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Three Men Found Guilty For Defrauding Investors In Wyoming Natural Gas Schemes

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Three men were found guilty by a federal jury in Cheyenne this week stemming from two schemes to defraud investors in Wyoming and elsewhere in the United States.

Justin Herman, 50, of Pennsylvania and Charles Winters Jr., 61, of Florida were convicted of fraud and identity theft crimes. Ian Horn, 67, of Florida was acquitted of the charged fraud crimes, but convicted of making a false statement to the grand jury.

According to court documents and evidence presented at trial, Herman and Winters conspired with  Robert “Bob” Mitchell, who pleaded guilty earlier this year, to “pump and dump” NuTech Energy Resources Inc. stock.

A “pump and dump” scheme is a form of securities fraud where the conspirators manipulate demand for a stock and the stock’s price, and then sell their worthless shares of the stock to the public at the artificially high price.

In this case, the conspirators bought control of a publicly traded shell company called EcoEmissions Solutions Inc. and changed the company’s name to NuTech Energy Resources, whose stock was sold under the ticker symbol NERG.

The conspirators released information online to create a false image for NuTech as a company located in Gillette that was operating gas wells in Wyoming using a patented technology. In reality, NuTech had no business, no revenue and no paid employees in Wyoming or elsewhere.  

As part of the conspiracy, Herman and Winters used altered, backdated and forged documents to acquire 13 billion free-trading shares of NuTech common stock.

The conspirators then artificially inflated the market price of NuTech common stock by manipulative trading and releasing to the public false and misleading information about NuTech’s business prospects.

When the market price increased based on this false information, the conspirators turned around and sold their worthless NuTech shares to unwitting investors in the public market, including people in Wyoming and around the world. 

According to the indictment, more than $1.3 million was stolen from about three dozen investors, most of whome lived in and around Gillette.

Horn is a Florida-licensed attorney. As part of the investigation, he was subpoenaed to testify before the grand jury in January 2019 because his name appeared on documents related to NuTech and because the money used by Mitchell and Herman to buy control of EcoEmissions was transferred through Horn’s bank accounts.

The jury found that Horn lied during his grand jury testimony about NuTech-related email communications that he falsely claimed he lost and could not access despite having access to his email and was forwarding relevant messages to Herman in December 2018.  

Herman and Winters were each found guilty of conspiracy to commit securities fraud, securities fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and multiple counts of aggravated identity theft.

Herman faces a mandatory two-year prison sentence and could be sentenced to a maximum of 53 years in prison.

Winters also faces a mandatory two-year prison sentence and could be sentenced to a  maximum of 49 years in prison.

Horn was found guilty of making a false statement to the grand  jury and could be sentenced to a maximum of five years in prison.

The defendants are scheduled to be sentenced  on Jan. 5, 2022.  

Mitchell is scheduled to be sentenced on Friday and could be sentenced to a maximum of 25 years in prison.  

“These convictions are the direct result of a diligent investigation by a hardworking Postal  Inspector and our partners at the Department of Interior Office of Inspector General and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Wyoming,” said Ruth Mendonça, Inspector in Charge of the Denver Division, which includes Wyoming. “Working together, their perseverance unraveled the  defendants’ complex scheme to defraud over 2,300 victims and delivered the justice that each  victim deserved. We are proud of the efforts to uphold the mission of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service to protect postal customers and consumers from fraudsters.”

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Wyoming Man Who Shot Other Man Over Song On Radio Pleads Guilty

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A man accused of shooting another over a song on the radio in a pickup truck changed his plea to guilty this week.

Ronald Blaise Jenkins, 25, pleaded guilty to using and carrying a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence this week. He will be sentenced on Dec. 20.

Jenkins was initially charged in May in U.S. District Court with assault with a dangerous weapon and assault resulting in serious bodily injury.

