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Texas man busted at border with Mexican artifacts

Brett Barrouquere

Trade in rare Mexican artifacts may be a lucrative business, but smuggling them into the country is illegal.

A Texas man found that out when he was indicted last week. Federal prosecutors in Pecos charged Andrew Marion Kowalik of Rockport with two counts of trying to sneak in “prehistoric flaked stone artifacts such as projectile points, knives and other stone tools.”

Prosecutors put a value on the items of $5,000.00 or more and said the items were stolen or someone was defrauded out of the items. Kowalik has pleaded not guilty.

Thousands of relics smuggled out of Latin America in recent years remain in the hands of private collectors in the United States and Europe.

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Central American gang’s tentacles reach deep into Texas

BY JULIÁN AGUILAR

HOUSTON — It’s the savagery that most bothers veteran police officer George Rhyne. He can’t name other gangs in Houston — or anywhere else that he’s aware of — that have used machetes to hack their enemies to death.

For state Department of Public Safety Regional Commander Philip Duane Steen, it’s the brutality combined with the gang’s propensity for bucking one of the traditional rules adhered to by most foreign gangs: Don’t draw attention to yourself in the United States.

Whatever the reasons, the Mara Salvatrucha, better known as the MS-13, has steadily risen to the top of the state’s list of notorious gangs, now considered more of a threat to Texas public safety than larger and older criminal groups including the Aryan Brotherhood, the Bandidos motorcycle club and the border-based Barrio Azteca gang.

The gang’s roots can be traced to 1980s California, when imprisoned Central American immigrants coalesced to protect themselves from rival Hispanic prison gangs.

When the United States began aggressively deporting criminals in the 1990s, thousands of the Salvadorans were sent home, taking with them the gang culture that included recruiting vulnerable youths and convicts. The gang’s savagery flourished in the aftermath of El Salvador’s vicious civil war of the 1980s and early 1990s, analysts say.

“Many current gang leaders grew up witnessing extreme violence in their homes and communities. Some were displaced to cities in the United States or neighboring countries (such as Costa Rica), whereas others were left behind by parents who died or fled during the conflict,” Clare Ribando Seelke, a specialist in Latin American affairs for the Congressional Research Service, wrote in an August 2016 analysis.

MS-13 has since evolved into a more sophisticated organization, sustaining itself through drug and human trafficking, extortion and forced recruitment. According to the 2016 Congressional Research Service analysis, some members also freelance and perform contract killings for some of Mexico’s drug cartels.

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After a lull in 2015 border apprehensions spiked in 2016

by JULIAN AGUILAR, The Texas Tribune

The number of families that were apprehended or turned themselves in to U.S. Border Patrol agents in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley swelled by 90 percent during the government’s 2016 fiscal year over the previous year, according to Department of Homeland Securitystatisticsreleased Monday.

Meanwhile, the number of children traveling alone that landed in the agency’s custody in that sector increased by more than 50 percent during the same time. The federal government’s fiscal year runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30.

Agents in the Rio Grande Valley came across about 52,000 families and about 36,700 unaccompanied minors during the 2016 fiscal year. That’s compared to 27,400 and 23,864 respectively in 2015.

Overall, the total number of apprehensions on the country’s southwest border increased by more than 77,500 to 408,870 in 2016 compared to the prior year’s 331,333.

The 2016 figures represent the second time in three years that Central Americans outnumbered Mexicans caught trying to cross the southern border illegally. The trend continues a pattern that began in 2014, when tens of thousands of Central Americans from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras began fleeing violence and poverty and arriving at the Texas-Mexico border to seek asylum from U.S. officials.

Though the Rio Grande Valley is the epicenter of the problem, the figures show that every Border Patrol sector in Texas saw at least a double-digit percentage increase in apprehensions in 2016. In the Del Rio sector, apprehensions of unaccompanied minors increased by 18 percent and family units by 66 percent. In Big Bend, the increases were 13 and 30 percent, respectively.

The Laredo sector saw a 20 percent increase in apprehensions of minors and family units, while the El Paso sector, which includes New Mexico, saw an increase in minor apprehensions of 134 percent — from 1,662 in 2015 to 3,885 in 2016. The increase is even larger — 364 percent — for family units apprehended in El Paso. In 2015 agents there processed 1,220 family units. That number jumped to 5,664 in 2016.

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Key Republican legislator questions $1 billion border security request

By Sean Collins Wals

After the Texas Department of Public Safety’s request for $1 billion over two years to expand the state’s unprecedented border security campaign, the legislator who authored the centerpiece of the current border-funding package is now questioning whether state taxpayers should continue to pay for what has traditionally been a federal responsibility.

“We’re heading into a budget where we don’t have billions of dollars in surplus,” said Dennis Bonnen, an Angleton Republican who heads the Texas House Ways and Means Committee, at a Tuesday hearing of a separate committee that focuses on border security. “I’m not sure that the taxpayers of Texas, who are also taxpayers to the federal government, have untold tax dollars to support a role of the federal government.”

Bonnen said he was increasingly frustrated that federal agencies haven’t adequately secured the border.

The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol’s annual budget exceeds $13 billion, and total federal spending on border security and immigration efforts is more than $18 billion.

“I’ll be candid: I’m starting to lose patience,” Bonnen said. “If the federal government and Border Patrol made this a real priority, they could resolve this problem.”

Bonnen’s comments come as state lawmakers brace for the legislative session that begins in January, when they will have to grapple with decreasing revenue caused by low oil and gas prices, increasing demands on scandal-plagued programs for vulnerable children and, as always, calls for tax cuts.

Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, have instructed most state agencies to prepare for 4 percent budget cuts, but they exempted several spending areas, including border security.

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Why isn’t texting and driving banned in Texas?

Texas is one of four states that have not completely outlawed texting and driving. Even Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands have banned it.

We wanted to know: why doesn’t Texas follow the herd?

Since 2011, Representative Tom Craddick (R) has authored a texting and driving bill three times. His bills have either been vetoed or sat on, and this year, he’s proposing a ban again.

A texting driver killed 25-year-old Chance Wilcox in 2008. His mom, Shell Ralls, has supported Craddick’s legislation for years.

“You have no reason or right, while driving, to take your eyes off the road,” Ralls said.

Ralls was paying close attention to Craddick’s texting and driving ban push in 2011. Former Texas Governor, Rick Perry, vetoed the legislation calling it a, “government effort to micromanage the behavior of adults.”

Perry explained education and information are strong options to combat texting-and-driving-related accidents.

KHOU 11 News did some digging and found out the state of Texas has spent $2,668,434.49 on the Talk.Text.Crash Campaign from 2014 to 2015. The funds for this program are federal funds received from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. According to the Texas Department of Transportation’s website, the campaign raises awareness of the dangers associated with distracted driving and encourages Texans to put down their cell phones while driving.

Diving into the state’s data we found out four more key distracted driving statistics:

In 2014 there were 101,024 crashes and 482 fatalities.

In 2015 there were 106,001 crashes and 479 fatalities.

A state spokesperson warned more people driving on Texas roads could affect the distracted driving numbers. Also, not all distracted driving crashes involve texting and driving, all forms of distracted driving are lumped together.

Without statistics showing that texting and driving accidents and deaths are declining, KHOU 11 News asked Representative Craddick, what’s keeping Texas from joining 46 other states with complete bans?

“We’ve got kind of a libertarian caucus over there that thinks you’re taking away people’s rights when you’re saying you can’t text,” Craddick said.

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Murder Map Houston: The Locations of Infamous Local Murders

BY OLIVIA FLORES ALVAREZ

Houston makes national news all the time. Sometimes it’s our sports teams, sometimes it’s the happenings over at NASA, a breakthrough at the Medical Center or our atrocious weather that’s in the headlines. And sometimes it’s Houston murders. Here are four Houston murders that made news and, in three cases, changed the justice system.

