly, they are turning to “customized” weddings that eschew tradition for elements that represent the couple in a more personal way. And for many brides, that means a more casual wedding. When analytics company Moody’s downgraded David’s Bridal’s ranking from stable to negative in February, they cited the “casualization” of gowns and bridesmaid dresses as a key factor.

What exactly is “casualization”? It runs the gamut “from a simple sheath worn during a barefoot ceremony on the beach to a white pantsuit,” said wedding publicist Meghan Ely of the Richmond-based agency OFD Consulting. “It means ballet flats instead of heels, and minimalistic jewelry instead of your grandmother’s pearls. It’s a departure from the big and poofy.”

In other words, no matching mint green bridesmaid dresses.

“The fact is, an informal person may not have the desire to suddenly wear a complicated, traditional white gown,” said Ely. Which was probably always true. The difference is that now brides realize they have a choice.

Brittney Drye, editor of inclusive wedding site Love Inc., agrees that the biggest shift in weddings is that couples feel empowered not to follow the traditional rules, especially when it comes to fashion. “I feel we owe this shift a lot to same-sex weddings. The wedding industry is extremely heteronormative, so as more same-sex couples started getting married during the marriage equality movement, they had to come up with their own rules for many traditions and styles. This opened the floodgates to all couples wanting to create a day that was representative of them.”

The change is also almost certainly reflective of the fact that couples are marrying at an older age (an average of 33 for men and 31 for women, according to Wedding Wire’s 2018 Newlywed Report). Older couples often pay for their own weddings, which means fewer brides have to get their dress approved by mom.

That, and the increasing willingness of brides to shop online. In February, a David’s Bridal representative told Business Insider that this new shopping behavior — unimaginable even five years ago — was a key challenge for the brand.

All in all, a tough place for David’s to pivot from, though they have been trying. They brought Zac Posen on board for a capsule collection. They dimmed the fluorescent lights in the dressing rooms. They replaced in-store Muzak with Taylor Swift. They introduced a new category of “casual” dresses that, judging from the retailer’s website, covers all possible interpretations of that word, ranging from “minimalist” to simply “cheap.”

With the Chapter 11 filing, it’s clear these changes haven’t been enough — though it’s also not certain that this is the death knell for the retailer. The company claims they are strategically restructuring, and it’s technically possible that it could return to health. A message from the chief executive, posted Monday on the company’s website, reassures brides that all “300+ stores will continue operating, and all orders and alterations will be delivered as promised. We are, and will continue to be, open for business.”

Personally, I hope so. Though a wedding industry skeptic in general, I appreciate David’s Bridal’s commitment to inclusivity. Not everyone is Kate Middleton, but that’s the image — thin, wealthy, white — the bridal market tends to push. David’s Bridal is more democratic than most bridal brands, unapologetically catering to the American bride with her various shapes, shades and budgets.

And they deserve more credit than they get for customer service. Recognizing brides’ need for continuity in the sales experience, they actively redesigned the hiring process for associates a few years ago, focusing on retention. The result is a sales team that is both extremely knowledgeable about the product and practiced at dealing with the heightened emotions involved in wedding dress shopping.

I witnessed this personally when I visited the Springfield, Va., location with a friend a couple years ago. She was to be married in two weeks and had just picked up her dress, purchased at a local boutique. She hated it. For maybe the second time in the 30 years I’ve know her, my friend was in tears. The sales associate didn’t push a new dress — a leap my friend was willing to take. Instead, she pointed out everything that was beautiful about the current dress. She suggested a $70 accessory that subtly fixed the problem. My friend left smiling, feeling great about her gown, and with her budget still intact. All brides should be so lucky.

Romaine lettuce is not safe to eat, CDC warns US consumers

Romaine lettuce is unsafe to eat in any form, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday in a broad alert in response to a new outbreak of illnesses caused by a particularly dangerous type of E. coli contamination.

The CDC told consumers to throw away any romaine lettuce they may already have purchased. Restaurants should not serve it, stores should not sell it, and people should not buy it, no matter where or when the lettuce was grown. It doesn’t matter if it is chopped, whole head or part of a mix. All romaine should be avoided.

The CDC alert, issued just two days before Americans sit down for their Thanksgiving dinners, reported that 32 people in 11 states have become sick from eating contaminated romaine. Of those, 13 have been hospitalized, with one patient suffering from a form of kidney failure. No deaths have been reported.

The origin of the outbreak is unknown and remains under investigation. The CDC did not limit the warning to romaine from any particular agricultural area.

A common strain of E.coli was detected in six of the sickened people, and appears to match the bacterial strain found in an outbreak of illnesses from contaminated leafy greens late last year that affected people in both the U.S. and Canada. That outbreak was declared over in January.

Five people died in the most recent major outbreak from contaminated romaine, which lasted from March to June of this year and led to 210 cases in 36 states. That outbreak was traced to the Yuma, Arizona, growing region, but investigators never conclusively determined the precise source.

All three outbreaks — the current one, the one from Yuma and the one from last year — are caused by contamination by this deadly strain called E. coli O157: H7. It produces a Shiga toxin that can cause hemolytic uremic syndrome, a type of kidney failure. Until the 1990s, most E. coli cases in humans came from eating contaminated hamburger. In more recent years, after reforms in the livestock industry, the outbreaks have been most often associated with leafy greens.

ASPCA placing seized Samoyeds with rescues, shelters

Some of the roughly 160 Samoyeds that were seized last week from a breeder in Worth County are being placed with shelters and rescue groups in the Midwest. However, this does not mean the dogs are ready for adoption, an ASPCA spokesperson said.

