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Corridor manufacturers receive state incentives for expansions

Two manufacturers in the Cedar Rapids metro will receive state tax incentives to put toward expansions.

The Iowa Economic Development Authority on Friday approved providing incentives to Highway Equipment Co. of Cedar Rapids and Legacy Manufacturing of Marion.

Highway Equipment, which makes agricultural spreaders, will receive $107,189 in tax credits and refunds. The company plans to construct a 32,000-square-foot testing facility near its existing manufacturing space in southwest Cedar Rapids. The testing space, a company spokesman said previously, will allow Highway Equipment to try out new products without being dependent on good weather conditions.

The city of Cedar Rapids is expected to provide $92,467 in the form of a tax increment financing rebate. Highway Equipment has to create 14 jobs that pay at least $24.91 an hour to qualify for the state incentives.

Legacy Manufacturing will receive $360,000 in tax refunds and credits. The Marion company makes maintenance equipment for automotive, agricultural and other industries. It plans to construct a 200,000-square-foot expansion of its warehouse.

Marion is expected to provide a five-year tax rebate valued at $740,000 to Legacy Manufacturing for the project. Legacy has to create 13 jobs, one of which must pay $24.91 an hour.

Last week, a statement from the Marion Economic Development Corp. said Legacy Manufacturing’s expansion was dependent upon the state financing.

The Economic Development Authority also approved giving about a half a million dollars in grants to programs in Eastern Iowa that support entrepreneurship and start-ups.

The Iowa City Area Development Group and Cedar Rapids’s New Bohemian Innovation Collaboration jointly were awarded $120,000. The two groups will use the money to expand an entrepreneurial mentorship program and develop the Corridor Angels Network, an investor group.

The authority awarded $200,000 to the University of Iowa to put toward its MERGE/Protostudios project, a joint effort with ICAD to provide a co-working space and prototyping facility in downtown Iowa City.

Northeast Iowa Community College also received $160,000 for Startup Dubuque, a program to develop entrepreneurs and start-ups in Dubuque.

l Comments: (319) 398-8366; matthew.patane@thegazette.com

Trump decides to get rid of White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has decided to dismiss his embattled chief strategist Stephen Bannon, an architect of his 2016 general election victory, in a major White House shake-up that follows a week of racial unrest, according to two people familiar with the move.

Trump had been under mounting pressure to dispatch with Bannon, who many officials view as a political Svengali but who has drawn scorn as a leading internal force encouraging and amplifying the president’s most controversial nationalist impulses.

Bannon told friends on Friday that he was expecting to be informed whether he was being cut loose from the White House, according to multiple people close to him said. One of them said Bannon is resigned to that fate, and has said he is determined to continue to advocate for Trump’s agenda on the outside.

“No matter what happens, Steve is a honey badger,” said this person, who like others interviewed spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation. “Steve’s in a good place. He doesn’t care. He’s going to support the president and push the agenda, whether he’s on the inside or the outside.”

John Kelly, the retired four-star Marine Corps general brought in late last month as White House chief of staff, has been contemplating dramatic changes to West Wing staffing that included firing Bannon, a right-wing populist who helped guide the president to victory in the final months of last year’s campaign.

Friday morning crash near Robins sends one to hospital

ROBINS — One man was injured in a two-vehicle crash Friday morning.

According to the Linn County Sheriff’s Office, first responders were called to a two-vehicle injury crash at County Home and North Troy roads around 10:33 a.m. Friday. Authorities said Phillip Cummings, 52, was stopped on County Home Road and waiting to turn left onto North Troy Road when he was rear-ended by Jason Snyder, 37, of Stanwood. Cummings was in a pickup truck and Snyder was driving a dump truck, authorities said.

Cummings was taken to Unity Point St. Luke’s Hospital to be treated for non-life threatening injuries. Snyder was cited for failing to stop in an assured clear distance, the sheriff’s office said.

l Comments: (319) 398-8238; lee.hermiston@thegazette.com

Podcast: On Iowa Politics talks Sen. Joni Ernst's town hall meeting and Rep. Steve King's lack of comments on Charlottesville

This week On Iowa Politics discussed Sen. Ernst's recent town hall meeting in Washington, Iowa, the race for the 2018 governor and Rep. Steve King's relevancy, and lack of comments on the Charlottesville incident.

On Iowa Politics is a weekly news and analysis podcast which re-creates the conversations that happen when Iowa's political reporters get together after deadlines have been met. This week's show features James Lynch, Christinia Crippes and Ed Tibbetts. This week's show was produced by Max Freund and the music heard in the podcast is courtesy of Kelly Pardekooper. Chat with us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter @OnIowaPolitics, and subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher. Know an Iowa musician who should be on our show? Send their band sound files to oniowapolitics@gmail.com

Garage Band: Daughter’s plant-based protein choice inspires local business

Having a daughter that prefers peanut butter over steak provided a Marion entrepreneur with the inspiration for a business.

Brandy Vorhies owns Nutty Sisters, which makes freshly ground artisan peanut, sunflower and almond butters. The two-year-old business sells its products at farmers markets in Cedar Rapids and Marion, craft shows and online through its Facebook page.

“Our five-year-old daughter loves peanut butter,” Vorhies said. “Our older daughter will sit down and eat a steak with us, but our younger daughter has never been a meat eater. When she was three years old, we realized that she preferred to get her protein from peanut butter.

“I grew up on a farm where meat and potatoes were staples of our diet.”

Vorhies was looking for nut butters that did not contain added oil or sugar.

“We were buying a bunch of homemade nut butters from a number of different vendors, including Fresh Market and Hy-Vee” she said. “We wanted to buy peanut butter that was natural and good for you.”

Vorhies, who started making nut butter as a hobby, was ready for a new entrepreneurial venture in 2015.

“I had been doing direct-sales of Lia Sophia jewelry for almost 10 years,” she said. “The company told us on Dec. 1, 2014, that we were not to sell jewelry after Dec. 31, 2014.

“I had worked at Farm Credit Services in Hiawatha for about five years. I quit my job to follow my dream of entrepreneurship and focus full time on jewelry sales.”

Vorhies, who was single when she started selling for Lia Sophia, married and had two daughters as her business grew. After that business ended, she tried selling jewelry for another company.

“I struggled with it for about five months, but it was really hard,” Vorhies said. “I was a stay-at-home mom and making homemade nut butter was something that I could do as a business.”