It was public pressure surrounding the 1977 murder Joe Campos Torres by Houston Police officers that prompted HPD to create an internal affairs division. Torres was 23 years old, and according to newspaper reports at the time, the Mexican-American Vietnam vet was known to have a drinking problem. In newspaper interviews, his family said he often became quarrelsome when he was drunk.

On May 5, 1977, Torres was arrested for a disturbance at an East End bar. Instead of taking him directly to jail, the six officers who responded to the call took Torres to “The Hole,” a spot along the banks of Buffalo Bayou near the 1200 block of Commerce, where they beat him. A lot.

They then took him to the city jail where he was deemed too injured for intake. Instead of transporting Torres to a hospital as they had been told to do, the six officers returned him to The Hole and beat him. Again.

At one point, HPD officer Terry W. Denson pushed Torres into the bayou, saying, ““Let’s see if the wetback can swim.” Apparently the drunk and injured Torres couldn’t. His body was found floating in the bayou two days later. It was Mother’s Day.

The Mexican-American community was outraged by the death and Torres’s family demanded justice.

That October, Denson and another officer, Stephen Orlando, were tried on murder charges and an all-white jury found them guilty of negligent homicide, a misdemeanor. Their sentence was one year probation and a $1 dollar fine.

Houston’s Mexican-American community’s outrage grew

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Potter County Judge: Nothing wrong with voting machines

By Ron Balaskovitz

Potter County Judge Nancy Tanner issued a statement Tuesday denying social media claims that local voting machines are changing votes.

“There is nothing wrong with any of the machines we use for voting,” Tanner said in her statement. “They do not flip your vote. They do not flip parties. Humans do that.”

Tanner said she verified with Potter County Elections Administrator Melynn Huntley that there have been no problems with the machines.

In Randall County there has been one reported incident of an irregularity, Tanner said.

A voter said they cast a straight-ticket ballot and, when they hit the vote button, it flipped parties. It was reported to an election official. The ballot was canceled and the voter allowed to vote again on another machine, Tanner said.

“I urge the voters to take the opportunity to review their ballot before they hit the vote button,” Tanner said. “As everyone knows, our fingers don’t always do what our brain tells them.”

Tanner also said that voters cannot request a paper ballot as is being reported by many people making posts on social media.

Local voting machines are both calibrated and tested daily….

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REPORT: VOTES SWITCHED FROM TRUMP TO HILLARY IN TEXAS

“She voted straight Republican and the vote had changed to Clinton!”

Early voting for the 2016 presidential election started yesterday for people in some areas who have been given the opportunity to avoid the long lines on November 8.

However, in Amarillo, a woman was shocked to see her ballot flip from Republican to Democrat.

“Gary and I went to early vote today,” wrote Lisa Houlette on Facebook. “I voted a straight Republican ticket and as I scrolled to submit my ballot I noticed that the Republican straight ticket was highlighted, however, the Clinton/Kaine box was also highlighted!”

“I tried to go back and change and could not get it to work. I asked for help from one of the workers and she couldn’t get it to go back either. It took a second election person to get the machine to where I could correct the vote to a straight ticket,” she added.

Meanwhile, in Arlington, Texas, another voter reported a similar experience.

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RERsports: Texas gov.: Big 12 owes ‘people an apology’ for passing on expansion

Associated Press

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott says the Big 12 should apologize for not expanding after it spent three months vetting and interviewing potential new member schools.

The governor, who previously tweeted his support for Houston being added to the Big 12, blasted the conference on Twitter on Monday night.

“The Big 12 owes a lot of people an apology. It punted on expansion & shanked its future. (at)UHouston deserved better,” Abbott tweeted.

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Paxton seeks to join suit challenging Austin labor agreement

by Associated Press

Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office is seeking to join a conservative group’s lawsuit against the city of Austin over its labor agreement with fire fighters.

Last month, the Texas Public Policy Foundation and two Austin residents sued, objecting to a labor agreement allowing “release time.” That lets fire fighters go on temporary leave to conduct business for their union.

 

In an announcement Tuesday, Paxton said the agreement funnels taxpayer funds to the “labor union’s political activity.”

Paxton also repeated the foundation’s claims that doing so violates “anti-gift clause provisions”