The remaining dogs will stay at an undisclosed temporary shelter where veterinary forensic and behavior experts will continue to complete their assessments in support of the investigation led by the Worth County Sheriff’s Office.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said dogs have already been placed with the Cedar Bend Humane Society in Waterloo, the Humane Society of North Iowa in Mason City, the Nebraska Humane Society in Omaha, Nebraska and the Wichita Animal Action League in Wichita, Kansas.

“We are incredibly grateful for our response partners who are supporting our rescue operation by sending volunteers to care for these animals, as well as taking in animals to give them a second chance,” said Jessica Rushin, senior manager of ASPCA Partnerships. “Our responders have been working around the clock to care for these dogs, and we look forward to seeing them move on to the next stage where they will have an opportunity to be adopted into safe and loving homes.”

The dogs were seized from a breeder on November 12 after the owner allegedly failed to correct the what were deemed to be “appalling conditions,” authorities said.

Worth County sheriff’s deputies executed a search warrant that morning and workers examined the dogs and transported them to an undisclosed temporary shelter to receive care.

The dogs were discovered “living in appalling and overcrowded conditions and exhibiting signs of neglect with no access to clean water,” the Sheriff’s Office and the ASPCA said last week in a news release. “Many of the dogs were found in filthy dilapidated kennels in below freezing temperatures with minimal protection from the elements.”

The months-long investigation was set in motion by the Worth County Sheriff’s Office after local animal welfare groups alerted them to the dogs’ living conditions. Animal neglect charges are pending based on evidence collected by ASPCA in support of the case, the ASPCA said.

l Comments: (319) 398-8238; kat.russell@thegazette.com

Chorus group of individuals with chronic conditions shines in first concert

CEDAR RAPIDS — A dream became a reality this week as a new Cedar Rapids-based chorus debuted to the public during its first concert.

The group performed its first concert to a crowd of about 150 at Mercy Medical Center Monday, performing songs reminiscent of another era such as “Yellow Submarine” and “Oh Shenandoah.”

The chorus, called Together in Song, is made up of individuals living with chronic conditions — including dementia, cancer and other conditions — as well as their caregivers and volunteers.

Founded by the Family Caregivers Center of Mercy, its purpose is to offer an opportunity for individuals to live and grow beyond their chronic diagnoses and to make meaningful connections with others.

They did so through music.

“It is wonderful that we started in September with a group of people who didn’t really know each other, and we have ended the year as friends, as a unit,” said Steve Nurre, director of Together In Song.

The group, which included 24 singers in total, was open to those across all skill levels and experience. Some performers had never been involved in any musical group.

Others, for longer. Dave Bryant has been involved in barbershop quartets since he was in high school.

“It was fun,” said Bryant, 80, of Cedar Rapids, following the concert. “I’d love to do it every day. We’ve been doing this for several weeks now, and we had a lot of fun doing it.”

Developing the chorus was a longtime goal of Kathy Good, founder and executive director of Family Caregivers Center. Seeing the group’s first-ever performance and the response from the audience left her “gobsmacked.”

“I first had this idea two years ago, and then to actually see it come to fruition, it reinforces to me what happens when you just visualize what you want and call it forth and the universe provides,” Good said.

Good’s husband David Good was invited to join Harmony Hawks, a Cedar Rapids-based barbershop group, after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Good said the group improved his quality of life, and she wanted to bring that to others.

“This is all bigger than us,” Good said. “It all came together.”

Inspiration for the group also was drawn from similar choruses across the country, including the Giving Voice Initiative Chorus based in St. Paul, Minn. Groups such as Giving Voice have been gaining popularity throughout the country for their benefits to individuals dealing with dementia.

According to recent studies, researchers have found musical aptitude are among the longest-lasting abilities dementia patients retain. Music also has been found to stir up memories and encourage positive moods.

“Sometimes people living with chronic conditions lack meaning and purpose in their lives, and this provided that,” Good said. “I think we’ll have more opportunities for people living with chronic conditions in the future because I think this is going to grow. “

For one volunteer, the chorus was a chance to be a part of something bigger. Kate Chapman, a 68-year-old Cedar Rapids resident, heard about the group through another local choir and decided to volunteer.

“I love to be on the ground floor of a beginning thing that really matters to people, and they were doing it with singing,” she said. “I couldn’t find a no, it was always a yes.”

Together In Song will start rehearsals again in early February for a second concert on May 13.

Nurre said he still is selecting music for the second concert, but has decided the theme will be musicals.

Together In Song are seeking singers and volunteers to help with the chorus. Those interested in learning more can contact the Family Caregivers Center of Mercy at (319) 221-8866.

• Comments: (319) 368-8536; michaela.ramm@thegazette.com

Curtis Jones found guilty of first-degree murder in cabdriver killing

DAVENPORT — A Scott County jury deliberated just over an hour Tuesday before finding Curtis Jones guilty of first-degree murder in the fatal shooting of an Iowa City cabdriver.

The 11-day trial wrapped up late Monday and the jury started deliberations at 9 a.m. today and returned a verdict at 10:10 a.m., according to court officials.

Prosecutors argued Curtis Jones, 42, of Mount Pleasant, shot Ricky Lillie, 46, June 27, 2017 while he was a passenger in Lillie’s Yellow Cab. Lillie was shot once on the right side of his head with the muzzle pressed against his skin and then shot in the face at close range.        

A forensic pathologist testified during the trial that Lillie could have died from either of the two gunshots.

Testimony shows Jones killed Lillie during a robbery while the cab was parked near the Alexis Park Inn motel in Iowa City. Police found evidence that the suspect went through Lillie’s belongings, including his wallet, and stole his cash fares after shooting him.

On early June 28, 2017, a Yellow Cab dispatcher noticed that Lillie’s cab hadn’t moved for hours, so another driver was sent to check on him sometime after 3 a.m., according to testimony. The dispatcher assumed Lillie fell asleep, which wasn’t unusual for overnight shifts. But Lillie wasn’t sleeping.

The other driver testified Lillie’s cab was found with hazard lights flashing and the driver’s side window down. Lillie’s body was lying on the passenger seat in a “contorted” position. His head was in the floorboard but one leg was up on the steering wheel.

Investigators testified that there was blood on the floorboard and on his body, and Lillie was dead.

The defense argued Jones was a passenger in Lillie’s cab that night but didn’t shoot the cabdriver. They claimed when Jones saw his friend, he had planned to meet up with that night in Iowa City, he got out of the cab and saw another man get into the cab.   

The trial was moved out of Johnson County because of extensive news coverage. Jones is also charged with first-degree murder in the fatal shooting of Jonathan Wieseler, 34, a bail bondsman killed April 22, 2017, at Lederman Bail Bonds in downtown Iowa City.

That trial is set for Jan. 11 in Polk County District Court.

Jones faces life in prison without parole. Sentencing hasn't been sent at this time. 

• Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

Southwestside Ramada reaching end of remodels for year

CEDAR RAPIDS — The former Clarion Hotel has finished its remodel of its lobby and meeting areas this year.

General Manager Jackie Oliver said the Ramada, which took over the site at 525 33rd Ave. SW earlier this year, recently finished remodeling its meeting rooms and the lobby, complete with new crystal chandeliers, and overhauled its adjacent restaurant under the new name he Hideout Bistro and Grill, now with a new executive chef.

The hotel also added new mattresses and boxsprings to half the rooms so far, with plans to add new beds to every room by the end of spring 2019.

The hotel will start to renovate guest rooms in 2019. The hotel management is in early discussions for other additions to the building.

Oliver estimated the renovations will cost more than $4 million overall.

The remodel is part of a “property improvement plan” ordered by Wyndham, the owner of the Ramada Hotels brand name, after the hotel came under financial troubles.

The U.S. Department of Labor began to investigate the former Clarion Hotel last November after employees said they weren’t receiving paychecks, and some started a toy drive and online fundraising page to help buy Christmas gifts for their children.

The investigation forced the former owners to pay $129,073 in back wages.

Earlier this July, an Iowa District Court judge ordered the former owners, Hassan Imtiaz Hussain and his father, Imtiaz Hussain, to pay $2.18 million to cover loans and interest to their silent partner, Kuwaiti hotelier Ashok Kalra, and transfer ownership of the hotel to him.

Oliver said the reinvestment into the building helped the hotel get back on its feet after the ownership shuffle.

She declined to give specific numbers, but said the hotel is selling out of rooms on some nights, and bookings for meeting spaces are rising.

“Considering what happened, after the Clarion flag was lost last November, business pretty much dropped off totally, so anything was an improvement,” she said.

l Comments: (319) 398-8366; dan.mika@thegazette.com

Time Machine: Hundreds gathered for Cedar Rapids’ Thanksgiving service in 1914

A temporary tabernacle on May’s Island hosted a communitywide Thanksgiving celebration in Cedar Rapids in 1914 — a celebration that attracted hundreds of citizens, all praying for peace as World War I consumed Europe.

“The merchant, the millionaire, the laborer, the minister, the banker, the artisan, and the women and children of all creeds and beliefs joined today in the first municipal thanksgiving and peace meeting ever held in the United States,” The Evening Gazette reported. “More than a thousand persons assembled at the tabernacle on the island and joined in a prayer to the Almighty for the blessings bestowed on this community during the closing year.”

At the time, May’s Island, with the new Second and Third Avenue bridges connecting it to the east and west sides of the city, was transforming from private property into a hub for city government.

The island had empty space where some churches had put up a temporary tabernacle to host a six-week revival that ended Nov. 24.

The Cedar Rapids Ad Club, a 4-year-old civic booster club, suggested using the tabernacle, before it was torn down, for a community Thanksgiving celebration.

The Municipal Thanksgiving and Peace Day resulted. With World War I underway in Europe, the “peace” in the event’s title was timely and pointed.

The idea gained momentum. Mayor Louis Roth and David Morrison, secretary of the Cedar Rapids Federation of Labor, got on board, as did the Cedar Rapids Commercial Club (the forerunner of the Chamber of Commerce), the Ministerial Association, the West Side Improvement League, the South Side Improvement Club, the 16th Avenue Boosters and the Kenwood Park Commercial and Improvement Club,

The “monster” celebration in the island tabernacle — the “biggest Thanksgiving Day service the city had ever seen” — was not held under the auspices of any church, although religious leaders figured prominently in the program.

The service was scheduled for 10 a.m. Nov. 26, but the tabernacle — decorated in red, white and blue bunting and American flags — was filled an hour before that, and many people were unable to get inside. Most of those attending were men, members of the city’s commercial organizations, industrial clubs and labor unions.

Mayor Roth opened the celebration, followed by a choir singing “America.”

President Woodrow Wilson’s Thanksgiving proclamation was read, as was a resolution calling on Wilson and Secretary of State W.J. Bryan to work for peace in Europe.

Speakers included the Revs. C.H. Stauffacher, S. Turner Foster of Westminster Presbyterian Church, E.R. Burkhalter of First Presbyterian and Dean Toomey of Immaculate Conception Church. Music was interspersed.

A freewill offering was divided between the Sunshine Mission, a local charity that helped the homeless and needy, and the Red Cross, to be used for relief of those suffering from the war in Europe.

“This perhaps will be the first time in the history of any city in this nation where its people have gathered in a public municipal meeting, a meeting endorsed by the city, the churches and the business men’s organizations to give thanks for prosperity and to offer a prayer to God that the nations of Europe be brought to their senses and the war ended,” The Gazette reported.

Another municipal Thanksgiving service was held in 1915 at the Strand Theatre and included an original song, “Where the Cedar River Flows.”