Vorhies bought a previously owned commercial grade nut grinder for $1,000 in June 2015 and launched Nutty Sisters at the Marion Farmers Market in September 2015. With her previous direct sales venture, Vorhies had developed some contacts to do indoor craft vendor fairs through the fall and winter months.

“We started with four basic flavors of peanut and sunflower butters at the Marion Farmers Market,” she said. ”As we entered 2016, we added chocolate flavors and almond butter.”

Vorhies checked with the Iowa Department of Public Health and learned that a food processing license was not required.

“We’re not cooking it, we’re not baking it, and it does not need to be refrigerated,” she said. “There is no change of temperature. We are just grinding the nuts and unsweetened chocolate chips.”

Vorhies sold nut butters at farmers markets in 2016. Producing the right amount of 16-ounce containers to assure that the nut butters were fresh each week was an initial challenge.

Containers of peanut and sunflower butter sell for $6. Almond butter sells for $12, due to the higher cost of the almonds.

“While nut butters have a recommended shelf life of four to six months once the nut has been processed, we did not want to hold product for a week until to the next market,” she said. “We sell about 200 containers of nut butter at each Downtown Cedar Rapids Farmers Market and a little less at the Marion Farmers Market.”

When she launched Nutty Sisters, Vorhies had to come up with a label for her products.

“For the first six months, we designed our own lime green and gray label with the minimum information — name, address and product ingredients,” she said. “After six months, we had the money to pay a graphic designer to create a really nice label. We also bought a banner and business cards.

“We wanted our daughters involved, so the label has a silhouette of them standing next to each other.”

Nutty Sisters will wrap up its second farmers market season in coming weeks, and Vorhies is planning sales at indoor craft fairs through the fall and winter months. The company also has online sales through customers who learn about it on Facebook and drive to Vorhies’s home to pick up product.

“Since this is my full-time job, I’m flexible and able to meet people at the grocery store or let them stop by my home on Saturday if they are working during the week,” she said. “We probably have people text us several times a week asking to pick up nut butter.”

Based on her initial experience last year, Vorhies hopes to return as a guest vendor at NewBo City Market in November and December. She also is making plans for next year’s farmers markets.

“Now that my youngest daughter is starting kindergarten next week, I can consider expanding the business,” she said. “I have been approached by the manager of a local chain grocery store about carrying my nut butters. I told him that I needed to wait until both of my daughters are in school.

“I’ve also been approached by some area small businesses about carrying our products.”

While pleased that Nutty Sisters has been a business success, Vorhies finds other aspects of the venture rewarding.

“I really enjoy meeting and talking with customers,” she said. “That goes back to growing up on a farm and selling pumpkins at a roadside stand each year with my brother.

“I was able to pay for most of my college expenses with the money I made from pumpkin sales.”

l “Garage Band” looks at business owners working their way through the concept and startup process. If you know someone we should speak with, contact michaelchevy.castranova@thegazette.com.

At a glance

l Business: Nutty Sisters

l Owner: Brandy Vorhies

l Address: 540 34th Ave., Marion

l Phone: (319) 350-8833

l Email: mbvorhies@gmail.com

l Web address: Facebook.com/nuttysistersnutbutter

Clickstop acquires hot pepper seed company

Clickstop, the Urbana-based e-commerce retail company, has acquired a distributor of pepper and chili seeds.

The acquisition of Pepper Joe’s marks Clickstop’s first venture into the food business and its first purchase of a business in six years. The company expects acquisitions to become more common, though.

“Acquisitions is a huge part of our growth strategy and we’re actively working and looking to grow in that way,” said Tammy Karr, president of the Clickstop Accelerator, which manages Clickstop’s small and medium-sized businesses.

Pepper Joe’s, formerly based in Massachusetts, sells tomato and pepper seeds, including those of the Carolina Reaper pepper, named the hottest chili in the world by Guinness World Records in 2013. After the acquisition, all operations of Pepper Joe’s have moved to Urbana, and Clickstop will fulfill all seed orders.

Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.

Karr said Clickstop did not bring on any Pepper Joe’s employees with the acquisition. Clickstop did promote Quinton Guenther, a former intern and the 19-year-old son of Clickstop’s owners, Tim and Nicole Guenther, as the “business unit fanatic” for Pepper Joe’s. Clickstop uses the “business unit fanatic” term to describe the heads of its business divisions such as Pepper Joe’s.

Clickstop has about 150 employees, most of whom are based in Urbana, Karr said.

l Comments: (319) 398-8366; matthew.patane@thegazette.com

Trump Unity Bridge float riles some in Iowa City

IOWA CITY — A 30-foot-long parade float blaring “God Bless America” drew immediate attention in downtown Iowa City Friday morning.

The Trump Unity Bridge, a trailer with dozens of signs, carved wooden eagle, Statue of Liberty statue and eight-foot vertical letters spelling “TRUMP,” made an impromptu stop in the college town at the request of some University of Iowa students who saw the trailer parked at a Coralville hotel Thursday night, said Rob Cortis, of Livonia, Mich., who was driving the trailer.

“We’re traveling the country, coast to coast over 40,000 miles, gathering messages from people in the streets,” Cortis said. The messages printed on what look like street signs along the bridge include “Secure America’s Borders,” “Drain the Swamp,” “All Lives Matter” and “American Culture.”

The Unity Bridge is en route to Washington, D.C., for the Mother of All Rallies, or M.O.A.R., on Sept. 16. The rally website says “Help send a message to Congress, the media and the world we stand united to defend American culture and values.”

Just like two football teams shake hands after the Super Bowl, Americans need to unite behind President Donald Trump, Cortis said. That’s the reason for the cross-country tour, he said, which includes one scheduled Iowa stop, in Mason City.

Some people like the Unity Bridge, responding to the sign on the back that says “Honk 4 Trump.” A white pickup passing the float on Clinton Street honked several times in passing. Others in Iowa City had less positive greetings, calling Cortis a racist and yelling at him to leave Iowa City.

When asked whether Cortis thought his messages might seem confrontational days after one woman was killed and others injured when a car plowed into counterprotesters at a white supremacy rally in Charlottesville, Vir., he said he didn’t think so.

He demurred about whether he aligns with the white supremacy groups that rallied in Charlottesville.

“People don’t have the right to destroy American property,” he said, referring to vandalism to Confederate statues.

