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March 28th Wyoming Briefs

Wind River judge indicted on federal charges

RIVERTON (WNE) — Wind River Indian Reservation Tribal Court Chief Judge Terri Smith has been indicted on two federal criminal charges.

The judge is charged with one count of the unlawful use of a communications center and one count of the unlawful distribution of cocaine.

Federal magistrate Teresa McKee presided over Smith's initial court appearance Wednesday morning in Lander, during which Smith, in the advanced stages of pregnancy and dressed in black slacks, a black fleece jacket, and black-rimmed glasses, sat next to her defense attorney, Colin Simpson.

The defense waived the re-reading of the indictment from the judge, after which Smith, who was 32 years old when she took her oath of office in January 2018, pleaded "not guilty" to both charges.

Following the plea, the judge suggested a trial date for May 27 or June 3 as per Smith's right to a speedy trial, but the defense moved to waive that right, saying that Smith's baby is due May 4 and a trial date soon after would not be appropriate.

Judge McKee suggested that U.S. District Judge Johnson should weigh in on the issue of scheduling the trial.


Health worker won’t testify in murder case

CODY (WNE) — The ongoing saga of the Dennis Klingbeil trial continues to evolve and further complicate itself.

On March 22, Park County District Court Judge Bill Simpson notified the five attorneys involved in the case that Yellowstone Behavioral Health worker Kambrie Simmons would not be allowed to testify to statements Klingbeil made to her, as the communications fall under patient-provider privilege and HIPPA laws.

The defense has noted that Park County Sheriff’s Office deputy Andy Magill, who stood by in the room for Klingbeil’s security during the health assessment, should not be allowed to testify to information Klingbeil provided during the questioning.

Simpson wrote Simmons will still be asked to comply with the state’s subpoena to testify and give testimony regarding whether her health evaluation was pursuant to an emergency detention, the circumstances leading to Magill’s presence in the room, whether Klingbeil was in custody and whether he expressly waived his patient privacy privilege.

“The court notes that if it finds that the Defendant did not waive his privilege, the court will not allow the mental health professionals to testify to communications, nor will it allow any other person privy to these communications (Magill) to testify to their contents,” Simpson wrote.


Reclamation funds stall final sale of Westmoreland

KEMMERER (WNE) — The sale of the Kemmerer coal mine to Virginia billionaire Tom Clarke’s Western Coal Acquisition Partners has hit a snag. The delay stems from uncertainty among Westmoreland affiliates regarding who will be responsible for paying for federally-mandated reclamation funds at the Kemmerer mine.

At this point, Westmoreland Resource Partners — which remains in Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings — is still responsible for the reclamation funding. Clarke’s company is a division of Merida Natural Resources. The company’s $215 million bid in February was the sole offer for the Kemmerer mine.

The Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 was the first legislation to require that mining companies post a bond that would pay for environmental reclamation of the site if it were to go out of business.

The Department of Environmental Quality has granted Clarke’s company a license to mine. But the permit transfer from Westmoreland to Merida Natural Resources cannot be finalized until the buyer can prove they have the funding to pay for the federally-mandated cleanup.

Lawyers for the recently organized Westmoreland Mining Holdings filed a complaint in bankruptcy court in Houston, Texas, on March 21.

The court documents explain that the creditors learned that Westmoreland Resource Partners and Clarke’s company would be violating the Kemmerer Purchase Agreement if they close on the sale of the coal mine without issuing replacement bonds for reclamation.

The creditors’ lawyers state in the complaint that Westmoreland is not even close to reaching an agreement with Merida Natural Resources regarding the reclamation bonds for the Kemmerer mine. The complaint calls for the court to enforce the reclamation bond agreement before the sale of the Kemmerer mine is finalized.


Ailing bull elk killed after charging cars

JACKSON (WNE) — A cantankerous bull elk in dire physical straits was put down last week after bashing into at least two cars traveling down Grand Teton National Park’s eastern boundary road.

Rangers killed the mature bull March 19. Photos posted online by a Jackson Hole wildlife safari company this week led some to speculate that the elk, which evidently earned the moniker “Charger,” was still alive.

“The elk was near death, and it was a safety hazard,” Teton park spokeswoman Denise Germann said. “Our biologist looked at him and he was in extremely poor body condition.”

In its brief tirade before being killed, the bull did a number on two vehicles to the north of Kelly the morning of the 19th. The animal shattered a car window and charged into a hood, reportedly breaking the radiator, Germann said. The park closed down the boundary road in the aftermath to allow the elk space to leave, and opened the Antelope Flats Road so that people at Teton Science School’s Kelly Campus had an access route to the highway.

