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J. Scott Applewhite 

Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former lawyer, tells reporters he will "continue to cooperate" with investigators following a full day of testimony with the House Intelligence Committee as he prepares for a three-year prison sentence for lying to Congress and other charges, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, March 6, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Ex-Trump campaign boss Manafort sentenced to 47 months

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort was sentenced Thursday to nearly four years in prison for tax and bank fraud related to his work advising Ukrainian politicians, much less than what was called for under sentencing guidelines.

Manafort, sitting in a wheelchair as he deals with complications from gout, had no visible reaction as he heard the 47-month sentence. While that was the longest sentence to date to come from special counsel Robert Mueller's probe, it could have been much worse for Manafort. Sentencing guidelines called for a 20-year-term, effectively a lifetime sentence for the 69-year-old.

Manafort has been jailed since June, so he will receive credit for the nine months he has already served. He still faces the possibility of additional time from his sentencing in a separate case in the District of Columbia, where he pleaded guilty to charges related to illegal lobbying.

Before Judge T.S. Ellis III imposed the sentence, Manafort told him that "saying I feel humiliated and ashamed would be a gross understatement." But he offered no explicit apology, something Ellis noted before issuing his sentence.

Manafort steered Donald Trump's election efforts during crucial months of the 2016 campaign as Russia sought to meddle in the election through hacking of Democratic email accounts. He was among the first Trump associates charged in the Mueller investigation and has been a high-profile defendant.

But the charges against Manafort were unrelated to his work on the campaign or the focus of Mueller's investigation: whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russians.

A jury last year convicted Manafort on eight counts, concluding that he hid from the IRS millions of dollars he earned from his work in Ukraine.

Manafort's lawyers argued that their client had engaged in what amounted to a routine tax evasion case, and cited numerous past sentences in which defendants had hidden millions from the IRS and served less than a year in prison.

Prosecutors said Manafort's conduct was egregious, but Ellis ultimately agreed more with defense attorneys. "These guidelines are quite high," Ellis said.

Neither prosecutors nor defense attorneys had requested a particular sentence length in their sentencing memoranda, but prosecutors had urged a "significant" sentence.

Outside court, Manafort's lawyer, Kevin Downing, said his client accepted responsibility for his conduct "and there was absolutely no evidence that Mr. Manafort was involved in any collusion with the government of Russia."

Prosecutors left the courthouse without making any comment.

Though Manafort hasn't faced charges related to collusion, he has been seen as one of the most pivotal figures in the Mueller investigation. Prosecutors, for instance, have scrutinized his relationship with Konstantin Kilimnik, a business associate U.S. authorities say is tied to Russian intelligence, and have described a furtive meeting the men had in August 2016 as cutting to the heart of the investigation.

After pleading guilty in the D.C. case, Manafort met with investigators for more than 50 hours as part of a requirement to cooperate with the probe. But prosecutors reiterated at Thursday's hearing that they believe Manafort was evasive and untruthful in his testimony to a grand jury.

Manafort was wheeled into the courtroom about 3:45 p.m. in a green jumpsuit from the Alexandria jail, where he spent the last several months in solitary confinement. The jet black hair he bore in 2016 when serving as campaign chairman was gone, replaced by a shaggy gray. 

Defense lawyers had argued that Manafort would never have been charged if it were not for Mueller's probe. At the outset of the trial, even Ellis agreed with that assessment, suggesting Manafort was being prosecuted only to pressure him to "sing" against Trump. Prosecutors said the Manafort investigation preceded Mueller's appointment.

Manafort was convicted of eight felonies related to tax and bank fraud charges for hiding foreign income from his work in Ukraine from the IRS and later inflating his income on bank loan applications. Prosecutors have said the work in Ukraine was on behalf of politicians who were closely aligned with Russia, though Manafort insisted his work helped those politicians distance themselves from Russia and align with the West.

In arguing for a significant sentence, prosecutor Greg Andres said Manafort still hasn't accepted responsibility for his misconduct.

