Utah taxpayers paid for hotel linked to prostitute report

Published: Friday, February 09, 2018 @ 1:47 PM
Updated: Friday, February 09, 2018 @ 1:45 PM


            FILE - In this Feb. 8, 2017, photo, Rep. Jon Stanard, R-St. George, votes on the House floor, at the Utah State Capitol, in Salt Lake City. The Utah House of Representatives is investigating whether a lawmaker who abruptly resigned used a state-issued cellphone and hotel room paid for with taxpayer money to arrange trysts with a prostitute. House Speaker Greg Hughes declined to comment on a Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018, report in British newspaper the Daily Mail that former Republican Rep. Stanard twice hired a prostitute in 2017. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)
FILE - In this Feb. 8, 2017, photo, Rep. Jon Stanard, R-St. George, votes on the House floor, at the Utah State Capitol, in Salt Lake City. The Utah House of Representatives is investigating whether a lawmaker who abruptly resigned used a state-issued cellphone and hotel room paid for with taxpayer money to arrange trysts with a prostitute. House Speaker Greg Hughes declined to comment on a Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018, report in British newspaper the Daily Mail that former Republican Rep. Stanard twice hired a prostitute in 2017. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

A former Utah lawmaker purchased at least two hotel rooms with taxpayer money that he is accused of using to meet up with a prostitute last year, according to documents reviewed by a legislative official.

The DailyMail.com reported allegations Thursday that former Republican Rep. Jon Stanard twice hired a prostitute last year, leading House and state elections officials to review whether public funds or campaign money were used for hotel stays that the report alleges Stanard used for the trysts.

House Chief of Staff Greg Hartley told The Associated Press in a text message that Stanard, who abruptly resigned Tuesday, was reimbursed for hotel rooms in Salt Lake City in June and August 2017 when he was attending legislative meetings at the state Capitol. He lives four hours away in the resort town of St. George.

The dates and hotel names correspond with text messages reported by the DailyMail.com.

Republican House Speaker Greg Hughes said he didn't yet know if the House would ask Stanard to return the money.

"If there has been an abuse of public funds or if public funds were used in a way that's inappropriate, we would," Hughes said. "I don't have solid answers for those things. I would need to have a way that I would know conclusively that that is the case."

Phone and text messages to Stanard's personal cellphone were not returned, but it indicated he read the texts seeking comment. His lawyer, Wally Bugden, declined to comment and did not respond to a follow-up email asking if he was denying the allegations.

Hughes said he did not yet know the House's next steps to determine if the report was correct.

It was unclear if legislative leaders would be able to check whether Stanard used a state-issued cellphone to arrange encounters with the prostitute because it had been erased and no longer contained his text messages.

Hughes said he assumed Stanard erased his phone, not staffers, and he didn't know if there was a way to recover the texts.

House officials said they can't launch an ethics investigation because Stanard is no longer a lawmaker.

Stanard, who is married, had served five years in the House. He voted last year for stricter state prostitution laws, including raising the penalty for people who are convicted twice of solicitation.

The House announced his resignation Wednesday for "personal and family concerns" but did not offer details. That day, Stanard told the AP in a text message: "My father has terminal cancer and I am going to spend a few weeks with him out of state while I still can."

He did not offer additional information.

The DailyMail.com reported that a prostitute, Brie Taylor, said Stanard twice paid her for sex last year during business trips to Salt Lake City and that he arranged the meetings with a number for a state-issued phone listed on his legislative profile.

The news site posted screenshots of messages that Taylor said came from Stanard, but the phone number was blurred out.

Taylor did not respond to a text message asking her to confirm the phone number and declined to speak with the AP.

Stanard's 2017 campaign finance report shows he submitted an expense on March 10 for $1,510 for "extra hotel expense session lodging" at the "Marriott Residence."

Text messages in the DailyMail.com story allege that Stanard was arranging for a visit with Taylor at the Marriott Residence Inn on March 8.

Utah Elections Director Justin Lee said state law bars personal use of campaign funds and that election officials were looking over Stanard's reports.

The House speaker said that when Stanard met with him Tuesday night to tell him he was resigning, "there were issues that were weighing on him. What exactly and to the nature, I wasn't aware. But it was clear that his priority was with his family and was not here."

Hughes would not say if Stanard spoke about the allegations, calling it a personal conversation but "it ran the gamut of problems" and "I did not know there was a story coming, I'll just say that."

Salt Lake City police say they have no record related to solicitation allegations against Stanard. Unified Police Department of Salt Lake County said it had no record of contact with him.

"I was absolutely shocked. I had never heard anything, there was nothing in my interaction — I sit next to him on the House floor — nothing in my interaction that's ever suggesting anything even remotely close to what we're seeing today," GOP Rep. Mike McKell said.

___

Associated Press writers Brady McCombs and Lindsay Whitehurst contributed to this report.