The Unity Bridge had been parked in a bus loading zone in front of the UI Pentacrest for about 10 minutes when a UI Police officer approached and told Cortis he needed to move to another area.

A small metal donation box on the Unity Bridge float asks for gas money, but Cortis said they also get donations by mail and online. “Occasionally we get corporate donations,” he said. “We’re looking for a sponsor so we can continue on for the next eight years.”

l Comments: (319) 339-3157; erin.jordan@thegazette.com

Want to be governor of Iowa?

CEDAR RAPIDS — In addition to a good head of hair, a firm handshake and a winning smile, running for governor takes money.

A candidate for governor of Iowa should be prepared to raise upward of $5 million, according to Matt Paul, who has worked on campaigns from city hall to the White House.

In 2014, former Gov. Terry Branstad raised about $10 million. His opponent raised less than $2 million. Campaigns aren’t all about money, but Branstad carried all but one of Iowa’s 99 counties.

Potential candidates generally know they’ll have to raise a lot. But whatever they think they’ll need to raise, “they’re usually they’re off by a factor of five,” said Paul, who joined Cornerstone Government Affairs in Des Moines after working for two Cedar Rapids mayors, former Gov. Tom Vilsack and more recently as Iowa director of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and as chief of staff for vice presidential candidate Sen. Tim Kaine.

There are a lot of similarities between launching a campaign and “an entrepreneur going out and setting up company ABC to sell widgets or whatever,” said Brian Dumas of Davenport-based Victory Enterprises.

“You’ve got to have a business plan. You’ve got to have a salesman, basically, in the candidate selling their ideas and vision,” he said. “Then you have to build a team around them. And if you run out of money or can’t raise enough venture capital or sell enough widgets you close your doors.”

As in business, he added, “You’ve got to be able to adjust and move quickly — maybe even more so in politics than in business.”

Even before raising “venture capital,” Paul said a candidate must have “an absolutely rock solid answer why they are the best person for the office.”

A gubernatorial campaign can last two years, involve three or more nights a week away from family, time away from a job, travel and hours on the phone raising money.

“Candidates have to come to be their own north star on why they are doing this in order to get through the day-to-day of the very unglamorous life of being a candidate,” Paul said.

It’s “a troubling sign” if a candidate can’t articulate why she or he is running, said Jeff Link of LPCA Public Strategies in Des Moines, who works with Democratic candidates. In those cases, he tries to talk them out of running because “the work is too hard, too tedious to continue unless you are really passionate.”

Those second thoughts happen with “some regularity,” according to David Kochel, founder of Redwave Communications in Des Moines. “They think about. Take a few steps. Then decide against it.”

Paul has had four or five conversations in the current election cycle with potential candidates who decided against it after having that conversation.

However, if candidates can answer the “why” question, then it’s time to “start putting together the building blocks of the campaign,” said Kochel, a former Harvard Institute of Politics fellow who worked on campaigns for presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush and U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst.

The basic building block is money.

Link, who has worked with former U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin and Barack Obama in 2008 as well as with campaigns in the Caribbean, Eastern Europe and Africa, asks potential candidates to make a spreadsheet of all the names in their phones and on their Christmas card and wedding guest lists, and next to them write how much money each person would give to the campaign if asked. In 25 years, he’s had about three candidates follow through.

Paul tells candidates “write the name of every person you will call and ask for $1,000, and come back when your notebook is full.”

“It’s easy for a candidates to say they can raise $300,000, for example, but when you start writing down names and numbers, the numbers get real, real fast,” Link said.

For an Iowa gubernatorial primary race, he estimates a candidate must be able to raise at least $1.5 million to run a viable campaign.

From a functional standpoint, launching the campaign is similar to starting a business venture, according to Sam Roecker, Link’s colleague at LPCA. In addition to employees, a campaign needs to recruit motivated volunteers, people who know how to organize, how to schedule the candidate’s time, how to keep the campaign on message, get that message out and when, where and how to advertise to build a statewide presence. And, Roecker said, a campaign needs a logo, a slogan, perhaps, and an office.

“Nothing too glamorous,” he said, because donors don’t want to think their money is being spent on prime office space, nice furniture and fancy campaign swag. “You do what you can to get by. Look for free furniture.”

Technology has made the traditional campaign headquarters less important than in the past, Dumas said.

“Twenty years ago, everyone came to the office to make phone calls,” he said. “Today, you log in from your home computer and make calls or you share a campaign message on Facebook and Twitter.”

Candidates can run the day-to-day campaign operation, but Dumas said their time is better spent making personal appearances and raising money.

Campaigns “are almost always about the candidate: Who they are, their background, their capacity to lead and how prepared they are,” Kochel said. So to maximize their impact, candidates running for governor generally rely on campaign consultants to recommend and recruit professional staffers to help develop messaging and campaign strategies, and help with the fundraising how-to.

To a large degree, Dumas said, Terry Branstad set the precedent for Iowa gubernatorial campaigns and everyone after him is using some variation of the Branstad approach, including “the whole 99-county thing,” which was borrowed from Sen. Chuck Grassley.

Although there are agencies that will provide a “campaign-in-a-box,” Kochel and his colleagues are skeptical that off-the-shelf plans work in a state where running for governor is personal.

“Iowans want to press the flesh, see and hear the candidate speak, to look them in the eye, have a conversation,” Dumas said. “They want to personally know their governor.”

“A candidate has to have a relationship with activists, with volunteers, with voters,” Kochel said. “You can’t hire a professional to provide those things.”

In the end, campaigns are “sophisticated strategic organizations” and the process tests candidates, Paul said. That’s not a bad thing considering the candidates are asking voters to trust them with the leadership of a state of three million people.

“As frustrated as we all are with the fundraising side of this, this system does put candidates through the paces in preparation for what is a really complex challenge that impacts people on a daily basis,” Paul said. “If you’re running for governor of Iowa, you’re running to be the CEO of a $9 billion operation. So you should be able to handle a $9 (million) or $10 million election budget.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

Pet stocks beat the market as animal owners open their wallets

These stocks are no dogs.

With Americans spending like never before on their animal companions, stock watchers have been betting on big returns from pet stocks.

The Pet Passion index, a tracker created by Motif Investing that follows pet-related companies, has returned 19 percent over the past year as of Thursday’s stock-market close, sprinting well ahead of the rest of the stock-market pack. The S & P 500 Index has only marked an 8.5 percent gain so far this year.