The municipal service was suspended in 1916 when the United States had entered World War I. The next municipal Thanksgiving was in 1918 — after Armistice Day — at the City Auditorium.

The municipal Thanksgiving service was revived one more year, in 1928, in the new Veterans Memorial Building, with Coe President H.M. Gage as speaker.

l Comments: (319) 398-8338; d.fannonlangton@gmail

Have an old wood-burning stove? Upgrade it with Linn County’s help

CEDAR RAPIDS — Linn County residents looking to update or replace their wood-burning stove or furnace could get some financial assistance thanks to a new county program.

Linn County Public Health earlier this year rolled out the wood-burning appliance change-out program, which provides financial incentives to eligible homeowners looking to upgrade to clean-burning heating appliances.

Amy Drahos, senior air quality scientist with Linn County Public Health’s air and water quality branch, said similar appliance programs are more common on the coasts, but Linn County’s effort marks a first locally.

“It’s the first wood-burning appliance change-out in Iowa. ... We’ve got a unique situation here,” Drahos said.

The change-out program was created in response to a consent order to Interstate Power and Light, which is Alliant Energy’s Iowa subsidiary, following a 2015 complaint alleging the utility’s emissions violated the Clean Air Act. Following the order, Alliant agreed to allocate $250,000 to the change-out program. All but $25,000 for marketing and administration costs will go to the replacement of wood-burning units.

Drahos said the program will benefit the county’s overall public health by reducing overall particulates in the area that come from burning wood.

“We know that old uncertified wood stoves are a cause of pretty significant particulate pollution and other harmful pollutants,” she said. “We are just encouraging those people that maybe have an older stove take a look at what we’re offering as far as incentives.”

The initiative allows eligible residents to receive program funds to replace an old, uncertified wood-burning appliance with a newer unit, or one that runs on a different fuel, such as natural gas.

Shane Dodge, supervisor of Linn County Public Health’s air and water quality branch, said the program first is trying to focus on more urban residents, where particulate matter has the biggest affect.

“We want to get the most impact for the dollars spent,” Dodge said. “We’re looking to improve the air quality of these neighborhoods.”

Next summer, the program will open up to include all eligible residents.

In addition to reducing pollution, newer appliances are more efficient and safer, said PJ Kalb, with Colony Heating and Air Conditioning, one of the program’s approved retailers.

Kalb said while older wood-burning appliances are known for putting out black smoke into the air, newer units actually pull that smoke through a second burn process, to reduce particulates.

“That’s where they get the efficiency and what breaks that smoke down,” Kalb said.

Kalb said older units also can increase the risk of fires, so updating an appliance is often a good idea.

Drahos said only two residents — one in Marion and one in Central City — have participated in the program so far, but she hopes to see that increase.

About the program

To be eligible for the county’s wood-burning change-out program, homeowners must use a non-EPA certified wood stove or one manufactured before 1988, or a hydronic heater — known commonly as an outdoor wood boiler — built before 2015.

For the program’s first phase — through June 30, 2019 — residents must be Linn County homeowners who also are Alliant Energy customers and use a wood-burning appliance as the primary or significant source of heat for their primary residence. The home must also be in or within one-quarter mile of an incorporated town or city.

Starting on July 1 and running through the program’s remaining life span to Feb. 15, 2021, applicants can reside anywhere within Linn County. All other requirements still apply.

Additional information can be found at burncleanlinn.org or by contacting Linn County Public Health at 319-892-6000.

The program offers an array of incentives based on a number of factors including applicant income and the type of appliance being purchased. Incentives could range from $1,000 to several thousand dollars.

• Comments: (319) 398-8309; mitchell.schmidt@thegazette.com

United States may list Venezuela as a sponsor of terrorism in escalation against Maduro government

The Trump administration is preparing to add Venezuela to the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism in what would be a dramatic escalation against the socialist government of Nicolás Maduro, according to U.S. officials and internal government emails.

The list is reserved for governments accused of repeatedly providing “support for acts of international terrorism” and includes only Iran, North Korea, Sudan and Syria.

Republican lawmakers led by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., have pushed for the designation, citing Venezuela’s alleged ties to Lebanese Hezbollah, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, and other groups.

Republicans have long accused Venezuela of having ties to terrorist organizations. But experts have played down the threat and strength of those connections. They warn that a designation that does not offer concrete evidence could weaken the legitimacy of the U.S. list, which critics say already is applied inconsistently.

“I suspect this will be based on hearsay and sources of questionable integrity,” said David Smilde, a senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America.

U.S. officials declined to say whether a final decision had been made about the designation, but in recent days the State Department has asked for feedback on the proposed move from various agencies, including the Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is part of HHS, and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

A State Department spokeswoman declined to comment on the pending decision, calling inquiries about the deliberations a “hypothetical question.”

Rubio, a Cuban American who organized a letter in late September calling for the terrorism designation, has clamored for a tough U.S. posture toward Venezuela, a longtime backer of the Castro regime in Cuba.

The Trump administration has imposed sanctions on a number of people in Maduro’s inner-circle, accusing the first lady, defense minister, vice president and other allies of helping the socialist leader “plunder” the nation’s wealth.

Officials have long said that further measures are under consideration, including an embargo on Venezuelan oil. Despite sharply falling oil exports in recent years, Venezuela is the fourth-largest foreign supplier to the United States, which remains the largest purchaser of Venezuelan crude.

Adam Isacson, a Latin America expert, said the terrorism designation might add momentum for any push for an oil boycott. Republicans in Texas and Louisiana, which is home to refineries set up for Venezuela’s high-sulfur oil, have argued against such a boycott. “A terrorist sponsor designation will make their lives more complicated,” Isacson said.

