Friday, July 1, 2022

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Civic Skinny

Tirrell makes a plea deal, faces 20 years. ‘Cultures of Basketball’ course for U of I.


Marty Tirrell, the sports-talk guy who shouted on the radio but smooth-talked friends, wives, relatives, acquaintances, advertisers and strangers as he bilked them out of millions of dollars, has made a plea deal with federal prosecutors.  

On Dec. 6, he pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud, and the Government agreed to drop the other nine counts leveled against him in a superseding indictment handed up by a federal grand jury last May. Those counts included wire fraud, bank fraud and, in effect, credit-card fraud.

Under the agreement, Tirrell acknowledged he could be sentenced for up to 20 years in a federal penitentiary, fined as much as $250,000, and, after serving his sentence, be placed under supervised release for three years. Sentencing, by Judge Stephanie Rose, is set for April 7.  

Court watchers expect a sentence of around five years, though no agreement is set and the sentence will be entirely up to Rose.

Tirrell turns 60 years old in January. After taking his radio show from station to station since coming to Iowa 25 years ago, and then to cable television, he has been off the air for a couple of years, apparently unable to find a station willing to deal with him. Past employers had sued him for failing to pay for the air time he purchased.


Besides facing prison time, Tirrell also could be ordered to make restitution to the victims scammed in the surviving count, which covers his frauds from September of 2016 to December of 2017. That amount exceeded $550,000, according to the plea agreement. Collection seems unlikely.

In fact, court judgments and statements to Cityview by people he dealt with indicate Tirrell bilked people out of several millions of dollars in the six years before being arrested by the FBI last February. He was sued — successfully — at least 20 times in state and federal courts, and often he never showed up to defend himself.

Some folks, like Des Moines developer Richard Hurd, never bothered to sue because there was no chance of collecting, though Hurd told Cityview he lost $660,000 when he lent Tirrell money to buy out his partners in a radio show — a show that shortly went out of business. Others won big judgments. The most recent: Jason Whitinger of Waterloo won a $1,071,327.43 default judgment in 2018.

Many of the schemes involved the purchase of tickets to major sporting events like the Masters golf tournament, major football bowl games, the World Series and the college NCAA basketball tournaments. He would talk people into up-fronting money to buy blocks of tickets, assuring them they’d share in the proceeds of the resale. Often, there was no sharing. Others were defrauded by purchasing tickets to big sporting events — and then never getting the tickets.

On occasion, Tirrell worked both ends of a deal. Scamming money to pay for the tickets, and then stiffing the brokers who sold him the tickets. Two large sports-brokerage firms won judgments against him in federal courts.

In the plea-deal filing, Tirrell admits he “acted with the intent to defraud.”

Tirrell used the money to finance a plush life style, traveling to big events, staying in fine hotels, and, in the words of one ex-wife, “living large.” As things turned sour, he filed for bankruptcy, but the court threw out the case when it determined he wasn’t honest about his finances. Two or three years ago, he quit paying the $1,031-a-month court-ordered child support for his young daughter, his second ex-wife says.

In the months before his arrest, he was homeless and broke. Recently, he apparently has been living in a church-sponsored facility and has been monitored by authorities. He was given permission to travel to Massachusetts over Thanksgiving, and the other day the court gave him permission to travel to his mother’s home there from December 20 to Dec. 29.

There apparently is still a warrant out for his arrest in Massachusetts. It was issued in June of 2017 and cites “larceny over $250 by false pretenses.” In Iowa, there are still federal tax liens against him totaling about $45,000 for failing to pay income taxes in 2010, 2011 and 2012. …

Your tax and tuition dollars at work:The Board of Regents in September approved 134 faculty requests for sabbaticals — the universities call them “professional development assignments” — for teachers at the three state universities. The sabbaticals usually are at full pay for one semester.

A sampling from the University of Iowa:

Aniruddha Dutta, Associate Professor of Gender, Women’s, & Sexuality Studies, “will examine the cultural practice of lagan, in which transgender people dance in weddings and festivals in North India, to understand changing intersections of gender, caste and transnational capitalism in South Asia.”

Christine Ogren, Associate Professor of Education Policy & