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Wyoming News Briefs December 3, 2018

From Wyoming News Exchange newspapers

Man arrested with 65 pounds of pot

LARAMIE (WNE) — A Texas man has been charged with multiple felonies after he was arrested last week with 65 pounds of marijuana at a Laramie truck stop.

Wyoming Highway Patrol trooper Michael Petruso noticed a gray passenger vehicle driving at about 15 mph under the posted speed limit on Interstate 80 on Nov. 23. He followed the vehicle to Petro Fuel Station and made contact with the driver, 53-year-old David Murray, who said his brother had rented the vehicle for him.

When Petruso asked to see the rental agreement, he smelled “the strong odor of raw marijuana coming from inside of the vehicle,” according to his affidavit.

Murray was then handcuffed and placed in the front seat of a patrol vehicle.

While detained, Murray “slipped his handcuffs from behind him and pulled the electrical cords out of the panel which provide power and internet connectivity” to the patrol vehicle.

Murray then allegedly pulled a power cord apart from its plug, causing the keyboard to be inoperable.

Petruso searched Murray’s vehicle and found three black garbage bags filled with marijuana and dryer sheets.

The total weight of the marijuana was 65 pounds. A later search of the vehicle also found numerous THC vape pens and a loaded Smith and Wesson .40 caliber handgun with a round in the chamber.

Murray has been charged with felony possession of marijuana, unlawful possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance, property destruction and interference with a peace officer.


Committee rejects bill to require monthly mineral tax payments

GILLETTE (WNE) — The Joint Revenue Committee has voted down a proposed bill that would have required mineral production companies to pay their ad valorem taxes on a monthly basis starting in 2022 instead of every 18 months as they do now.

The bill, which was viewed by some state lawmakers as a possible remedy to the millions of dollars owed to Wyoming counties in unpaid mineral production taxes, failed on a 9-4 vote Friday, with Campbell County Republicans Rep. Timothy Hallinan and Sen. Jeff Wasserburger among those who voted no.

Wasserburger said now is not the right time for this bill.

“Times are not good in the coal corporations. We’ve had several bankruptcies, we have a coal corporation struggling today, we have one for sale. I’ve never seen that in 35 years in Campbell County,” he said.

Campbell County Commissioner Rusty Bell, who testified to the committee Friday, said he wasn’t surprised the bill was voted down.

Legislators and those in the mineral production industry acknowledge there’s a problem with counties collecting their owed taxes, Bell said.

“But when we have a remedy that puts our industries at an economic disadvantage, it really is very difficult for commissioners and legislators to support it,” he said. “If it fixes a problem but puts someone out of business, then you just create a bigger problem.”

The largest issue legislators had with the proposed bill was that if it were signed into law, there eventually would come a time where the regulations would overlap and companies would have to simultaneously “pay the 18-month tax and the monthly payment,” Bell said.

Most companies are paying their taxes on time and they shouldn’t be punished because of “the bad actors that are causing a problem,” he said.


Dissolved fair board sues Laramie County

CHEYENNE (WNE) -– The Laramie County Fair Board is not going away without a fight.

Earlier this month, the County Commission voted to dismiss the independent, volunteer board, arguing a new events department run by professionals could better oversee the Archer Complex, its new events center and other county recreation.

But board members disagree and will take their arguments to Laramie County District Court on Wednesday.

The crux of the board’s argument is that state law says county commissioners can create a board of trustees to “control, manage and maintain the (county) fairgrounds,” but offers no provision for dissolving it.

Their attorney, Gay Woodhouse, wrote in her filing that stands in “stark contrast” to provisions for hospital boards of trustees, which have an entire section devoted to procedures for dissolving a memorial hospital.

Woodhouse further challenges the commissioners’ ability to redirect the flow of property tax money the board collects.

The board, which referred to the decision as a “gross abuse of power” in a Friday news release, is asking a judge to immediately halt and ultimately reverse the commissioners’ decision.

Commissioners aren’t worried, though.

“We are of the opinion that if we can create (the board), we certainly should be able to dissolve it,” Commission Chairman Buck Holmes said.

He later added that he believes the commissioners can do as they like with the board’s property tax.


Pot growing operation found in dead man’s house

JACKSON (WNE) — The Teton County Sheriff’s Office discovered a large marijuana grow operation in the basement of Jeffrey Archer’s Game Creek house, police confirmed Friday.

Archer, 69, was found deceased in his home last week. Authorities believe he died of natural causes.

After realizing there was a hidden basement at Archer’s house, investigators returned to do a more in-depth search.

“The marijuana grow appears to have been abandoned midgrow a year or even years ago, and it was just left there in place,” Teton County Sgt. Todd Stanyon said. “There are plants in pots and beds.”

Stanyon said the plants appeared to be dead.

“Some of the plants are so old that you touch them, and they disintegrate,” he said.

The Sheriff’s Office, Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation and a Jackson Hole Fire/EMS hazardous materials team collected and destroyed the plants Friday afternoon.

Stanyon said officers had no prior contacts with Archer, but the operation looked too big for just one person.

“It looks to be a lot more than personal use,” Stanyon said. “But he’s never come up in any previous investigations. We can’t prove he was distributing.”

The entry to Archer’s basement was covered by a wall of debris, Stanyon said. The basement windows were taped over and a wall of trash about 6 feet tall covered the entrance to the stairs, leaving police to believe Archer walked away from the operation years ago. When officers first found Archer’s body, five of his dogs were also found dead in a separate room. One surviving dog was rescued and is recovering from dehydration.


CWC president’s contract extended

RIVERTON (WNE) — The Central Wyoming College Board of Trustees has offered to extend president Brad Tyndall’s contract through June 30, 2022.

The offer was made during a regular meeting this month, per board policy.

“We were all enthusiastic about the prospect of president Tyndall continuing,” Trustee Steve Peck said.

Trustee Colton Crane asked whether Tyndall was “interested in sticking around,” to which Tyndall replied that he was “very interested” in that prospect.

Board of Trustees chair Nicole Shoening said all of the board members took the opportunity in executive session to express their appreciation of Tyndall’s work at CWC.

“We feel the college is moving forward in a very positive direction,” she said. “We appreciate your dedication, your enthusiasm and your support of the college – not just here on the campus but outside in the communities we serve.

“We look forward to all of the growth we think is going to occur in the next several years and just thank you for your service to our institution.”

Tyndall was hired as vice president for academic affairs in 2015. He was named interim college president in July 2016 after the resignation of Cristobal Valdez, then was offered the job permanently in November 2016.

The president is the only employee who is hired by and reports directly to the CWC Board of Trustees. Board policy states contract extension is offered and acted upon in November, with the terms and conditions presented no later than March.

The board then sets the president’s compensation in conjunction with the development of the college budget for the upcoming fiscal year no later than May.