"His sentencing positions are replete with blaming others," Andres said. He also said Manafort still has not provided a full account of his finances for purposes of restitution, a particularly egregious omission given that his crime involved hiding more than $55 million in overseas bank accounts to evade paying more than $6 million in federal income taxes.

The lack of certainty about Manafort's finances complicated the judge's efforts to impose restitution, but Ellis ultimately ordered that Manafort could be required to pay back up to $24 million.

In the D.C. case, Manafort faces up to five years in prison on each of two counts to which he pleaded guilty. The judge will have the option to impose any sentence there concurrent or consecutive to the sentence imposed by Ellis.

Time, patience and courage brings 'Ursula's Battle Royale' to the stage

TWIN FALLS — Perfection takes time.

On average, it takes two hours for Owen Jackson to put his makeup on. It takes a couple of days to make his dress. And it takes weeks to think of the perfect routine.

But once the costuming, choreography and makeup are finished, Lavender Beachamp comes alive and she rules the stage.

Beachamp is Jackson’s drag persona and will be one of the contestants when drag queens and kings challenge each other at “Ursula’s Battle Royale 3.”

The over-the-top spectacle hosted by Brandon Tesch’s alter ego, Ursula, will feature contestants singing or lip-syncing. They’ll be judged on performance and their costume. Funds will go to support the Magic Valley Repertory Theatre, Tesch said.

Jackson was introduced to the world of drag at the first Battle Royale, and he had one thought while watching: he had to be a part of it. He participated in the second Battle Royale and created Lavender Beachamp, who serves as an extension of himself.

“It’s me, but much more hyper and confident,” Jackson said. “It’s very freeing and satisfying. It’s like putting on a mask and you can be a confident version of yourself.”

The drag community has grown but still faces challenges of preconceived notions of what drag is, Jackson said. There are notions that drag is black and white but the costumes and themes blur gender lines. Queens might have a beard or a king might wear a dress; the hope is to eliminate expectations of drag.

“Drag is much more diverse than just ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race,’” Jackson said.


Brandon Tesch teases the wig he'll wear for an upcoming show Thursday at Salon 347 in downtown Twin Falls.

Ursula has been a part of Tesch for as long as he can remember. She had courage when he didn’t and was the inspiration to turn capes into dresses when he was a little boy. Tesch encourages viewers to come in costume and let out their dormant creative side.

“Every performer brings some form of gender twist,” Tesch said. “There is no way to stereotype a drag queen. They are just as individual as everything else in life.”

Tyler Ready, the winner of the first Battle Royale, will serve as a judge this year. After the show, there will be an after-party at 9 p.m. at Yellow Brick Cafe, he said.

“This is one of the most fun shows put on in Twin Falls,” Ready said.

Many performers gain a sense of assertiveness as soon as they assume their personas, but that self-assurance disappears as soon as they walk onto the stage, Ready said. The judge gave one piece of advice to drag queens in the competition: Have confidence.

“If you aren’t having fun, the judges can tell,” Ready said. “You have to have confidence to perform.”

If you do one thing

If you do one thing: A community dance will feature music by the Shadows Band from 7 to 10 p.m. at the Snake River Elks Lodge, 412 E. 200 S., Jerome. Admission is $5.

Magic Valley school, health officials react to sex education 'opt in' proposal

TWIN FALLS — When it comes time for sex education, Magic Valley schools notify parents about what will be taught and they can choose to opt their child out of the class.

A bill moving through the state Legislature, however, seeks to change that. It would implement an “opt in” system where children at Idaho public schools wouldn’t participate unless their parent specifically gives permission.

House Bill 120 cleared the Idaho House on Wednesday with a 56-14 vote: all Republicans voted in favor and all Democrats voted against. The bill — sponsored by Republican Rep. Barbara Ehardt of Idaho Falls — now heads to the Senate.

Across Idaho, it’s up to local school boards to decide whether to include sex education in school curriculum, according to state law. School districts involve families and community groups in developing instruction for sex education. And there are state content standards for health education.

Schools communicate with parents in advance of when the lessons will be taught, Cassia County School District Superintendent Jim Shank said Thursday.

“We have nothing to hide,” said Shank, who has six children of his own. If parents don’t want their student to participate, “there’s no argument. I can certainly respect the parents’ point of view.”

Parents dictate what happens in their own home and understand how each of their children learns, he said.

“I think we need to honor that,” Shank said.

Shank said he hasn’t heard any outcry in Cassia County about the current opt-out policy, or any indication educators or parents want to see it change.

In Cassia County, reproductive health is covered in grades five, seven, eight and 10 as part of health curriculum and it aligns with Idaho’s content standards.

“As kids grow, we address those in age-appropriate types of contexts,” Shank said.

When it comes to sex education, “abstinence, of course, is one of our strong tenants,” he said.

Twin Falls School District officials weren’t available to comment or refer the Times-News to a health teacher to talk with by deadline Thursday. The Jerome School District also wasn’t able to find a health teacher available to comment Thursday.

If the legislation passes, it adds a layer of bureaucracy for schools, said Adria Masoner, adolescent pregnancy prevention coordinator for South Central Public Health District.

What’s important to remember is “Idaho is a local control state for school district policy,” Masoner said. Regardless of what happens at a state level, she said, each individual school district can make decisions about what’s taught or not for sex education.

And when Masoner goes into schools to lead lessons, “we definitely cater the curriculum to the culture of each community,” she said.

Masoner — who has been the health district’s adolescent pregnancy prevention coordinator for about 20 years — goes into schools periodically in Mini-Cassia to teach lessons about preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. She has used a curriculum called “Reducing the Risk” since 2010.

“We have focused most of our efforts in Mini-Cassia just due to the historically high pregnancy rate in Cassia and Minidoka counties,” Masoner said, but she also teaches at other schools, depending on their needs.

She only teaches in schools that have requested the curriculum or where she has taught already.

At Mt. Harrison High School in Heyburn, for instance, she teaches once a quarter. Most of her instruction in schools is in health classes.

The main message in the “Reducing the Risk” curriculum is “choosing abstinence is the best choice for high school students,” Masoner said.

However, there’s a recognition that not all high schoolers are going to choose abstinence, she said, so there’s a section on pregnancy and STD prevention.

“Reducing the Risk” is used in 18 Idaho high schools, Masoner said, but many have chosen to adopt other curricula that are also evidence-based.

The health district is seeing a recent trend, though: an increasing rate of STDs.

“We do have to continue that (education that) birth control only prevents pregnancy and not STDs,” Masoner said.

The South Central Public Health District released an announcement in August 2018 urging residents to practice safer sex — including using condoms and getting tested after having sex with a new partner — to reduce their risk of infection. It came about after an uptick in reported HIV, syphilis and gonorrhea cases in the region compared with the previous year.

Gonorrhea cases were the fastest rising, with a 203 percent increase, the health district said.

But teen pregnancy rates in the U.S. — and here in Idaho — have dropped sharply over the last decade, Masoner said, by at least 50 percent.

One major factor is easier access to birth control, coinciding with the Affordable Care Act and its coverage of birth control, she said, and better access to long-term options such as IUDs and implants.

Masoner said she has found many parents aren’t comfortable talking with their children about sex, but that it’s best for students to hear that information from their parents.

For a few years, the district has held a “Bridging the Gap” dinner to help facilitate those conversations. The next one is slated for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Doc’s Pizza in Rupert and sign-ups are required in advance by calling the district’s Heyburn office.

Local high schoolers attend the event so that parents can practice having conversations with teenagers.

In the state Legislature, Ehardt says sex education classes have normalized sexual behavior and parents don’t understand what’s being presented to their kids, the Associated Press reported Wednesday. She says the bill will allow parents to better direct their children’s education.

Rep. Jake Ellis, a Democrat from Boise, said currently between 2 and 3 percent of students opt out of sex education, and the bill would make the exception the rule, the Associated Press reported.

The vast majority of people — 18 of 21 — who testified during a committee hearing Feb. 26 spoke against the bill, Idaho Education News reported. That included some high school students.

