These stories courtesy of the Wyoming News Exchange.
Outfitter found not guilty of animal cruelty
JACKSON (WNE) — Forest Stearns, a Wilson outfitter, has been found not guilty of animal cruelty.
Teton County Circuit Court Judge James Radda filed the verdict on Tuesday, about two weeks after a bench trial was held.
Stearns was cited with cruelty to animals by the Teton County Sheriff’s Office in August 2017 after a video taken by neighbor Mary Wendell Lampton was released that showed Stearns and a horse named Buddy tied to a fencepost and lying on its side.
Buddy’s subsequent death was the focus of the criminal investigation and most arguments during trial centered on how long the horse was tied down and whether or not that act was cruel and caused the horse’s death.
“Ms. Lampton was upset about what she had witnessed and understandably so,” Radda wrote in his judgement. “So was the court when it first viewed the video during the opening minutes of the trial.”
But Radda wrote that Lampton’s testimony didn’t convince him that the horse was tortured.
“However,” Radda wrote, “words matter, and Ms. Lampton’s testimony is not persuasive as it relates to the time when the horse died.”
Stearns’ attorney Dick Mulligan said he’s not surprised about his client’s acquittal.
“I was very confident in the conclusion of the evidence that the court would find my client not guilty,” he told the News&Guide. “I think it is an appropriate finding by Judge Radda.”
Wheatland man sentenced in fire district embezzlement
WHEATLAND (WNE) — Don Moede, former Platte County Rural Fire District 1F Board member, has been sentenced to two to five years in prison, with four to six more years suspended to run concurrently with the prison time and seven years’ probation for embezzling $236,707 from the fire district over the last four years he served in office.
Eighth Judicial District Judge F. Scott Peasley, in the Feb. 20 sentencing. also ordered Moede to pay restitution, as well as acknowledged restitution had already been paid.
According to earlier reports, Moede pleaded guilty to eight counts of larceny and theft at his arraignment Nov. 6, 2017, in Platte County District Court after being indicted on 81 counts in August.
He also provided restitution at that time in the amount of $236,707.57, the full amount he embezzled.
Prosecuting Attorney Doug Weaver said during last week’s sentencing that Moede was elected to the fire board in 1994.
When Moede lost re-election in November 2016, then quit two days later rather than finish his tenure, Weaver said the rest of the fire board started examining the district’s financial records.
Weaver said of the eight amended charges against Moede, the four committed after July 1, 2013, are felonies.
He said Moede used fire district money to transfer payments to his own credit card accounts, as well as issued himself personal checks from the fire district’s account.
“Today is difficult for me personally and professionally,” Weaver said, adding he had known Moede for many years as a good person who was active in the community. “We’re here today because Mr. Moede had another side to him.”
Weaver said although Moede had made restitution, it does not negate his crimes.
Energy company wins approval to explore Wyoming Range
JACKSON (WNE) — A Casper-based energy company has no more hurdles to clear before exploring 8 square miles of the Wyoming Range’s Cottonwood Creek area for deposits of oil and gas.
The project, known as the “Lander Peak proposal,” has cleared the Bridger-Teton National Forest’s approval process, which means pipeline and road construction and drilling could begin as early as this year. Four “objectors” to the plan were left dissatisfied with the decision, but Bridger-Teton officials say their complaints improved the project’s final form.
“In an effort to avoid impacts to the environment,” Bridger-Teton District Ranger Don Kranendonk said in a statement, “design features to contain potential spills and address invasive species, including noxious weeds and aquatic invasive species, will be included in the project design.”
The project is unique in that 2009’s Wyoming Range Legacy Act generally prohibits any new oil and gas development in the Bridger-Teton’s portion of the Wyoming Range. The Lander Peak leases were exempted, however, because they date to 1969 and were grandfathered in.
True Oil has held the valid leases since 1982 and has three working wells in the area. The company is now authorized to build and drill on one new well pad near South Cottonwood Creek and to add onto and resume activity on an existing well pad along the South Fork of Bare Creek.