The move could limit U.S. assistance to Venezuela and prohibit financial transactions as the country reels from hyperinflation and extreme food and medicine shortages that have sent millions fleeing to neighboring countries. Many Venezuelans blame Maduro for rampant corruption across the government and mishandling the economy.

The country’s health care system has virtually broken down, allowing once-eradicated illnesses such as measles and diphtheria to reemerge.

Deliberations on the potential U.S. move continued last week, when HHS officials were asked to assess the impact of a terrorism designation on “HHS or CDC programming of funding being carried out by a third party in that country,” according to emails sent among HHS officials.

Officials were asked to provide a response within 24 hours, something a senior HHS lawyer said was “probably not doable” because of the issue’s complexity, according to an official who saw the emails. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.

The emails did not specify the country, but a State Department desk officer identified the country as Venezuela in a telephone call last week with about 20 others from agencies that included HHS, CDC and USAID. The State Department officer, Elizabeth Williams, did not say when a decision on the terrorism designation would be made, “she just said they expect to make a decision soon,” recalled an official who participated in the call. Williams said she was only able to share limited information on the nonsecure telephone line.

Experts are divided on the wisdom of designating Venezuela a state sponsor of terrorism, with some saying it could provide helpful pressure against the increasingly authoritarian Maduro regime, and others expressing concerns that it could play into Maduro’s anti-U. S. messaging or be used as a pretext for a U.S. military intervention.

President Donald Trump, publicly and privately, has raised the possibility of U.S. military action in Venezuela, although aides have repeatedly dissuaded him.

U.S. officials secretly met several times with Venezuelan military officers who said they were plotting a coup against Maduro, but the Trump administration ultimately rebuffed their requests for assistance.

Smilde fears that the designation could “portray Venezuela as a threat to U.S. national security to legitimize a military option.”

“Many analysts in and around the U.S. government either think military intervention would be effective, or that a credible threat of force would get the Venezuelan government to buckle,” he said.

But such threats “contribute to the unity and coherence of the Maduro government and undermine opposition organization and unity,” he said. “Since President Trump first suggested a military option in August 2017 the Venezuelan opposition has fallen apart.”

Others expressed measured support for a harder line against Maduro, who came to power in 2013, jailed political opponents and took over virtually all legislative and judicial power in the country.

“There are several other governments you could say are involved in more forms of terrorism that have much more impact,” said William Brownsfield, the former U.S. ambassador to Venezuela and a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “But that is a justification for going after other governments, not a justification for saying don’t go after Venezuela.”

“The case can be made that it’s a positive step in terms of bringing greater pressure to bear on the Maduro regime,” he said.

Public health experts have warned of spikes in malaria and tuberculosis cases and a nearly absolute unavailability of antiretroviral treatment for people with HIV in Venezuela. Increasing levels of malnutrition compound the health crisis, making Venezuelans both more susceptible to infectious diseases and more prone to complications when sick.

A topic of the phone call between U.S. officials was Venezuela’s growing outbreak of measles, an extremely contagious respiratory infection caused by a virus, which has spread to Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.

Brazil, which is grappling with more than 10,000 suspected infections in its massive Amazonas state alone, is considering sealing its border with Venezuela, according to the discussion.

Programs that could be affected by the terrorism designation include U.S. support for global HIV/AIDS prevention, emergency vaccines and training of public health personnel, according to the discussion. Most U.S. support is funded through the Pan American Health Organization, a U.N. body.

Browns field said the president could offset some of the negative humanitarian effects of the designation through waivers.

“I believe the law provides the president with authorities to exempt or waive provisions of the law to allow humanitarian assistance like food or medicine,” he said.

The possible action against Venezuela came as a surprise to people on the call, the official said. “That was the first we had heard of it,” the official said. “It didn’t make sense. And then it was like, ‘Oh, crap. What is this going to do to our ability to respond to the slow-moving health disaster that is coming out of Venezuela?’ “

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The Washington Post’s Karen DeYoung and Greg Jaffe contributed to this report.

With disease in shelters and rain in the forecast, California wildfire evacuees desperately search for shelter

YUBA CITY, Ca. — The main exhibit hall at the Yuba-Sutter Fairgrounds here has become the home of last resort for 68 people who fled the fires that swept through a broad swath of forest and hill towns nearby.

And some days, an ambulance shows up. A team of paramedics, wearing protective masks and disposable yellow plastic aprons, wheeled a sick man out of the exhibit hall Monday on a stretcher, another victim of the bitter repercussions of mass displacement that the Camp Fire has created.

The outbreak of vomiting and diarrhea has carried on for days.

“On average, about one a day goes to the hospital,” said Bob Christensen, 77, smoking a cigarette outside the exhibit hall and watching a cleanup crew with mops and buckets begin wiping down the metal door handles with a powerful chemical disinfectant.

Ethia Carter, who arrived with the Red Cross from southern Florida, is on her second day running the facility after her predecessor got sick.

“We have four in isolation,” she said, indicating an infirmary set up behind blue curtains on one side of the yawning hall, stacked with bottles of fresh water and other supplies.

The most devastating fire in California history began in the Sierra foothills in the morning hours of Nov. 8, prompting a hectic evacuation that has left at least 52,000 people in hotels, relatives’ homes, parking lots and makeshift shelters such as this one in Yuba City.

More than 10 days later, those temporary accommodations are being overwhelmed by overcrowding and disease. As heavy rain moves into the area for the first time since the fire began, those living in tents face the threat of flooding, too.

More than 120 people have been taken to hospitals in recent days with stomach ailments that resemble the symptoms of the norovirus, a highly contagious infection. The symptoms include severe vomiting and diarrhea and, like many such infections, fall hardest on children.

Casey Hatcher, a Butte County, California, spokeswoman, said state and local authorities are trying to respond to the scale of the displacement.

