February 10, 2016

Omaha man confesses to killing mother, brother; avoids death penalty

A young Omaha man accused of killing his mother and his four-year-old half-brother has pleaded guilty to avoid the death penalty.

25-year-old Roberto Martinez-Marinero pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder.

Martinez-Marinero eventually turned himself in to authorities in Douglas County, confessing to detectives that he had killed his mother, 45-year-old Jesus Ismenia Marinero, and his brother, Josue Ramirez-Marinero. Martinez-Marinero also confessed to discarding his 11-month-old Angel Ramirez-Marienero in a dumpster. Angel has been returned to his father, Jose Ramirez.

Martinez-Marinero says he killed his mother in a dispute over money. He says he threw Josue off the West Center Road Bridge into the Elkhorn River. The boy’s body was recovered May 11th.

Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine dropped his pursuit of the death penalty after Douglas County District Judge Marlon Polk sentenced Martinez-Marinero to life in prison.

Kearney hotel operator charged with helping illegal immigrant

A 63-year-old hotel operator from Kearney has been arraigned on charges he helped an illegal immigrant under investigation by the Social Security Administration Office.

U.S. Attorney Deborah Gilg says Paul Younes and Kearney Hospitality, which owns a number of hotels in central Nebraska, have pleaded guilty; Younes to unlawful employment of aliens and Kearney Hospitality to harboring an alien. Federal prosecutors say Blanca Gama, a citizen of Mexico unlawfully in the United States, served as housekeeping supervisor at the Holiday Inn Express in Hastings. Gama learned she was under investigation by the Social Security Administration Office of Inspector General in 2014. She quit the job and Younes arranged for her to be employed in the housekeeping department at the Fairfield Inn & Suites in Kearney under the name of Elizabeth Gomez as the only independent contractor on the staff.

Younes later authorized her to be re-hired at the Holiday Inn Express in Hastings, this time under the name of Jacqueline Lopez.

Sentencing will be held in May.


Farmers ask for property tax relief; school officials object to governor’s plan

Capitol(Honors_to_Citizens)Farmers complained property taxes are out-of-control. Public school officials complained a proposal to keep them in check is too burdensome.

Both sides were heard at a legislative hearing before the Education Committee as it considers LB 959, which would limit school districts to two-and-a-half percent revenue growth annually. Districts could exceed the limit by going to a vote of the people.

Martell farmer Rod Hollman told committee members though farm income is down, property taxes keep rising, leaving landowners frustrated and angry.

“We’ve survived drought. We’ve survived blizzards. We’ve survived 40 degree below zero weather while we’re calving and low prices, but this has made them really angry,” Hollman stated.

“I am here to tell you that we are bleeding in agriculture right now,” Dale Gronewold, who farms near Gothenberg, told the committee.

Gronewold said evaluations of farmland keep going up, sometimes dramatically, even as farm income has fallen. Echoing what many farmers and ranchers told the committee, Gronewold said he had talked to county assessors, to school boards, and to other government officials to no avail.

Meanwhile, Gronewold said farmers and ranchers face huge jumps in their property tax bills while farm income falls.

“We are bleeding to death and somebody has to help us,” Gronewold pleaded.

Shane Greczel, a row crop farmer in Knox County, said it is hard to understand how farm income can go down, but taxes keep going up.

“And when my income goes down, I have to reflect accordingly. I have to back off. I cannot expand my operation. I just ask that government would do the same thing when we take a look at it,” Greczel said. “There are times that we have to step back just a little bit, we have to consolidate, and we have to make do with what we have. That’s what business has to do. It’s what farming has to do.”

Public school officials, though, object to the proposal pushed by the governor.

York School Superintendent Mike Lucas said school spending isn’t driving up property taxes.

“I think the big elephant in the room regarding LB 959 and I’ll say this respectfully is school spending is not the problem,” Lucas told the committee.

Lucas spoke for many educators in stating that Nebraska schools keep tight budgets and rarely exceed three percent revenue growth.