The topic of sex education came up during the 2018 legislative session, too. State legislators wanted to update the 1970 sex education law with more contemporary language, but the bill didn’t advance.

The law emphasizes helping youth cultivate good values before choosing a “mate,” controlling sex drive and understanding sex in relation to the “miracle of life.”

House conservatives, Democrats join to vote down State Board of Education budget

Originally posted on on March 7.

BOISE — In a surprise, late-session insurrection, House conservatives and Democrats abruptly voted down a budget for the State Board of Education.

While the budget is relatively small in the greater context of education spending, the 29-41 vote revealed some deeper fissures on other education issues. And the vote presents a speed bump as lawmakers head into the final weeks of the 2019 session.

The budget-writing Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee will have to draw up a new spending plan for the State Board, an agency with broad policymaking power over K-12 and higher education.

“That was certainly not on my radar,” House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, said after the Thursday morning vote.

Several forces conspired against House Bill 226.

Even though the failed State Board budget bill included less than $6.4 million in general fund dollars — and even represented a slight decrease from this year’s budget — several House Republicans picked at pieces of the budget.

Rep. Rod Furniss, R-Rigby, questioned the $529,700 line item for the Public Charter School Commission, an offshoot of the State Board, which oversees and authorizes many of the state’s charter schools. JFAC members downplayed the line item, which they said represented only a 1.5 percent increase.

Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, objected to a new position in the budget — an associate chief academic officer, who would be charged with finding cost savings within the higher education system. The position’s line item comes to $108,400. “I am not in favor of this,” said Ehardt, discussing the position’s salary in contrast to teacher salaries.

The associate chief academic officer’s position is a highly skilled post, and 22 percent of the $108,400 line item covers benefits and not a salary, said Rep. Paul Amador, R-Coeur d’Alene, the JFAC member who carried the ill-fated budget bill on the House floor.

As Furniss and Ehardt questioned the bill from the House floor, the conservative Idaho Freedom Foundation criticized the budget online. In an analysis of the bill, posted Thursday, the group said the bill would continue the State Board’s “recent trend of adding headcount.” The board has added nine full-time positions since 2016, and the new budget would add another position, the associate chief academic officer.

Even so, the bill might have survived opposition from conservatives Thursday, but 12 of the House’s 14 Democrats also voted no.

It was a statement vote that had nothing to do with the State Board budget per se, House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding said afterward. Instead, he said Democrats have deeper concerns “with the overall underfunding of education,” he said — and after a three-year, bipartisan process, Democrats have been cut out of the negotiations on a bill to rewrite the school funding formula.

“Democrats have only been partially included in those conversations,” said Erpelding, D-Boise.

It’s rare, but not unprecedented, for a House or a Senate to vote down a budget. Last year, in the midst of a heated debate over a new statewide reading test, the House rejected an agency budget for state superintendent Sherri Ybarra State Department of Education.

JFAC will now have to rewrite the State Board budget and bring a new version to the House. The new bill has to be different than its predecessor — at least nominally. The bottom line will have to change by at least $100.

“We’ll review the budget and see if there’s anything we need to consider,” said Rep. Rick Youngblood, R-Nampa, JFAC’s House co-chairman.

Budget-writers will meet with Republicans and Democrats in the next few days to try to address their concerns, said Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, JFAC’s House vice chair.

The failed State Board budget contained a couple of line items of note. It included $263,000 to allow the board to review applications for master teacher premiums, a new, $4,000-a-year pay bump designed to reward high-performing veteran teachers. It also included $100,000 to fund Gov. Brad Little’s proposal for a new K-12 task force.

The budget is notable too for what it doesn’t include.

It doesn’t contain Little’s proposed $7 million increase in the Idaho Opportunity Scholarship; that will appear in a different State Board budget. Nor does it include money for day-to-day public school, charter school or higher education operations. That money is contained in other, larger spending bills, such as the seven K-12 budgets that easily passed the House on Tuesday.


Valley senior Zane Mussmann celebrates after sinking a shot Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019, during the 1A DI district basketball finals at the CSI Gymnasium in Twin Falls. Valley defeated Oakley 46-39.