Among the best in show is pet pharmacy PetMed Express Inc., which has seen its shares nearly double over the past year. Trupanion Inc., which offers pet health insurance, is up about 44 percent in that span, while IDEXX Laboratories Inc., a veterinary-diagnostics company, has gained about 30 percent.

An improving economy has encouraged pet adoptions and loosened up the wallets of people who already have one, analysts say. Another factor: Younger Americans are putting off having kids but are making room for a dog or a cat.

“Americans sometimes take care of their pets better than they take care of their own health,” said Mark Massaro, an analyst at Canaccord Genuity Inc. “Americans just love their pets.”

Pet-related spending in the U.S. is estimated to exceed $69 billion this year, up from about $60 billion in 2015 and nearly double its level in 2005, says the American Pets Products Association, an industry trade association. About 90 percent of the estimated 2017 spending is on food, supplies and pet health care.

Walking a friend’s dog through Central Park on a recent Wednesday, Lisa Alonso Vear, 39, of Brooklyn, quickly whipped out her smartphone to show pictures of her 12-year-old dachshund, Rochester, the way a young mother would normally show off her newborn.

Vear works at an animal hospital in Brooklyn and said she’s seen an uptick in vet visits — especially routine checkups — when the economy is strong.

“You’re going to spend money on yourself, but people care a lot about their pets and care for them and make sure they’re healthy,” she said.

About three in five millennials own pets, according to APPA research, compared to about 50 percent of the general population. Meanwhile, birthrates among women in their 20s have dropped more than 15 percent, according to the most recent data from the Urban Institute, a Washington-based think tank.

“Millennials have officially taken over as the primary pet-owning demographic and live out the belief, more than anyone, that their pets are not just pets, but members of their family,” said Andrew Darmohraj, the pet-products association’s chief operating officer. “They are willing to spend the money to ensure their pets are very much integrated into their lifestyles.”

Paul Columbia, the owner of a New York City-based dog-walking business, has seen the pet boom close up. He says that his venture has grown from a one-man-operation in 2001 to 10 employees now going on about 30,000 dog walks a year.

“People are delaying having children and as a result, their pets become their children,” said Columbia.

The debate around health care for humans, and the uncertainty that has created for many businesses, also make pet stocks look like a relative safe haven, one analyst said.

“They’re a very attractive investment for people who want to wait on the sidelines until the health care debate shakes out,” said David Westenberg, an analyst at CL King & Associates. “You know what it’s going to look like.”

Republicans have tried — and failed — to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, since President Donald Trump took office in January. The Senate is expected to move on from health care after the August recess to debates about the debt ceiling, taxes, and other concerns, leaving health care in limbo.

Investors like the pet market because they can relate to it, said Kevin Ellich, an analyst at Craig-Hallum Capital Group and owner of a 13-year-old wheaten terrier named Ace. Ellich said the industry trends are positive, and with furry friends continuing to feel the love, the expectation is shares will continue to grow.

“You probably need a recession to knock down this consistent growth,” said Ben Haynor, an analyst at Aegis Capital Corp.

Friday Morning Read: Iowa City startup raises $2 million, Sinclair smokestack might make a comeback, UI denounces the KKK

Business hour limitation on Tower Terrace Road removed - The Marion City Council voted 5-2 Thursday to extend the hours of operation in a commercial district along Tower Terrace Road, a move opposed by those living in homes that abut the district.

The commercial district, south of Tower Terrace Road and between Third Street and Irish Drive, is owned by developer Mooney-Engle Land Co.

Read more...

Bret Michaels to headline rally for new downtown casino - Former Poison frontman Bret Michaels is slated to headline a rally and concert for Cedar Crossing, a casino proposed for downtown Cedar Rapids, days before state gambling regulators visit for a public hearing about three proposals next month.

Backers of Cedar Crossing — Peninsula Pacific Partnership, a Los Angeles-based casino developer, and Cedar Crossing Development Group, a coalition of local investors — are putting the event on Sept. 15 at the U.S. Cellular Center to showcase what it would be like to have an urban casino in Cedar Rapids, they said.

Read more...

Iowa City startup raises $2 million - An Iowa City medical device startup that emerged from the University of Iowa has raised $2 million in investment.

The money, iotaMotion co-founders said Wednesday, will help it continue to develop a robotic-assisted medical device to help surgeons with the installation of cochlear implants, used to improve hearing.

“Our aim is to develop devices that open up access to cochlear implant surgery for a wider audience of both surgeons and patients,” co-founder Marlan Hansen said in a statement.

Read more...

The possible return of the 'iconic' Sinclair smokestack - The old 193-foot-tall Sinclair smokestack — a landmark in Cedar Rapids for more than a century and one of the tallest smokestacks in Iowa — could be replicated as the new focal point of the planned Sleeping Giant pedestrian bridge over the Cedar River.

The smokestack stood at the old T.M. Sinclair & Co. slaughterhouse about a mile south of downtown and 100 feet from a railroad bridge knocked down in the 2008 flood. A 2009 fire destroyed the meatpacking plant, which had changed hands several times and ceased operations in 1990.

Read more...

'We denounce the KKK' - With at least nine U.S. cities bracing for far-right rallies this weekend after a widely-publicized event in Charlottesville turned violent and left three people dead, University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld on Thursday sent a message to his returning campus community stressing tolerance.

“In the wake of racist violence on a university campus not unlike our own, it is incumbent upon us to reach out to those who are new to our community,” Harreld wrote in his morning message. “To tell them we denounce the KKK, white supremacists and neo-Nazi groups who use public universities as a backdrop for their violent theater. To assure them that we will not be bullied into silence or turned against one another. To pledge once again that we will not tolerate anything but a safe and inclusive campus for people of all backgrounds, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Read more...

 

Marion Council votes to remove business hour limitation on Tower Terrace Road

MARION — The Marion City Council voted 5-2 Thursday to extend the hours of operation in a commercial district along Tower Terrace Road, a move opposed by those living in homes that abut the district.

The commercial district, south of Tower Terrace Road and between Third Street and Irish Drive, is owned by developer Mooney-Engle Land Co.

The current ordinance requires businesses there to close by 11 p.m., which the developer said was hurting chances to bring in new businesses, including a restaurant and movie theater.