According to an affidavit filed by Bureau of Indian Affairs special agent Michael Shockley, his investigation into the shooting of a man identified only as “W.S.” revealed that the shooting occurred as the result of a disagreement over a song on the radio while he and Jenkins were in a truck.

W.S. had been riding in a pickup truck with three other men, including Jenkins, drinking alcohol and listening to music on the radio.

Two of the men in the truck said W.S. and Jenkins began arguing about a song on the radio and then prepared to fight over the issue.

At that point, Jenkins shot W.S. over the argument.

Jenkins told investigators W.S. had played a song on the radio he did not like and the two began arguing.

He said W.S. got out of the back seat of the pickup truck, opened the door to the seat where Jenkins was sitting and punched him in the face.

Jenkins said he had broken his neck several years earlier and the attack made him afraid for his life. He said he found a gun on the floor of the pickup truck and was pointing it at W.S. when “it just went off.”

W.S., meanwhile, told investigators he did not remember what the argument was about, but that both he and Jenkins got out of the truck and were preparing to fight when Jenkins pulled a pistol out.

The victim said he charged Jenkins in an attempt to take the pistol away from him, but was unsuccessful and Jenkins fired.

The affidavit said W.S. was helped into the emergency room at SageWest Hospital in Riverton by two men who left him there.

The investigation was conducted by the Bureau of Indian Affairs Wind River Police Department,  with assistance from the Riverton Police Department. Assistant United States Attorney Kerry J.  Jacobson prosecuted the case.

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Coroner: Gabby Petito Died By Strangulation, Body Left In Woods For Weeks

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14187

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gabby Petito died by strangulation and her body was left in Bridger-Teton National Park for three to four weeks before police found her, the Teton County coroner announced on Tuesday.

Dr. Brent Blue held a news conference to announce the manner and cause of death for Petito, whose body was found in the woods almost one month ago. Her death was ruled a homicide not long after she was found, but Blue officially announced the cause this week.

He could not reveal much information about how his office determined the manner of death or how they knew Petito had been in the woods for as long as she had, due to a Wyoming state statute. He also could not say whether Petito was killed in the woods and left there or if she had been killed elsewhere and her body was left in the park.

Blue also could not reveal an approximate date of death, but confirmed Petito’s remains have been released to a local mortuary, which will work with her family to return her to them.

Petito’s fiance, Brian Laundrie, is a person of interest in the investigation into her death, but has been missing since Sept. 17.

John Walsh, former host of “America’s Most Wanted,” questioned Blue about his thoughts on whether or not Laundrie was Petito’s killer.

“I think everybody in the world believes that Brian Laundrie killed Gabby,” he said.

Blue could not attest to who killed Petito, and continued to affirm her manner and cause of death only.

One reporter questioned Blue about why it took so long to get the autopsy results.

“The reason was that we were very exacting on our examination and the detail by which the examination was done,” Blue said. “It was just a matter of making sure we had everything right.”

Blue also confirmed that law enforcement took DNA samples from Petito’s remains.

Petito and Laundrie had been traveling the country in a van. On Sept. 1, Laundrie returned to his home in Florida with the fan and without Petito. She was reported missing on Sept. 11.

A warrant has been issued for Laundrie’s arrest by the federal court in Cheyenne. The warrant does not accuse Laundrie of any role in Petito’s death, but accuses of him of unlawfully using a credit card in the days following her disappearance.

Police from various departments are searching for Laundrie. The case has also attracted national attention, meaning that the FBI and even reality star Duane “Dog the Bounty Hunter” Chapman have gotten involved in the search for Laundrie.

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Driver Abandons Car After Smashing Into Building; Leaves Wallet & Driver’s License in Vehicle

in News/Crime
14170

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

If there were a criminals’ handbook, you would think there could be a section on covering your tracks after committing a crime.

Sadly, for one individual in Cheyenne, there is no such handbook.

A yet-to-be-identified driver plowed into a Cheyenne building on Monday night and abandoned the vehicle. The only problem with that strategy is a wallet was left behind containing a drivers’ license.