People on foot in Yellowstone National Park are charged and hurt by territorial or protective elk with some regularity, but Grand Teton National Park has generally been spared from the same types of incidents. Germann described the bull’s behavior as unusual.

“Our biologist immediately thought something was up with the elk, gave him time to rest and space to move on its own, and it did not,” Germann said.


Gunwerks breaks ground on Cody facility

CODY (WNE) — With the help of some state funding, a Cody-based firearm manufacturer broke ground on a new facility on Tuesday.

The building will house the manufacturing of Gunwerks’ high-precision, long-range shooting systems — including the rifle, optics, rangefinder and ammunition. It will also include retail and warehouse space and a test shooting tunnel.

Gunwerks was founded in 2007 in Burlington and moved into Forward Cody’s light manufacturing incubator in 2016. Then last fall, the Wyoming Business Council awarded the City of Cody a $6 million grant and loan package for the construction of the new building on a 5-acre site north of Big Horn Cinemas. It’s triple the size of Gunwerks’ current quarters.

“The most significant impact of this project is getting us the necessary space available to expand,” said Aaron Davidson, the CEO of Gunwerks. “In the past three years, in our current facility in Cody, we’ve been able to add three significant product lines. In order to grow those product lines, we need to be better able to vertically integrate our rifle manufacturing, and this new space will allow that room to grow.”

Gunwerks will nearly double its workforce — to 110 employees — over the next five years: By 2025, Gunwerks has committed to creating more than 50 high-paying jobs and to purchase more than $5 million in equipment for the facility.


Johnson County tax case settled

BUFFALO (WNE) — A case involving roughly $120,000 in Johnson County taxes has come to an amicable resolution.

The Johnson County Board of Equalization – composed of the county commissioners – voted unanimously to settle the Concord Energy tax appeal on March 19.

Formed in 2002, Concord Energy Holdings LLC is an energy commodities marketing, logistics and trading company. Among other services, Concord treats, transfers and stores flowback water used in the production of oil and gas.

Concord first came before the BOE in late September to appeal former county Assessor Cindy

Barlow's assessment of its property during the 2018 tax year.

On Dec. 13, 2017, Concord purchased water pipeline assets from Carbon Creek Energy, including 68 miles of pipeline and four pump stations. The property spans Johnson, Natrona and Campbell counties, according to Cory Abbott, who is in charge of financial reporting at Concord.

Concord paid $5 million for the property, according to Ryan Hutcherson, who was Concord's

chief operating officer at the time of the purchase.

Barlow said she chose to disregard the financial information provided by Concord because she felt the sale was a distressed sale on the part of Carbon Creek. Barlow chose to determine value using historical data from when the property was owned by Anadarko.

The problem with Barlow’s use of historical figures, according to Concord attorney Walter Eggers, was that they were taken from a time when the oil and gas industry was booming and did not take into account the depression the market was experiencing at the time of Concord's purchase.

Eggers and Deputy County Attorney Barry Crago negotiated a settlement that would prevent the case from going to the state board.

The new $17 million assessment for fiscal 2018 means the company owes Johnson County roughly $120,000 in taxes for fiscal 2018, according to Crago.


Oil change leads to possession charge

POWELL (WNE) — An oil change proved to be unusually costly for a Lovell man who had stashed a container of marijuana under his hood.

Earlier this month, Jacob J. Rooney, 38, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of possessing a controlled substance. Circuit Court Judge Bruce Waters ordered Rooney to serve a total of 45 days in jail, plus six months of unsupervised probation. He’s being allowed to finish the last 10 days of his jail time by serving weekends.

Rooney’s trouble began in August when workers at Coulter Car Care popped the hood of his 2000 Chrysler van and found a Mason jar containing marijuana.

Powell police were summoned and, although Rooney protested that he was being set up, Officer Cody Bradley arrested him.

“I asked Rooney if he had any money on him, since he still needed to pay for the oil change,” Bradley wrote. “Rooney got his wallet out of his back pocket and made a statement about paying for a ‘felony oil change.’”

The Park County Attorney’s Office initially charged Rooney with a felony count of possession, which can apply when someone has more than 3 ounces of a controlled substance in plant form; in this case, police alleged that Rooney had 3.28 ounces in the jar. As part of a plea deal, however, prosecutors reduced the charge to a misdemeanor.

In addition to having to pay the bill at Coulter Car Care, Rooney was also ordered to pay $655 in court fines, fees and assessments at his March 1 sentencing.

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