Residents told the council in July they were worried extended hours would bring in bars and restaurants that would stay open late. Other concerns were potential decreases in property values and the district’s proximity to Linn-Mar High School.

At the council’s request, the Planning and Zoning Department drafted an amendment to the current ordinance that would allow businesses in the district, which is already zoned commercial, to stay open until midnight Monday through Friday and until 1 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays.

The amendment also will not allow a bar to locate in the district, and it defines the difference between a restaurant and a bar — a bar is a business that garners more than half of its revenue from alcohol sales.

“Most people were opposed to strictly a bar,” planning and development director Tom Treharne told the council Thursday. “There was also a lot of discussion as to what defined a bar and restaurant and how that can be worked into an ordinance. We brought back an ordinance ... that really addressed the major concerns.”

Resident Jon Tracy, who owns a home that backs up to the district, said he objects to the one-hour extension that would attract more restaurants, traffic and noise.

“I’m concerned that a bar or restaurant in that area ... when people are leaving at 12:30 or 1, they’re probably not going to be going to their cars in silence,” he said.

Steve Point, another homeowner on the block, said he didn’t want more traffic and that restaurants may have happy hour that creates traffic at the same time as the Linn-Mar High students are leaving sports practices at a nearby field.

“It would just create a nightmare for this community,” he said. “I wouldn’t have bought my home there.”

Council members Will Brandt and Kim Etzel said Tower Terrace Road, as a main arterial road, is going to have traffic regardless and that residents at the July meeting said they had always understood the area was zoned commercial.

“I think it’s a good place for the teenagers to hang out,” Etzel said. “That’s not a quiet neighborhood. There’s already a lot of noise with the school, and traffic.”

Point disagreed.

“I can hear the band play, and that’s awesome,” Point said. “A lot of people live there because of the schools, not because of restaurants.”

The council voted to amend the ordinance, changing the hours of operation and establishing definitions. The ordinance will go through two more readings before being enacted.

library talks

The council also voted to have the city begin negotiations with Aspect Architecture for the current Marion Library building.

Council member Mary Lou Pazour, however, said she thought the negotiations were happening too soon, listing concerns about parking and the uncertain future of the proposed mixed-use space that would house a new library.

City manager Lon Pluckhahn said entering into negotiations does not mean the deal is final. Aspect Architecture intends to build its own mixed-use building and perhaps a parking garage and has a “major employer interested” in the commercial space.

“The company wants to know that the council is supportive of the project,” he said. “This allows Aspect to sit down and have negotiations so they could have a lease and bring that employer to the city. Otherwise the negotiations would happen later.”

The council also adopted new ordinance language governing parades, marches and demonstrations. The city worked with the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa to draft the language that the ACLU believes is in line with the First Amendment.

l Comments: (319) 368-8516; makayla.tendall@thegazette.com

U.S., Japan step up defense cooperation to counter N.Korea

WASHINGTON — The United States and Japan will step up their defense cooperation to deal with the threat from nuclear-armed North Korea as tensions in East Asia remain high, officials from the two allies said on Thursday.

“For this threat of North Korea, at this meeting we agreed to increase the pressure and to strengthen the alliance capability,” Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said after talks with senior U.S. officials in Washington.

U.S. fears about North Korea’s missile and nuclear bomb programs have grown in recent weeks. Pyongyang has said it was considering plans to fire missiles toward the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam, although North Korean leader Kim Jong Un appears to have delayed the decision.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and their Japanese counterparts agreed at a meeting inWashington on Thursday to work more closely on North Korea.

“In light of the threat of North Korea, the four of us confirmed the importance of the unwavering U.S. commitment to extended deterrence,” Onodera said.

Tillerson said the United States wanted dialogue with Pyongyang, but only if it were meaningful.

“Our effort is to cause them to want to engage in talks but engage in talks with an understanding that these talks will lead to a different conclusion than talks of the past,” he said.

In 2005, North Korea reached an agreement with six countries to suspend its nuclear program in return for diplomatic rewards and energy assistance but the deal later collapsed.

U.S. President Donald Trump warned North Korea last week it would face “fire and fury” if it threatened the United States, prompting North Korea to say it was considering plans to fire missiles toward Guam.

Both sides have since dialed back the rhetoric somewhat.

Trump has vowed not to allow North Korea to develop nuclear missiles that could hit the mainland United States but Pyongyang sees its nuclear arsenal as protection against the United States and its partners in Asia.

Pyongyang’s deputy U.N. ambassador told United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres this week that its nuclear weapons program will never be up for negotiation as long as the U.S. government’s “hostile policy and nuclear threat continue.”

Guterres spoke by telephone with Deputy Ambassador Kim InRyong on Tuesday, the North Korean mission to the United Nations said in a statement on Thursday.

JAPAN WORRIED

Japan intends to expand its role in its alliance with Washington “and augment its defense capabilities” while the United States “remains committed to deploying its most advanced capabilities to Japan,” the State Department said in a statement.

The Japanese Defense Ministry wants to introduce a land-based Aegis missile defense system to address North Korea’s missile threats and has decided to seek funding in the next fiscal year to cover the system design costs, a Japanese defense official told Reuters.

Foreign Minister Taro Kono said Japan would strengthen its defense posture in response to the North Korean threat and provide $500 million to help boost maritime security in East Asia, where China has been pursuing extensive maritime claims.

Japan is likely to increase its defense spending at a faster pace in its next five-year plan from April 2019 than the annual 0.8 percent average rise in its current mid-term plan, the Nikkei business daily reported on Friday. Defense officials have said such a rise was desirable but finance ministry officials are cautious because of Tokyo’s mammoth public debt.

North Korea has repeatedly threatened to target Japan, which hosts around 54,000 U.S. military personnel, as well as South Korea and the United States with its missiles.

North Korean missiles would have to fly over Japan to reach the Guam area, worrying Tokyo that warheads or missile debris could fall on its territory.

The United States and South Korea will go ahead with joint military drills next week, the top U.S. military official said on Thursday, resisting pressure from North Korea and its ally China to halt the contentious exercises.

The drills involving tens of thousands of U.S. and South Korean troops are due to begin on Monday. North Korea views such exercises as preparations to invade it.

The annual exercises have taken on greater significance this year due to the rise in tensions around North Korea’s rapid progress in developing nuclear weapons and missiles capable of reaching the U.S. mainland.

China, North Korea’s main ally and trading partner, has urged the United States and South Korea to scrap the drills in exchange for North Korea calling a halt to its weapons programs.

Joseph Dunford, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the exercises were “not currently on the table as part of the negotiation at any level”. The drill, known as Ulchi-Freedom Guardian, takes place in South Korea. Much of it involves computer-based simulations.

Dunford said the U.S. military and its allies needed to stay ready.

“As long as the threat in North Korea exists, we need to maintain a high state of readiness to respond to that threat,” Dunford told reporters in Beijing after meeting his Chinese counterparts.

Fan Changlong, a vice chairman of China’s powerful Central Military Commission, told Dunford that China believed the only effective way to resolve the issue was through talks.

“China believes that dialogue and consultations are the only effective avenue to resolve the peninsula issue, and that military means cannot become an option,” China’s Defence Ministry cited Fan as saying.

North Korea has in the past fired missiles and taken other steps in response to U.S. and South Korean exercises.

Easing tensions this week, North Korean media announced that Kim delayed a decision on firing four missiles toward Guam, home to a U.S. air base and Navy facility. Trump welcomed the delay as “very wise.”

(Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom, David Alexander,; MohammmadZargham and Makini Brice in Washington, Michael; Martina, Philip Wen, Christian Shepherd and Ben Blanchard in; Beijing, Christine Kim in Seoul and Nobuhiro Kubo and Linda Sieg in Tokyo; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by by James Dalgleish and Paul Tait)

Montana wildfire triggers hundreds of evacuations

A lightning-sparked wildfire burning for more than a month in western Montana has flared anew, prompting the evacuation of nearly 750 homes on Thursday as firefighters braced for more hot and windy weather forecast for the weekend, authorities said.

The so-called Lolo Peak fire, burning about 12 miles south of Missoula, has scorched more than 15,000 acres of timber since it erupted in mid-July, as tinder-dry conditions challenged efforts to contain the blaze.

“When the winds kicked up last Sunday, it made a run of one and a half miles in an hour and has been growing since,” U.S. Forest Service spokesman James Stone said.

Erratic winds pushed flames close to housing subdivisions in two counties on Thursday, prompting mandatory evacuations of residents from 743 homes, said Jordan Koppen, a spokesman for the fire management command.

Fire retardant drops from helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft have been deployed to douse the flames in an effort to assist some 500 firefighters on the scene.

No property losses have been reported, but a 29-year-old member of an elite “hotshots” firefighting crew from California was killed this month when a falling tree struck him.

Koppen said weather forecasters have issued red-flag warnings for the area on Friday, and he expects the burned acreage to increase when the fire is mapped again Thursday night.

The northern Rocky Mountain region has been in the grips of a prolonged drought, and this year wildfires have blackened 393,000 acres in Montana and parts of neighboring Idaho, Stone said.

In Oregon on Thursday, Governor Kate Brown authorized the state’s fire marshal to mobilize additional resources to aid local firefighting efforts near the Cascade town of Sisters, where a wildfire threatened more than 400 structures. An estimated 1,200 residents of the area were advised to stand by for possible evacuation notices.

(Reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver; Editing by Steve Gorman and Leslie Adler)

U.S. digital rights group slams tech firms for barring neo-Nazis

SAN FRANCISCO — A digital rights group based in San Francisco on Thursday criticized several internet companies for removing neo-Nazi groups from servers and services, saying the actions were “dangerous” and threatened free expression online.

GoDaddy Inc , Alphabet’s Google , security firm Cloudflare and other technology companies moved this week to block hate groups after weekend violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, where white nationalists had gathered to protest removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from a park.

“We strongly believe that what GoDaddy, Google, and Cloudflare did here was dangerous,” Cindy Cohn, executive director of Electronic Frontier Foundation, wrote in a blog post along with two other staffers.

The blog post reflected years-long tension in Silicon Valley, where many company executives want to distance themselves from extremists but are concerned that picking and choosing what is acceptable on their platforms could invite more regulation from governments.

“Protecting free speech is not something we do because we agree with all of the speech that gets protected,” Electronic Frontier Foundation wrote.

“We do it because the power to decide who gets to speak and who doesn’t is just too dangerous to hand to any company or any government.”

The group called on companies that manage internet domain names, including Google and GoDaddy, to “draw a hard line” and not suspend or impair domain names “based on expressive content of websites or services.”

The blog post echoed concerns expressed by Cloudflare chief executive Matthew Prince, who on Wednesday said he decided to drop coverage of neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer but said that his decision was conflicted.

Prince told Reuters he “wholeheartedly agreed” with the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s post and said he was hopeful it would help spark a more thoughtful debate about internet regulation.

Google and GoDaddy did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the blog made outside normal business hours.

The Daily Stormer helped organize the protest in Charlottesville, at which a 32-year-old woman was killed and 19 people were injured when a vehicle drove into counter-protesters. The website cheered the woman’s death.

It was removed from GoDaddy and Google Domains after they said they would not serve the website.

(Reporting by Dustin Volz; Editing by Michael Perry)

Marion looks to researchers for better policing

MARION — University of Iowa researchers will be embedded with the Marion Police Department for half a year to help the force get ahead of crime trends and decide where its resources are most needed.

The Marion City Council on Thursday approved the nearly $51,000 collaboration between the department and UI’s Public Policy Center.

Researchers from the center’s Crime and Justice Policy Research Program will examine records police currently keep and policy officers already follow to offer data analysis and evidence-based research.

“Our job is to do the background research to provide the data and analysis and some context,” said Peter Damiano, director of the Public Policy Center. “It’s really up to the policy makers to make those decisions. It’s really just to help support policy makers to make more educated decisions.”

Police will work with two main researchers at the center, Damiano said, but Marion also is able to work with policy center staff who specialize in community engagement, communications, information technologies and crime mapping.

Police Chief Joseph McHale, who was hired last October, said the partnership with the Public Policy Center will help the department with criminal intelligence and data-led policing. The data and tools researchers will gather allows police to better understand where to put their resources, McHale said.

Though it’s only a six-month collaboration, McHale said he hopes to lay the groundwork for a criminal analyst who starts working at the department in January 2018. It also will allow Marion police to prepare for a possible federal grant to begin social network analysis, a way to map who commits the majority of certain crimes to find how offenders may be connected to each other.

McHale told the council at a work sessions Tuesday that he hopes the partnership furthers the department’s analytical capacity and ability to visualize and record crime trends.

Though Marion police already keep track of crime trends, McHale said geographic information system crime mapping to visualize and analyze the data is something the department is not able to do currently.

“The qualitative methods that really go into the GIS mapping to break this city down and say this area is responsible for this number of reports and this number of crime types ... I don’t have that kind of education,” McHale said. “We don’t have anybody in the department that can help build a GIS map. There’s so much potential here. We just don’t have the capacity.”

McHale said he hopes the research has a lasting impact on the department’s beat system as well. McHale said officers will have a better idea of where to police and what to watch for if they are aware of what the trends are.

“The city is going to grow,” McHale said. “Right now when officers leave the station, they designate north and south for their beat. There’s no dissemination of the workload. If you can project reasonably that this area is going to produce this many reports, that divides the workload among your personnel. It builds beat integrity ... they get to know the community partners, they get to know the neighborhoods and they have ownership of it.”

Ultimately, McHale said, he hopes the partnership answers the question of: “Is what we’re doing making the community safer?”

l Comments: (319) 368-8516; makayla.tendall@thegazette.com

IPERS accuses big banks of conspiracy

Six Wall Street investment banks are conspiring to control the little-known — but lucrative — market for lending stocks, according to a federal lawsuit being led by Iowa’s largest public employees’ pension fund.

The complaint by the Iowa Public Employees’ Retirement System and two other government pension plans asserts the giant banks are blocking a shift to an all-electronic system for matching lenders and borrowers of shares so they can instead continue to profit from each transaction.

“Major investment banks are conspiring to preserve their profits at the expense of everyday investors,” plaintiffs’ attorney Michael Eisencraft of Washington-based Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll said in a statement Thursday.

The investors are seeking unspecified damages in the class-action antitrust case, which could be tripled under federal law.

The IPERS fund members include city, county, state and public school employees, as well as Iowa’s former and retired public employees. The fund says 1 of every 10 Iowans is a member.

The lawsuit names JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse AG, and UBS AG. Each declined to comment Thursday to Boomberg.

IPERS issued a statement, reported the Des Moines Register.

“IPERS is proud of its role in leading this lawsuit and its efforts to get compensation for investors damaged by the lack of competition and transparency in the stock lending market,” spokeswoman Judy Akre said in a statement to the Register. “IPERS has a fiduciary duty to advocate for IPERS’ participants and beneficiaries, and protecting them from investment banks’ collusion and anti-competitive behavior is in accordance with that duty.”

The banks are accused of stifling a shift to an electronic market that would enhance price transparency and competition, while eliminating them as the transactional middle men.

The pension funds said collusion by the banks harms investors and retirees by forcing them to pay high fees to engage in stock lending.

Stock lending is related to short selling and involves lending a stock to an investor or firm through a broker or dealer. Pension funds and other institutional investors frequently lend stock to hedge funds.

In short selling, a security that is not owned or has been borrowed is sold with the idea that it can be bought at a future date at a lower price.

While firms don’t disclose the fees they earned from stock lending, the prime services units at 12 of the largest global investment banks generated $17.4 billion in revenue last year, according to industry analytics firm Coalition Development Ltd.

JPMorgan loaned or swapped $21.9 billion of equity securities as of June 30, according to a regulatory filing. Goldman Sachs loaned $13.2 billion as of the same date, a filing shows.

The lawsuit seeks to represent everyone who entered into a securities lending transaction with those firms since 2009.

“To paraphrase Tolstoy, all efficient markets resemble one another, but each inefficient market is inefficient in its own way,” according to the suit.

Reuters contributed to this report.

Suspected second terrorist attack in Spain thwarted, suspected terrorists shot in nearby Cambrils

MADRID — Spanish police early Friday said they had killed the alleged perpetrators of a suspected terrorist attack in the town of Cambrils, south of Barcelona.

The news came hours after police launched a manhunt for the driver of a van who ploughed into crowds of people on one of Barcelona’s busiest thoroughfares, killing 13 people and injuring 100.

“We are working on the hypothesis that events in Cambrils respond to a terrorist attack. We have killed its alleged perpetrators,” Catalan police wrote on Twitter.

The El Mundo newspaper reported that four people had been killed in Cambrils, 74 miles south of Barcelona, without citing any source.

The newspaper La Vanguardia reported that a shootout had taken place on the town’s harbor side. Police had earlier warned residents to stay indoors.

The Islamic State terrorist group said via its affiliated Amaq news agency that its “soldiers” were responsible for the earlier attack on Las Ramblas, a popular tourist spot in Barcelona.

Catalan police chief Josep Luis Trapero said two men had been arrested in connection to the attack, a Moroccan and a Spanish national from the North African Spanish enclave of Melilla.

Neither were known to have any previous links to terrorism.

However, a third man believed to have been the driver of the van, was still on the run, Trapero told reporters.

The attack on Las Ramblas was “obviously a terrorist attack (carried out) with the intent to kill as many people as possible,” he said.

He also said that an explosion that killed one person and destroyed a house in the town of Alcanar, 124 miles south of Barcelona, on Wednesday night, was “clearly” linked to the attack.

However, he said that so far there was no evidence that another incident, in which police shot dead a man after he tried to evade a checkpoint while leaving Barcelona hours after the attack, was connected.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who cut short his holiday to travel to Barcelona, announced three days of official mourning and launched a staunch defense of democratic values in the wake of the attack.

“We are not only united in mourning. We are above all united in the resolute will to defeat those who want to take away our values and our way of life,” he said.

Catalonia’s Interior Minister Joaquim Forn said he expected the Bareclona death toll to rise.

Albert Zeitler, a German at the scene near the area’s Museum of Contemporary Art, told dpa by phone that it felt like a “war zone.”

“Police with machine guns and weapons were running at me. Everyone fled into the shops,” he said. “I’ve never experienced anything like it.”

Another witness, Erminia Mata told the El Mundo newspaper there were “a lot of people lying on the ground, covered with blood.”

Spanish media earlier released video footage of the scene showing motionless bloodied bodies strewn across the street.

Videos on social media showed a van traveling with its side door wide open at high speed down a pedestrian area.

The newspaper El Pais, citing police, said a Spanish passport was found inside the vehicle that hit the crowd.