The Cheyenne Police Department brought up the hit and run on Facebook Tuesday morning noting the presence of identification in the vehicle which was firmly ensconced in Needs, Inc., a Cheyenne food pantry.

“To the woman who felt compelled to donate her Subaru to Needs, inc. shortly after midnight, they’re no longer taking vehicle donations,” the department wrote.

“However, we do have your wallet and ID so feel free to come on back over and we can help you put together some of these puzzles you knocked off the shelves,” the post said.

The nonprofit organization seemed to take the collision in stride despite having to close down for the foreseeable future.

“Please remember our donation hours are Monday & Tuesday 8:30am-6pm and Wednesday & Thursday 8:30am-4pm. Unfortunately, we do not accept cars. We are truly grateful for the support of the Cheyenne Police Department,” the post read.

Of course, it could have been an elaborate set-up where someone stole the car and planted the ID. But that’s for the sleuths at the police department to figure out.

Needs, Inc. is the largest food pantry in Laramie County. The organization clothed more than 3,300 people in 2020.

By 5 a.m. Tuesday, Needs boards members and some other volunteers came out to the building to help clean up and board up the broken window.

Around $130 had been raised for Needs as of 10 a.m. Tuesday.

Anyone who saw the crash or has information about the driver’s whereabouts is encouraged to contact the police department at jmaule@cheyennepd.org.

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Drunk, Meth-Using Montana Man Gets Prison For Multi-Stolen Vehicle High Speed Chases, Crashes

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14080

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By CJ Baker, Powell Tribune

A Montana man who traveled to Park County in a stolen truck and then led police on a high-speed chase in another stolen vehicle is headed to prison.

In Park County District Court last week, 27-year-old Garrett Bailey pleaded guilty to a felony count of theft and accepted a five- to seven-year prison sentence for his actions last winter.

The sentence, which was the result of a plea deal, also calls for Bailey to pay more than $7,000 to cover the damage he did to the two stolen vehicles and to repair a Wyoming Highway Patrol vehicle damaged in February’s pursuit.

“I would like to give an apology to the victims for damages caused, any trouble caused, as well as anybody potentially put in danger,” Bailey told District Court Judge Bill Simpson.

Authorities say Bailey arrived in Park County around Feb. 21, driving a 2004 Ford Ranger he’d stolen from Harding County, New Mexico. He told Powell police he’d intended to take the vehicle back to his home in Butte, Montana, but he got stuck in a snowdrift on Wyo. Highway 294 outside Ralston. Bailey abandoned the truck and, a couple days later, stole a 2015 Ford Edge that had been left running in the Blair’s Super Market parking lot.

The owner quickly alerted authorities, who spotted Bailey driving the vehicle outside of Cody. Officers attempted to pull him over on Beacon Hill Road, but Bailey fled, starting a high-speed pursuit that would stretch miles south of Cody on Wyo. Highway 120. According to an affidavit from Trooper Randall Davis, Bailey reached speeds of up to 125 mph on the highway.

Bailey later turned into the Oregon Basin area and Davis “missed the turn and slid off into the borrow ditch and snow, getting the patrol vehicle stuck.” The trooper’s vehicle sustained $3,109 of damage.

Bailey later came racing out of Oregon Basin and attempted to continue his flight, but he was thwarted by a set of spike strips deployed by Park County Sheriff’s Deputy Allen Cooper. Two of the tires deflated and, after driving on rims for a couple miles, Bailey pulled over.

He tried pretending that he wasn’t the driver, stripping down to his long johns and concocting a story in which he’d been kidnapped in Powell by a man in a dark mask. But Powell Police Investigator Chris Wallace didn’t buy it — for one thing, he obtained surveillance footage that showed Bailey stealing the Ford Edge from Blair’s — and Bailey fessed up, charging documents say.

At the time of his arrest, Bailey failed sobriety tests and he told police he’d been drinking and had used both meth and marijuana earlier in the day. A DUI charge, plus two other misdemeanor counts and two additional felonies were dismissed by the Park County Attorney’s Office as part of the deal.

Bailey agreed to plead guilty, but wavered during the Sept. 29 hearing, asking Judge Simpson if he could plead no contest instead. At the judge’s suggestion, Bailey did plead guilty, but without testifying about his actions.

He was also ordered to pay $1,077.91 for the damage caused to the Ford Edge stolen from Blair’s and $2,864.08 to the Harding County, New Mexico, government for the damage he did to their Ford Ranger.

Bailey’s defense attorney, Tim Blatt, said the payment will resolve the New Mexico case.

“They’ve indicated that, pursuant to the action … taken by Park County, they do not plan on filing any charges down in Harding County, New Mexico, and are going to be satisfied with the restitution they received from this particular case,” Blatt said.

Judge Simpson questioned whether any of the victims had already been compensated by their insurance companies, “because we want to make sure that there is no double payment.”

However, Deputy Park County Attorney Jack Hatfield noted the Wyoming Supreme Court has ruled that it’s irrelevant whether a victim has been made whole by their insurer; the court has held multiple times that double payment is an issue for a victim and an insurer to work out, saying in a 2020 ruling that it would be “absurd” for a defendant to owe nothing for the damage they caused. Hatfield did agree, however, that the insurance payments were relevant as to which victim should be paid first.

The judge asked Bailey to pay at least 25% of whatever income he earns in prison to his court fines and then his restitution, though it’s unlikely that income will be significant.

The roughly seven months that Bailey has served in the Park County Detention Center since his Feb. 23 arrest will count toward his prison sentence — and he also will likely receive a reduction for good behavior both in jail and in prison.

The hearing slowed after Bailey asked whether he’d receive a reduction, known as “good time,” for the 219 days he’d spent in custody in Cody. Simpson suggested the judgment and sentence document should include that figure.

“It would be most helpful to have that number,” Simpson said, who expressed frustration that the plea agreement and other details hadn’t been submitted in advance of the hearing. The judge apologized to Bailey about “these loose ends that are coming up.”

However, Hatfield said it’s up to the Department of Corrections to calculate good time, Blatt agreed and the hearing moved on.

As of Wednesday, Bailey remained in the Cody jail, awaiting transport to prison. Simpson said the defendant would likely be assigned to a medium security facility in Newcastle.

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Woman Gets Jail Time For Getting Too Close to Grizzly Bears

in Yellowstone/News/Grizzly Bears/Crime
14058

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

An Illinois woman who was caught on video getting too close to grizzly bears in Yellowstone National Park earlier this year received four days in jail as punishment this week.

Samantha R. Dehring, 25, pleaded guilty to willfully remaining, approaching, and photographing wildlife within 100 yards. The other count, feeding, touching, teasing, frightening or intentionally disturbing wildlife, was dismissed.

Dehring appeared in front of Magistrate Judge Mark L. Carman in Mammoth Hot Springs, Wyoming on Wednesday for her change of plea and sentencing hearing.

She was sentenced to four days in custody, one-year of unsupervised probation and ordered to pay a $1,000 fine, a $1,000 community service payment to the Yellowstone Forever Wildlife Protection Fund, a $30 court processing fee and a $10 assessment.

Dehring also received a one-year ban from Yellowstone National Park.  

According to the violation notices, Dehring was at Roaring Mountain in Yellowstone National Park on May 10, when visitors noticed a sow grizzly and her three cubs.

While other visitors slowly backed off and got into their vehicles, Dehring remained. She continued to take pictures as the sow bluff charged her.  

“Wildlife in Yellowstone National Park are, indeed, wild. The park is not a zoo where animals  can be viewed within the safety of a fenced enclosure. They roam freely in their natural habitat  and when threatened will react accordingly,” said Acting United States Attorney Bob Murray.  “Approaching a sow grizzly with cubs is absolutely foolish. Here, pure luck is why Dehring is a  criminal defendant and not a mauled tourist.” 

According to the National Park Service, a bluff charge is the more common type of charge and is meant to scare or intimidate. If a bluff charge is about to happen, a person is supposed to slowly back away from the bear while waving their arms above their head and speaking to the bear in a calm voice.

People should not run when a bear bluff charges, because it may trigger the animal to attack.

According to Yellowstone National Park regulations, when an animal is near a trail, boardwalk, parking lot, or in a developed area, give it space. Stay 25 yards away from all large animals – bison, elk, bighorn sheep, deer, moose, and coyotes and at least 100 yards away from bears and wolves.

If need be, turn around and go the other way to avoid interacting with a wild animal in close proximity.

This case was investigated by Yellowstone National Park Rangers and was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Stephanie Hambrick.

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Man Faces Life In Prison For Kidnapping Another Man In Yellowstone

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A man is facing life in prison for holding another man at knifepoint in Yellowstone National Park last week.

Gregory Michael Samuel Toth was charged this week in federal court with assault with a dangerous weapon and kidnapping, both felonies. The kidnapping charge comes with a maximum penalty of life in prison.

He was also charged with: misappropriation of property, possession of marijuana, driving under the influence and having an open container of an alcoholic beverage.

In total, Toth faces up to life in prison, up to $520,000 in fines, up to five years of supervised release and $240 in special assessment fees.

According to court documents, around 6:20 a.m. on Oct. 1, law enforcement officers were dispatched by Yellowstone staff for a report of an assault. The victim called dispatch from the Fishing Bridge RV Park (where the assault occurred), and was told to drive to the West Thumb Junction along the Grand Loop Road.

The victim, who was with a co-worker, was worried the assailant (later identified as Toth) was following them and would confront them before law enforcement arrived on the scene.

Park ranger Jill Paxton arrived the on the scene and met with the victim and his co-worker. The victim told the ranger that he had known Toth for about 32 years and that Toth had recently been released from prison for assaulting and kidnapping an ex-girlfriend.

The victim had vouched for Toth to get a job at Triple A Construction Company and the two men shared a trailer at the RV park in Yellowstone.

The victim noted that Toth was normally talkative, but on the afternoon of Sept. 30, he’d become quiet and was watching the victim “unusually” close. When the victim would ask Toth questions, he would reply with one-word answers, which was abnormal.

That evening, the victim and another co-worker drove to Cody to go to the Walmart there. While at the store, Toth called the victim and began to accuse him of sleeping with Toth’s ex-girlfriend.

Toth told the victim that he knew where he was and that he would come to Cody to “find the car and deal with [them] properly.”

As the victim and his co-worker drove home, they encountered Toth parked in a travel lane going toward Cody with his bright headlights on. The victim and his co-worker avoided the truck and drove back to the trailer at a high rate of speed to avoid Toth.

The victim got home and fell asleep. He was awoken around 5:20 a.m. to Toth calling his cell phone. The victim did not answer, but soon after hear someone banging on the door of the trailer. This alternated with Toth calling the victim’s phone.

As the victim went to open the door of the trailer, Toth pushed on the door and rushed into the building. Toth threw the victim down to the ground and wrapped his hands around the man’s neck, choking him.

While doing this, Toth took out a knife and pressed it against the victim’s neck and told him he would kill him “for what [the victim’s] done.” Toth did this several times, calling the victim a liar and saying he knew the truth, meaning that he knew the victim was sleeping with Toth’s ex-girlfriend.

It should be noted that the victim said he has never met Toth’s ex-girlfriend.

After a few minutes, Toth let the victim up and made him sit in the victim’s room and said “Don’t worry, I’ll give you a chance before I kill you. I’ll let you try and fight me, then I’ll shoot you in the head.”

Toth went through an old phone of the victim’s to find evidence of a relationship between him and the ex-girlfriend, but was unable to do so. He then accused the victim of deleting all messages between him and the ex-girlfriend.

The victim said Toth drank a large amount of vodka that night and that he used marijuana. He noted that Toth’s most recent arrest included a charge for methamphetamine, but couldn’t say whether or not he had taken any of that drug that night.

Toth also accused everyone at their construction company with helping the victim to cover up the relationship between him and the ex-girlfriend.

Toth began grabbing items belonging to the victim and an old roommate, telling the victim to get into Toth’s truck.

Once allowed outside of the trailer, the victim ran toward a co-worker who was driving to work at Old Faithful. The co-worker did not see Toth, but confirmed the victim told him he’d been strangled and that Toth threatened to kill him.

During this time, other park rangers located Toth, who was driving his truck in the RV park. He was detained around 8 a.m., but tried to tell police that he saw his “girl’s” number in the victim’s phone and that he did not hurt the victim, but that the two had an argument.

He also said he did not hold the victim at knifepoint, but affirmed he pushed the victim onto the couch. He insisted he did not hold a knife to the victim or choke him.

While talking with law enforcement, Toth did admit to probably being guilty of battery, but that he didn’t go to an extreme.

“It’s my bad,” he told police.

Toth consented to a blood draw, but told police that his blood would be “hot” and that he had “used dope,” but did not specify as to what that meant. Police could smell alcohol on Toth’s breath and noted his eyes were glassy and bloodshot.

Police later found three marijuana joints on Toth’s person.

While searching his truck, police found a black folding knife that matched the victim’s description, a nearly empty vodka bottle and a metal baton.

The co-worker that took the victim to Walmart the night prior overhead a conversation between the two men in which the victim asked Toth why he was behaving in such a strange way and that they had been friends for 30 years.

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Brian Laundrie’s Sister Insists She Doesn’t Know Where He Is

in Missing people/News/Crime
14004

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The sister of Brian Laundrie said during an interview with ABC News this week that she does not know where her fugitive brother is.

Laundrie has been the subject of a nationwide manhunt since mid-September, when the body of his girlfriend, Gabby Petito, was found in Bridger-Teton National Park. Petito’s death is considered a homicide and Laundrie is considered a “person of interest” in the case.

Laundrie and Petito were traveling the country in a van and Laundrie returned to his home in Florida on Sept. 1 without Petito. Ten days later, the woman was reported missing by her family. Her body was found Sept. 19.

“I wish he had come to me that first day with the van, because I don’t think we’d be here,” Cassie Laundrie said in an interview on Tuesday. “I worry about him. I hope he’s OK, and then I’m angry with him and I don’t know what to think.”

The couple was documenting their travels on a YouTube channel and on social media.

Laundrie is wanted by the FBI for fraud for illegal use of someone else’s credit card.

Cassie Laundrie encouraged her brother to come forward and get the family out of this “horrible mess.”

She said the last time she saw her brother in person was Sept. 6. She added she has tried getting in touch with him multiple times via phone since then.

She also noted that she and her son were with the Laundrie family, including Brian, on a camping trip just days before Petito’s body was found.

“There was nothing peculiar about it,” Cassie Laundrie said. “There was no feeling of a grand goodbye. There was nothing. I’m frustrated in hindsight that I didn’t pick up on anything.”

Cassie Laundrie added that she has been cooperating with police since the investigation started and called on her parents to do the same thing. Last month, the FBI searched the Laundrie family’s home to look for evidence regarding the Petito case.

“To tell the truth, I don’t know if my parents are involved,” Cassie Laundrie said. “If they are, they should come clean.”

Despite describing her brother as a “mediocre survivalist,” Cassie Laundrie said she wouldn’t be surprised if he could last a long time out in the wilderness.

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Sheridan Man Pleads Guilty To Exploiting 8-Year-Old In Idaho

in News/Crime
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Sheridan man pleaded guilty to sexual exploitation of a minor child in U.S. District Court in Idaho this week in connection with allegations he asked another man to produce child pornography for him.