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NY state troopers fly friend of school massacre victim to Florida for funeral

Published: Monday, February 19, 2018 @ 5:54 PM

Mourners leave the funeral Friday, Feb. 16, 2018, of Meadow Pollack, a victim of the Valentine's Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Pollack, 18, was one of 17 people slain in the massacre.
AP Photo/Gerald Herbert
Mourners leave the funeral Friday, Feb. 16, 2018, of Meadow Pollack, a victim of the Valentine's Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Pollack, 18, was one of 17 people slain in the massacre.(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Two New York state troopers are being credited with an immense kindness after they paid for the flight of a young woman to Florida to say goodbye to her friend, one of the 17 victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre. 

Jordana Judson, 23, told NBC News that she was devastated to learn that her childhood friend, Meadow Pollack, was among the victims of the Valentine’s Day shooting at her alma mater. Former Stoneman Douglas student Nikolas Cruz, 19, is accused of killing 14 students and three faculty members with an AR-15 rifle. 

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Pollack, an 18-year-old senior, and Judson were lifelong friends, NBC News reported.

“They were like our second family our whole lives,” Judson said of the Pollacks.

A photo of Meadow Pollack, one of the 17 victims killed in the Feb. 14, 2018, shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School sits against a cross as part of a public memorial in Parkland, Florida. Nikolas Cruz, a former student, was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder in the massacre.((AP Photo/Gerald Herbert))

Judson said she showed up at LaGuardia Airport on Thursday, the day after the shooting, frantic to get a flight home to Florida, where she’d grown up. 

“As soon as I got out of the car at the airport, I started hysterically crying,” she said. 

Troopers Robert Troy and Thomas Karasinski spotted the distraught young woman and asked if she was all right. She tearfully explained that a friend was killed in the school shooting in Florida and that she needed help figuring out where to buy her ticket. 

The troopers led her inside to the JetBlue counter, where an agent told her a one-way ticket to Florida would be almost $700, Judson told the news station. Unable to afford the cost, she begged the agent to lower the price or allow her a bereavement discount.

The agent could not accommodate her, and was about to give the ticket to another passenger when Troy and Karasinski stepped in.

“I look up, and the state troopers are standing there and they’re both handing over their credit cards,” Judson told NBC News. “I’m telling them that they don’t have to do this. This is crazy. They said, ‘It’s already done. We want you to be home with their families.’”

A rabbi who sat Shiva with the Pollack family confirmed that Judson made it home to be with the family and to attend Meadow’s funeral on Friday, where the Miami Herald reported that she was described as a star with “a smile like sunshine.”

Meadow’s father, Andrew Pollack, and her older brother, Hunter, both lamented the fact that they couldn’t protect her when she needed them.

“This piece of (expletive) killed my kid, and I couldn’t do anything about it,” Andrew Pollack said, according to the Herald. “That’s never happened to me in my life. I’m always able to protect my family in any situation.”

Hunter Pollack said he always looked out for his sister. 

“I wanted to be the over-supportive brother my whole life, and I feel like I failed,” Hunter said. “So all I can do is hope that (her killer) gets what he deserves.”

Judson told NBC News that the troopers’ gesture to get her to the funeral made her heart “full and heavy at the same time.”

New York State Police Superintendent George P. Beach II told the news station in a statement that, as law enforcement officials, all troopers take an oath to protect and serve. 

“We also instill in our members the importance of acting with respect and empathy for the people they encounter,” Beach said

Troy told the news station that he sympathized with Judson’s dilemma.

“The sense of just being there for your family and friends, you want to be there for them,” Troy said. “You’re going to go through anything to get there.”

Explaining that he has five younger sisters, the trooper said it was a “sigh of relief” to be able to help Judson.

“If that was one of them, I’d want someone to help them out,” he said. 

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Disney’s ‘Elsa’ helps to make birthday magical when girls’ guests are no-shows

Published: Monday, February 19, 2018 @ 12:34 PM

FILE PHOTO (Annca/Pixabay license https://pixabay.com/en/service/terms/#usage)
Annca/Pixabay
FILE PHOTO (Annca/Pixabay license https://pixabay.com/en/service/terms/#usage)(Annca/Pixabay)

Leyana had planned her birthday to a T. She even picked the right outfit. Then, the waiting began. Despite handing out invitations to everyone in Leyana’s class, no one showed up for the first-grader’s party, except for the actress who was hired to portray Elsa from Disney’s “Frozen.”

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Now, Lindsay Robert, who has been dressing up as Elsa and appearing at birthday parties, has reached out on Facebook to tell Leyana’s story.

"It was soul crushing. When I open the door, I’m used to all the kids running up to me. But she was just all by herself. Just looking down. Just so sad and she just launched herself into my arms,” Robert told KDVR.

During the time  she was scheduled to arrive, there was supposed to be a house-full of kids. But it was only Leyana so she and Robert danced, sang and formed a friendship, KDVR reported.

“I wasn’t kidding when I told you that every princess is smart and brave and kind, and you are all those things,” Robert told Leyana while KDVR videotaped the pair’s reunion.

Robert took to Facebook to tell Leyana’s heartbreaking story. Not only is she sending a fairy garden to the little girl, “Because Elsa will never let you down,” she also visited Leyana with her “sister,” an actress playing Anna, and is planning another surprise for the 7-year-old.

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Petition seeks military burial for Parkland JROTC cadet who died saving fellow students

Published: Monday, February 19, 2018 @ 2:33 PM

Petition Seeks Military Burial For Parkland JROTC Cadet

Peter Wang died proudly wearing his gray JROTC uniform, holding open doors so several of his classmates could escape the gunfire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last week. 

Though those classmates made it, Peter did not. And now, a White House petition has been established seeking full military honors at the burial of the 15-year-old freshman who was among 17 people killed in the Valentine’s Day school shooting.

As of Monday morning, the petition had reached just over 23,000 signatures. A petition must reach 100,000 signatures to get a response from the White House. 

The petition states that Peter was last seen, in uniform, holding doors open so that other students, teachers and staff members could escape.

“His selfless and heroic actions have led to the survival of dozens in the area,” the petition states. “Wang died a hero, and deserves to be treated as such, and deserves a full honors military burial.”

Friends of the teen said they want people to know how selfless he was, according to WPLG News 10 in Pembroke Park

“I want people to know that he died a hero; that he died saving many people,” friend and classmate Aiden Ortiz told the news station

His selflessness extended into his everyday actions, classmate Rachel Kuperman said. She recalled the last time she saw Peter, the day before he was slain. 

“I forgot my lunch that day, and he went to the vending machine with me and he bought me Sprite and candy and snacks,” Rachel said. “He put others before himself.”

Fox News reported that it would take government intervention for Peter to receive a military funeral, since JROTC does not provide basic training and thus does not count as military service. JROTC, or the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, is a federal program for middle and high school students that focuses on citizenship, service to the community and country and personal achievement.  

Peter was not the only JROTC cadet credited with springing into action that day. Colton Haab, a junior at Stoneman Douglas, heard gunshots and ushered several dozen people into the JROTC room.

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There, he and other cadets grabbed Kevlar sheets used for marksmanship practice and held them up in front of the students huddled together.

“We took those sheets and we put them in front of everybody so they weren’t seen, because they were behind a solid object and the Kevlar would slow the bullet down,” Colton told CNN the day after the shooting. “I didn’t think it was going to stop it, but it would definitely slow it down to make it from a catastrophic to a lifesaving thing.”

Peter’s cousin, Aaron Chen, described him to the Miami Herald as brave, while Peter’s best friend, Gabriel Ammirata, said he was “funny, nice and a great friend.”

“He’s been my best friend since third grade,” Gabriel told the Herald

Gabriel planned to celebrate Chinese New Year with Peter the day after the shooting at the Chinese restaurant Peter’s family owns, the Herald reported. Instead, he and members of Peter’s family started the new day frantically searching for information on Peter’s whereabouts. 

The teen’s parents speak Mandarin and very little English. 

Jesse Pan, a neighbor of Peter’s, has been sharing information about him and his funeral arrangements on social media. Peter’s family has a funeral planned for Tuesday at Kraeer Funeral Home, in Coral Springs.

An obituary on the funeral home’s website reiterates Peter’s ultimate sacrifice in the face of danger.

“He loved being in the JROTC and planned on attending (the) United States Military Academy at West Point,” the obituary read

Peter loved the Houston Rockets, hip-hop music, playing basketball and spending time with friends. He also aspired to become a world-renowned chef. 

He is survived by his parents and two younger brothers.

GoFundMe page created to help his family with expenses exceeded its $15,000 goal in just three days. 

Originally, proceeds (were) going to the help with misc. expenses, but the family has decided that they want to donate the money to Stoneman Douglas for their ROTC program,” the page creator, Chino Leong, wrote. “They want to ensure that future generations of kids are taught the same values that the program has instilled in Peter.”

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Homeless woman alerts police to missing teen

Published: Monday, February 19, 2018 @ 1:23 PM

Missing Teen Alerted To Police By Homeless Woman

A homeless woman alerted police about a missing teen as he was boarding a bus to leave town, according to reports. 

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Caroline Davis saw the 15-year-old boy Feb. 15, but did not recognize him as the missing teen until she saw him again Saturday as he was boarding a Silverline bus, according to WXMI

"I’m out here sleeping, homeless, and I know how dangerous it is and if I’m scared. I know good and well he was scared," Davis told WXMI. “Just stay home and stay safe, because these streets are no joke.”

The boy had been reported missing Feb. 13, according to police. He was being held by police on a juvenile-related charge, according to WXMI.

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