The productivity of True Oil’s new wells will lead to a decision whether the company seeks “full field development” in the 4,800-acre lease area. In that event the company will be subject to additional National Environmental Policy Act review, and its proposed activities will be scrutinized by analyses that range from a “categorical exclusion” under the act to a full-fledged environmental impact statement.
Officials: Woman stole $67,000 from handgun organization
CHEYENNE (WNE) — Charges advanced to Laramie County District Court last week for a woman accused of stealing more than $67,000 from a handgun association.
Cindy Smith, 50, faces a single charge of felony theft after being suspected of using a debit card and checks to spend $67,631.25 worth of funds from the International Handgun Metallic Silhouette Association (IHMSA).
According to the organization’s website, it schedules competitions where people shoot handguns and try to hit steel silhouettes of various shapes and sizes.
If convicted, Smith could face a maximum of 10 years in prison and/or be required to pay a $10,000 fine.
According to court documents:
A member of IHMSA reported a potential embezzlement to the Cheyenne Police Department after a new treasurer discovered “what appeared to be a low balance” in the organization’s bank account.
Smith was previously the headquarters administrator with the organization, which was a volunteer position. She was charged with collecting dues and fees, paying bills and distributing funds as authorized.
But an IHMSA internal investigation revealed that between April 14, 2014, and Dec. 31, 2015, Smith had made 520 unauthorized transactions with the organization’s debit card and checkbook.
More than 400 purchases were made in Cheyenne totaling $44,296.21 using IHMSA’s debit card, and 16 of those requested cash back totaling $805.
The documents also accuse Smith of making 92 ATM withdrawals totaling $22,831 and writing two checks to herself totaling $700.
Smith also allegedly returned $192 worth of merchandise she bought with the debit card.
The current IHMSA president told police that Smith admitted to him that she improperly used the organization’s money in January 2016.
Albany County school district settles sex assault claim
LARAMIE (WNE) — A lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court against Albany County School District No. 1 by a family arguing the school district could have done more to prevent the sexual assault of a first grader by a second grader was settled Feb. 12.
ACSD No. 1 was charged with violating of the Educational Amendments of 1972, Title IX, and three school district officials are charged with violating the plaintiff’s right of substantive due process pursuant to the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Court documents state while returning home from a field trip between February and March 2014, a student had the victim sit next to him and told her they were going to play a game and placed his coat over them.
The victim said she had to sit somewhere else but the student told her they were just playing a game and then grabbed her wrist and placed her hand in his pants and onto his genitals.
The student threatened the victim by saying if she told anyone, he would kill her father, court documents state.
The lawsuit alleges ACSD No. 1 officials knew the male student had a history of harassment and inappropriate sexual behavior toward female students. Before the incident occurred, the bus driver and at least one bus monitor knew of the student’s verbal and physical abuse of girls on the bus and reported it to the ACSD No. 1 Department of Transportation director at the time, the school’s principal, the victim’s teacher and the assistant superintendent at the time.
Evanston man arrested on human trafficking charge
EVANSTON (WNE) — An Evanston man who is wanted by Utah authorities has been arrested on suspicion of human trafficking of a child and aggravated exploitation of prostitution involving a child (both first-degree felonies) along with suspicion of human trafficking for forced sexual exploitation and aggravated exploitation of prostitution (both second-degree felonies).
Evanston police officers responded to a neighborhood in Willow Park on Feb. 22 after learning from Utah law enforcement authorities that Joseph Moore was wanted in connection with the alleged crimes.
“An active investigation revealed Moore’s local address, and contact was attempted yesterday,” states a press release issued by EPD Friday. “however, this attempt was unsuccessful.”
Officers surveilled Moore’s suspected location overnight and were able to confirm that he was inside the residence, according to the release.
“The necessary measures were taken to secure the surrounding neighborhood by the Evanston Police Department to ensure the safety of the surrounding residents,” the release states. “Negotiations were established with Moore where he surrendered to officers at the scene and was taken into custody without incident.”
Moore is being held at the Uinta County jail awaiting an extradition hearing.