James Colton Giannell, 23, of Sheridan, pleaded guilty to the charge Monday after being indicted by a federal grand jury in Pocatello, Idaho, on Aug. 25, 2020.

According to court records, Giannell admitted that he asked Andrew John Jemmett, over the Internet, to produce child pornography for him in April 2019, while Jemmett was in Idaho.

Jemmett used an 8-year-old child to create pornographic videos that he sold online to Giannell for $150. The videos were produced in a public restroom in Pocatello.

Jemmett later used Snapchat to share the videos with Giannell.

Law enforcement interviewed Giannell following his arrest and Giannell admitted to requesting and paying for the videos to be produced.

Giannell will be sentenced on Jan. 4, 2022 and faces anywhere between 15 and 30 years in federal prison, a maximum fine of $250,000 and up to a lifetime of supervised release. A federal district court judge will determine the sentence after considering federal sentencing guidelines and other factors.

Acting U.S. Attorney Rafael M. Gonzalez Jr., of the District of Idaho made the announcement and commended the cooperative efforts of Homeland Security Investigations in Idaho Falls, the Idaho Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, Pocatello Police Department, and Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, which led to charges.

This case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice.

As part of Project Safe Childhood, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Idaho and the Idaho Attorney General’s Office partner to marshal federal, state and local resources to better locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the Internet, as well as to identify and rescue victims.

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Unlike Most of Country, Wyoming’s Crime Rate Hasn’t Soared; Credit Gun Culture, Says Wyo Top Cop

in News/Crime
Byron Oedekoven, the executive director of the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police
13922

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Statistics released by the FBI earlier this week showed that murders spiked across the country in 2020, and Wyoming followed suit — to a degree.

However, the state’s total of 17 murders in all of 2020 are fewer than the number of murders that occur in one weekend in some large cities.

This was an increase of 21.4% from the 14 murders seen in 2019.

Byron Oedekoven, executive director of the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police, believes that Wyoming has so few murders because of the population’s overall friendly disposition coupled with a love of guns.

“It’s not as contentious or lawless here as a number of states that have murder rates going up,” he told Cowboy State Daily on Friday. “Plus, the odds of starting something somebody else might finish are pretty good.”

Oedekoven noted that Wyoming also doesn’t have the gang violence common to large cities such as Washington, D.C., Portland or Chicago, which contributes to the state’s low murder rate.

“Generally speaking, homicide victims in Wyoming know their assailant and I think it would be incumbent upon us to take a peek at the makeup of those homicides,” Oedekoven said. “I doubt you’re finding the stranger danger too often here.”

According to statistics website Statista, Wyoming was third in the nation for the lowest number of murders in 2020, behind New Hampshire with 12 and Vermont with 14.

The total number of murders seen in Wyoming in 2020 was an increase of 21.4% over the 14 murders reported in 2019 and is the highest number reported since 2016, when 20 people were murdered.

According to FBI statistics, the number of murders in the U.S. jumped by nearly 30% in 2020 compared to 2019, the largest single-year increase ever recorded in the country. The data showed there were 21,570 homicides in the United States last year, 4,901 more than in 2019.

The FBI said the national average homicide rate in 2020 was 6.5 per 100,000 people, whereas Wyoming’s murder rate would be 0.3 per 100,000 people.

While the nation’s murder rate is still below the historic peaks seen in the 1990s, the 2020 figures show the problem is much more widespread, according to NPR.

The FBI data showed murder increased more on a percentage basis in cities with a population between 10,000 and 25,000 than in cities of 250,000 to 1 million.

Much of the violence involved firearms, with nearly 77% of murders being committed with some sort of gun.

NPR reported that researchers said a range of factors contribute to annual homicide variations, and the turmoil of 2020 — including the coronavirus pandemic and the fallout from George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis by police — likely played a role in the increase of homicides last year.

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