Europe has been hit by a series of deadly terrorist attacks using vehicles over the last two years including deadly incidents in Nice, Berlin and two in London.

Spain’s worst terrorist attack was in March 2004 when 191 people were killed by bombs planted by Islamists on commuter trains in Madrid.

Johnson County supervisors pass resolution condemning hatred

IOWA CITY — The Johnson County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution Thursday in support of Charlottesville residents and others oppressed by racist groups.

The board unanimously voted to “urge all people to reject violence, hatred and discrimination” and offered condolences for Heather Heyer, who was killed last weekend when a driver plowed through people who protested to oppose white nationalists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Va.

“Johnson County has been a leader in advancing a progressive agenda that seeks to welcome and protect the rights of all people; denounce hate speech, violence, vandalism and hate crimes intended to intimidate others,” the resolution says.

The resolution also affirmed “the right of every person to live peacefully and without fear.”

The board has a history of passing resolutions to show solidarity with other groups in the wake of national events. After the 2016 presidential election, the board passed a resolution to support all residents and foster a welcoming environment. It cited election rhetoric and violence and intimidation against traditionally marginalized groups.

l Comments: (319) 339-3172; maddy.arnold@thegazette.com

‘Anonymous’ turns up heat on Congress: It claims to post private GOP numbers including Grassley’s

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A group affiliated with the online activist group Anonymous posted Thursday what it says are the private cellphone numbers and email addresses of 22 Republican members of Congress — including Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley — in a bid to push for President Donald Trump’s impeachment — reigniting the use of hacked information in U.S. politics.

Rob Pfeiffer, chief editor of online publication The Anon Journal, said the move was spurred by Trump’s contentious reaction to violent clashes in Charlottesville, Va., over the weekend. The president set off a furor after he made it clear he had no intention of backing down from his claims that “both sides” were to blame for the mayhem that left one woman dead and dozens injured.

Trump belatedly condemned the neo-Nazi and Ku Klux Klan groups that organized the Unite the Right, before then doubling down on his original contention.

The president has been sharply criticized by a wide swath of the country, including by leading Republicans.

Pfeiffer said the private contact information of the Republican members of Congress was obtained by a group known as “AnonOps.” Pfeiffer said he did not know how the information was obtained, whether it was a leak or an online hack.

He said some of the cellphone numbers, for example, had been verified as real.

Grassley’s office declined to comment to The Gazette when asked about it.

Among the other politicians on the list were U.S. Sens. Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Bob Corker of Tennessee.

The goal, Pfeiffer believed, was for people to contact these members of Congress to more forcefully condemn the president and call for his impeachment.

The release by Anonymous marks an end of nearly two years of near-total silence for the decentralized group. Anonymous was mostly absent during last year’s presidential campaign as leaks from online groups WikiLeaks and Guccifer 2.0 featuring Democratic officials’ emails dominated headlines and, in the eyes of some, altered the course of the election.

That has changed.

“Trump did something in the past few days along with the Charlottesville terror attack that clicked,” Pfeiffer wrote to The Post.

Anonymous was further spurred to action after it appeared that the white supremacist site Daily Stormer fell offline Sunday and was blaming Anonymous. Anonymous denied involvement, instead suggesting Daily Stormer was having trouble finding a new web hosting service after GoDaddy announced it would no longer would.

Thursday’s posting by Anonymous comes one day before “Denouncement Day,” in which some members of Anonymous are calling on people to gather at confederate statues in 11 cities and tear them down.

The push to remove Confederate memorials has gained momentum nationwide since the Charlottesville clash. Mayors from Lexington, Ky., to Salisbury, Md., and Gainesville, Fla., have called for the monuments to be taken down.

Pfeiffer said more GOP lawmakers could see their personal contact information released soon.

James Q. Lynch of The Gazette contributed to this report.

Trucker could face death penalty in smuggling case

A federal grand jury in San Antonio has indicted a truck driver for his alleged role in the smuggling deaths of 10 undocumented immigrants found in the trailer of a truck that had been driven from Iowa to Texas in July.

James Matthew Bradley Jr., 60, received five felony counts, including smuggling migrants for financial gain resulting in death — a charge that could carry the death penalty. Other charges range from 10 to 20 years in federal prison, the Justice Department said.

Seven Mexicans and one Guatemalan were found dead in the trailer parked outside a San Antonio Walmart under stiflingly hot summer conditions, with as many as 200 people tightly packed and struggling to breathe through small holes.

Two migrants later died in a hospital.

Currently, two remain hospitalized, five were released to immigration authorities and 22 are being held as material witnesses, according to the Justice Department.

The trailer that held the immigrants was emblazoned with the logo of Pyle Transportation, a small trucking firm based in Schaller in northwest Iowa.

In an phone interview at the time with the Washington Post, owner Brian Pyle distanced the company from the driver. Pyle said the driver operated largely independently.

In a separate interview, Pyle told the Associated Press he had reached a deal to sell the trailer to someone in Mexico and hired Bradley — a former driver for the company — to deliver it to a drop-off point in Brownsville, Texas.

“I’m absolutely sorry it happened,” Pyle told the news service. “I really am. It’s shocking.”

Some of the travelers aboard the truck had spent days held in a house near the border with Mexico. Some were told to pay hundreds of dollars to a group linked to Los Zetas, a deadly Mexican drug cartel, for safe passage across the Rio Grande in rafts.

Bradley initially told authorities he was unaware of the trailer’s cargo and was surprised when he realized people had been trapped inside.

He owned the truck tractor found outside Walmart but not the trailer, according to public records. He told federal agents that the trailer’s refrigeration system did not work and that the vent holes were probably clogged, according to the criminal complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas.

The truck’s discovery revealed the group’s horrifying journey to the United States at a time when immigration arrests have spiked under President Donald Trump and illegal border crossings have plummeted, according to federal officials. The case also highlighted the extreme dangers people face as they try to enter the country.

Jack Staton, acting assistant director of intelligence for Immigration and Custom Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations arm, called human smuggling “100 percent crime against humanity,” adding that “this is just victimizing people that are attempting to get a better life.”

“The smugglers closed the doors and the interior of the trailer was pitch black and it was already hot inside,” James Lara, a special agent with Homeland Security Investigations wrote in the complaint after interviewing one of the migrants.

“He stated they were not provided with any water or food. People inside were making noise to get someone’s attention but nobody ever came.”

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