Lucas did sympathized with the farmers.

“I love farmers and it’s sad to me to hear the us versus them,” Lucas said.

Yet, Lucas said the proposal would only hurt schools without truly putting a dent in property taxes.

Virgil Harden with the Grand Island Public School District objected to the governor’s proposal.

“There’s nobody in Grand Island Public Schools in our board or in our administration that says let’s go spend more money, because we can,” according to Harden. “We spend the money to meet the needs of our children and two-and-a-half percent does not cut it.”

LB 959 is the second of the governor’s two-pronged approach to cut property taxes (the other is LB 958). Two legislative committees will decide whether the bills will be sent to the full legislature for debate.

Supreme Court halts EPA until lawsuit joined by Nebraska is decided

Sheldon_Power_PlantAn ambitious plan to curb carbon emissions proposed by President Barack Obama and opposed by more than two dozen states, including Nebraska, has been put on hold by the United States Supreme Court.

The court has not ruled on the merits of the plan by the Environmental Protection Agency, but has prevented the EPA from putting its plan into place until legal issues are resolved.

The states involved in the lawsuit contend the EPA has overstepped its Congressional authority in issuing orders that states submit plans to shift away from fossil fuels to alternative forms of energy; what many regard as a direct aim at coal-fired power plants that many in the Midwest, including Nebraska, rely upon.

President Obama’s press secretary issued a statement:

“We disagree with the Supreme Court’s decision to stay the Clean Power Plan while litigation proceeds. The Clean Power Plan is based on a strong legal and technical foundation, gives States the time and flexibility they need to develop tailored, cost-effective plans to reduce their emissions, and will deliver better air quality, improved public health, clean energy investment and jobs across the country, and major progress in our efforts to confront the risks posed by climate change. We remain confident that we will prevail on the merits. Even while the litigation proceeds, EPA has indicated it will work with states that choose to continue plan development and will prepare the tools those states will need. At the same time, the Administration will continue to take aggressive steps to make forward progress to reduce carbon emissions.”

Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson praised the decision.

“In the state of Nebraska, our public power entities have been proactive in recent years in developing ways to reduce carbon emissions, including developing several alternative, renewable energy sources. The EPA’s Rule change would disregard these efforts and exceeds reasonable standards,” Peterson said in a written statement released by his office.

Gov. Pete Ricketts also applauded the ruling.

“The decision by the Supreme Court to halt the implementation of the Clean Power Plan until a legal settlement is reached is important for Nebraska industry and ratepayers to prevent rate increases. I applaud Attorney General Doug Peterson’s continued work to defend Nebraska against EPA overreach,” the governor said in a written statement released by his office.

Omaha man sentenced to life as three-time offender

A 29-year-old Omaha man has been sentenced to life in prison as a three-time felon after being convicted by a federal jury last year on two counts of bank robbery and one count of attempted bank robbery.

Investigators used data from Quantal Blake’s ankle bracelet to convict him.

According to U.S. Attorney Deborah Gilg, investigators soon zeroed in on Blake as a suspect in two bank robberies in Omaha as well as an attempted bank robbery in 2014. Blake was on parole for a robbery and had been ordered to wear an electronic monitoring device on his ankle.

Using the data from the device, investigators tracked Blake’s movement from the robbery of Premier Bank on February 4th of 2014 to an attempted robbery at the same bank on March 20th, and then to a third bank robbery at First Westroads Bank that same day.

The data also led detectives to three cars Blake and his accomplice abandoned and two they had stolen.

Since a firearm had been used during the First Westroads bank robbery, Blake faced a mandatory life sentence as a Three Strikes offender. He received prison sentences of 17 ½ years for the First Premier bank robbery and the attempted robbery. The judge ordered Blake to serve those sentences at the same time as the life sentence. He has been ordered to pay restitution of $18,290 to First Premier Bank and $13,085 to First Westroads Bank.