“People keep using the word unprecedented, and I keep looking for a different word, but I can’t find one because it works so well,” Hatcher said. “We have an entire community that is displaced.”

Emergency officials say 77 people are confirmed dead, and just under 1,000 are listed as unaccounted for, though that list might include duplicate names and people who have since been found by relatives.

Four of the six emergency evacuation shelters are full, as those who have been camping outside in subfreezing nights begin to look for indoor shelter with rain in the forecast. Church and superstore parking lots have become tent cities, with portable toilets, hand-washing stations and Salvation Army food trucks helping to sustain them.

“Now, the goal is to get people off the streets and out of their cars while we identify where they are going to live,” Hatcher said.

The Walmart parking lot in Chico, California, where scores of families have been living in tents, has begun to clear out amid forecasts of rain and rumors that services the retailer has been providing to evacuees - including toilets and hand-washing stations - will be pulled soon.

Walmart spokeswoman Tiffany Wilson said the company will continue to provide services but added, “We realize our parking lots are not viable alternatives to longer-term temporary housing.”

The lot is a flood zone, said store manager DeMarcus Montgomery, ensuring the neighboring field will turn into a swamp in coming days.

Local resident Rain Scher is working with a group of volunteers to bring in pallets to elevate tents and cots in light of the coming rain. She said she believes the tent city is more sanitary than the shelters.

“We intend to support the needs of the people,” said Scher, who added that those in crisis should have “agency and self-determination.”

The centers and camps are used primarily by those without the resources - or home insurance plans - to cover extended hotel stays. But those accommodations would be hard to come by anyway with most hotels filled across a 175-mile span from Redding to Sacramento, California.

“They were booked as soon as the fire broke out,” said Carolyn Denero, executive director of Explore Butte County, which promotes tourism in the region. “We’ll have properties where a room will suddenly come open for a night, but even those are taken right away. And this really extends at least until the end of November.”

The options are limited for those living in the makeshift shelters and will be for some time. No one has been allowed back into their devastated towns, so they have little sense of what awaits them there and how plausible returning and rebuilding really is. Nearly 12,000 homes have been destroyed.

The result is that tens of thousands of Californians are facing months, if not longer, without permanent housing options in a region that borders some of the most expensive in the nation.

Chris and Tanya Kennedy are on their second temporary home since the fire drove their family from their house in Paradise, California. They first fled with their 6- and 4-year-old children to a shelter in Oroville. But when the fire also threatened that facility, they moved to the fairgrounds, where they’re now threatened by illness.

“We are washing our hands and everything,” Tanya Kennedy said.

The buildings where Chris and Tanya worked - as a manger of a storage facility and as a housekeeper - burned down. But they want to remain close by. Their top priority, they say, is to provide some continuity for the children, and they are hoping their school will reopen a temporary campus in either Chico or Oroville.

“It’s just a lot of waiting,” Tanya said.

Martha Pichotta, 65, who has been in this shelter with her son and caregiver since the day of the fire, hoped to leave Monday for a motel in Quincey, a town northeast of here, that was arranged by FEMA.

The cots have been small and cramped, especially for her son. She is hoping to get at least $6,000 for the trailer she owned in Paradise to supplement her $900 monthly income from social security. Her son, she says, will have to get a part-time job to make ends meet.

“We’ve made so many friends here,” Pichotta said. “We’re all in it together.”

As of Sunday night, FEMA had determined that 1,315 families are eligible for some form of assistance. But David Passey, a FEMA spokesman, said the availability of hotel rooms will remain slim, even after firefighters leave the area. The fire is 60 percent contained.

Passey said FEMA will be working with those who are underinsured or uninsured to find short-term and midterm housing options, including the possible use of hotels and motels. But within 50 miles of Paradise, there are just nine hotels that have registered to participate in FEMA’s Transitional Sheltering Assistance program, and as Passey noted, “participation does not equal availability.”

“One of the challenges we will have in northern California, and it was the same challenge we had in northwest Florida after Hurricane Michael, is the limited supply of rooms,” Passey said. “We are eager for more to join, but that is really each hotel’s choice.”

Nicole Wharton, 41, lived on the outskirts of Paradise, making the family’s escape from their subsidized housing relatively easy, even with a gas tank on empty.

Once safe, the single mother of four realized the family would have to split up. Nicole slept several nights in a car until she set up camp in a field by the Walmart in Chico. Jessica, 17, took 3-year-old Alexa to stay with her boyfriend’s family. And Jacquelyn, Jessica’s twin, went to stay with a half brother and then her high school English teacher.

“I just want my family back together,” Nicole said, blinking back tears.

Now living in a tent, Nicole was trying to make a medical appointment for Jacquelyn, with the doctor’s office in ashes. She is trying to locate Alexa’s car seat. She is trying to figure out, above all else, where the family will be able to live together.

“I’m looking for a house,” she said. “I don’t want to live in some crevice. The girls are grown women. They won’t want that.”

She hopes her teenage daughters will go Thursday to an uncle’s house for what she believes could be their great-grandmother’s last Thanksgiving.

But more immediately, she wants to shop for Alexa, still dressed in pajamas as she clutched her mother’s hand during a visit before heading back with Jessica.

“I want to buy her an outfit, walk in the store. . . . I don’t know, perhaps go to the park,” she said. “I’m her mother. Just being with her is what I want.”

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Craig and Wilson reported from Washington, D.C.

Fewer stores to stay open on Thanksgiving

Avid Black Friday shoppers hoping to get an early break on in-store sales might run into some holiday hurdles this year.

A growing number of stores are deciding to close on Thanksgiving Day, reversing a trend that started to take hold about a decade ago as retailers sought to get a head start on one of the biggest shopping day of the year.

A total of 76 national and regional companies will give their employees the day off Thursday, according to a list compiled by the shopping-information website bestblackfriday.com.

That compares with 69 businesses last year and 59 in 2016, when the website first started tracking the closures.

Companies closing on Thanksgiving are expected to benefit from an online shopping boom that allows them to profit and keep their employees happy by giving them the day off.

American consumers are expected to spend about $720 billion on holiday shopping this year, an annual increase of more than 4 percent, according to the National Retail Federation.

The weekend before Christmas will attract the highest spending total, followed by Black Friday weekend.

“Many people are not only avoiding those stores on Thanksgiving and Black Friday, but they are avoiding them all together,” said Phil Dengler, co-owner of bestblackfriday.com.

“The fact that online Thanksgiving shopping has taken off so much recently has just been the justification for stores to finally switch course and close on Thanksgiving.”

Still, some stores will remain open on Thanksgiving, including Walmart, Target and Best Buy.

Best Buy chooses to open for Thanksgiving because it’s what their customers want, said Boua Xiong, a spokeswoman for Best Buy.

“We have millions of customers so part of it is certainly demand, but people have made tradition of coming out to stores to shop,” she said, adding that customers had already began camping outside a Laredo, Texas, Best Buy.

A statement from Costco cited the importance of letting employees spend time with their families on Thanksgiving. Costco said that taking care of its employees was always one of its “fundamental tenets.”

“It deals with the culture. A lot of these stores take pride in closing for Thanksgiving,” Dengler said.

“It’s important for their brand.”

Among stores closed in the Corridor will be Ace Hardware, Burlington, Half Price Books, Hobby Lobby, Joann Stores, Lowe’s, Menards, Pier One Imports, Sam’s Club, TJ Maxx and Von Maur, among others.

Robocalls linked to health insurance, Amazon

PHILADELPHIA — There’s a good chance the next caller on your cellphone will try to take your money or steal your identity.

This statistic comes from First Orion, an Arkansas-based call management company that estimates nearly 30 percent of all cellphone calls came from scammers this year.

The company predicts nearly half of all mobile calls will be fraudulent in 2019.

The robocall scams often play on anxiety and greed, offering cheap health insurance plans, “free” vacations, deferred student-loan payments and, in one case, a job at Amazon that you can do from home.

The scam-call surge is driven by technology that has made it cheaper to place robocalls and easier to mask the scammers’ identities.

“Neighborhood spoofing,” for example, allows scammers to place calls that appear to come from local numbers. First Orion predicts nine in 10 scam calls will come from a familiar area code in 2019.

“These scammers are really sophisticated,” said Gavin Macomber, First Orion’s senior vice president of marketing and business development.

“They do A-B testing like us marketers do it in the legitimate business world. If they try something and it works, they’ll keep doing it.”

The robocall epidemic has gotten so bad that the telecom industry is working on a fix that would verify the numbers of incoming calls as authentic and not spoofed, so consumers can trust their caller IDs again.

T-Mobile says it’s ready to launch the technology, and Comcast is conducting limited employee trials and expects to deploy it to customers in 2019.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai recently demanded that the phone industry launch a call authentication system no later than next year

Until then, beware of these top robocall scams that try to get you to pick up the phone and give away personal information:

FAKE HEALTH INSURANCE PLANS

By far the most rampant robocall scams right now are health care related, according to YouMail, a California company that offers free and paid robocall blocking applications.

YouMail estimates there were nearly 500 million robocalls for health care scams in October, making up nearly 10 percent of the 5.1 billion robocalls placed that month.

These identity-theft or payment scams are particularly effective because it’s open enrollment season for health insurance plans and consumers expect to share sensitive information when enrolling, said Alex Quilici, YouMail’s CEO.

“People just treat it like they just visited an agent,” he said.

One health insurance spammer sent more than 250 million calls using roughly 264 different numbers from an area code in Newark, N.J., YouMail reported in September.

“You can now get a great insurance plan at the price you can afford,” said one spam caller in October.

“We make it hassle-free to sign up with policies with Cigna, Blue Cross, Aetna, United(Healthcare), and many more. Press one to get a hassle-free assessment.”

“Thank you for your time,” the female voice concludes. “And as always, be happy and blessed.”

SPOOKY CALLER-ID SPOOFING

A robocall scam that has spiked in recent weeks is like something out of a horror movie: The call is coming from inside the house.

Scammers make calls that appear to come from your own phone number, and they’ll pretend to be telecoms warning that an account has been locked or compromised, said Aaron Foss, founder of Nomorobo, an app that screens and blocks robocalls and is free for landlines and $1.99 per month for mobile.

In some cases, the scammers already know whom they’re calling and are seeking more personal information.

“Your account has been flagged for security purposes,” said one robocall recorded by Nomorobo. “After the tone, please enter the last four digits of the primary account holder’s Social Security number.”

In Philadelphia, some people have received calls appearing to come from WolfBlock, a renowned local law firm that closed in 2009.

Pretending to be a major business has become a regular robocall strategy. Scammers spoof caller IDs to show the real numbers of legitimate businesses to convince consumers they are authentic, experts said.

That has caused problems for big brands whose phone numbers have been hijacked for scams. Wireless carriers and third-party applications have blocked or mislabeled real business phone numbers as spam, said Bensalem-based Stuart Discount, CEO of the Professional Association for Customer Engagement, a trade association for companies that use contact centers.

“We’ve been fighting for some kind of notification,” he said. “If you’re going to block our number, that’s fine. But at least allow the company to know it was blocked.”

VACATION TO NOWHERE

Congratulations. You’ve earned enough points to get “an amazingly, drastically discounted vacation,” according to one of the top robocallers.

Cruise and vacation scams were the No. 1 reported scam call in a First Orion survey of 5,000 American mobile phone users conducted in June.

A scammer typically will pretend to offer a free or discounted vacation to Disney World or the Bahamas, telling victims they only need to pay a nominal booking fee to secure the deal, said Macomber, of First Orion, which offers a free call-blocking app for consumers.

“And then they’ll hit you for a credit card right there and then, and a lot of people give it to them,” he said.

A travel-scam robocaller identified by YouMail used a neat trick to dupe consumers. The prerecorded voice asks questions and pauses for answers, creating the appearance of an actual conversation.

A PRIME OPPORTUNITY AT AMAZON

Amazon is not coming to Philadelphia, but a ubiquitous “Sarah from AmazonProfits.org” says you can still work for the web giant from home.

“Sarah” claims to have already seen your online resume and suggests you register right away for the chance to earn $17 to $32 an hour for simply “listing products and posting reviews online in your spare time.”

That’s better pay than the actual company’s recently raised minimum wage.

Alas, the offer is fake and is common among the estimated 144 million “easy money” scam robocalls placed last month, according to YouMail.

“My guess would be the easy money scams are not very successful,” said Quilici, of YouMail. “But if you’re low income, you’re desperate. ... You fall for it.”

STRESS OVER STUDENT LOANS

The student loan debt crisis has inspired one of the most prevalent robocall scams. There were nearly 102 million student-loan-related robocall scams in October, the fourth-highest scam category that month, according to YouMail.

One scam falsely claims that the Department of Education is “no longer accepting entry into the federal student loan forgiveness program.”

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness program has rejected 98 percent of borrowers who applied for forgiveness since October 2017, so the scam sounds believable.

“To place your file and long term forbearance and stop all future due payments, press five on your phone now,” the message says.

The ruse is similar to credit-card scams, in which scammers pretend to offer a low interest rate.

Cedar Rapids massage ordinance to take effect Jan. 1

In an effort to eliminate the operation of illicit massage businesses in Cedar Rapids, the City Council passed its long-discussed massage ordinance last week, which will go into effect at the start of next year.

The ordinance calls for local businesses that offer massage services to be licensed through the city in addition to the required state license. The ordinance also gives the city the right to placard, or place a notice on, any business engaging in illegal activity or operating without a license.

“This is actually going to streamline the enforcement process for us,” said Cedar Rapids Police Sgt. Robert Collins. “Without the ordinance, we would have to go in and do individual investigations at each suspect massage business, which requires an undercover operation that can be difficult and time consuming, and the results of which a lot of times fall short of what we hope to accomplish.”

Once the ordinance is in effect, Collins said, “If someone is providing massages and they don’t have a license to do so, right there is a violation. We don’t have to get into all the details of trying to catch someone offering illegal services.”

Starting Jan. 1, businesses offering massage services in Cedar Rapids will have until Feb. 28 to complete the city licensing process before facing enforcement.

Those applying would be required to provide their name, address of the business and “documentation establishing the applicant’s control of the premises on which the business will be located,” the ordinance states.

Additionally, the applicant — and other employees of the business — would be required to undergo a criminal-background check and show proof they are licensed by the state’s Massage Therapy Board.

The city’s $60 business licensing fee will include three background checks for employees, with additional background checks costing $10 each, and the license would need to be renewed every two years. Fees will be waived for licenses obtained from Jan. 1 to Feb. 28.

Since its inception the city’s massage ordinance has been met with concern from local massage therapists and victim advocacy groups that deal with human trafficking.

Among concerns was the first draft’s lack of language addressing human trafficking, which is sometimes associated with illegal massage businesses, as well as its lack of cost analysis when it came to enforcement. Also, several local massage therapists were uneasy about having to get a local license, in addition to the state one, and pay more fees.

The new ordinance incorporates human trafficking language, stating, “If the city has probable cause that prostitution … or human trafficking … has occurred at a property providing massage therapy, the police department may placard the property.” It also notes such crimes could be subject to criminal prosecution.

Amanda Grieder, program manager for SAFE-CR — Secure and Friendly Environments in Cedar Rapids — who has been the city’s point person in drafting the ordinance said the community’s concerns were taken to heart.

“We have really built a lot of inroads since that first meeting,” she said. “We’ve reached out to several victim advocacy organizations like Chains Interrupted and Friends of the Family, and we’ve learned a lot about the services they can offer and how they can help. And, from a law enforcement standpoint, we learned more about what human trafficking looks like and how we can better address those situations when we come across them.”

Without such an ordinance, law enforcement can only do so much, Sgt. Collins said, adding that investigations and undercover operations at suspect businesses often end with women — who are possibly victims themselves — getting arrested and authorities not getting to the root of the problem.

“We’ve already tried, numerous times, the investigation route and it hasn’t worked,” Collins said. “So this angle of attack would be to shut the place down completely so the place of business is no longer an available front for whatever illegal activity may be happening there.”

As an example, Collins said, giving the city the ability to shut down these illicit businesses is akin to cutting off access to illegal drugs when working to combat drug addiction.

“Let’s say you’re trying to help people with drug addiction, and all we do is try to reach them with drug addiction programs, but we do nothing to try to stop the source of the drugs,” he said. “Why would we do that? That’s not going to help if we do nothing to try stop the source.

“It’s the same type of situation with these massage businesses,” he continued. “The people who are running these businesses are the ones that are trapping these women in to this, and men are going to these businesses because they are available, and it just keeps going on. So, let’s stop that from even being plausible.”

Cedar Rapids is one of a handful of cities that have passed such ordinances.

Johnston passed an ordinance that requires practicing massage therapists to be licensed, and Coralville passed a similar ordinance in September. Marion and Urbandale passed ordinances allowing the cities to placard properties that engage in illegal activity, and Iowa City recently passed a similar ordinance. The Cedar Rapids ordinance combines aspects from both models.

l Comments: (319) 398-8238; kat.russell@thegazette.com

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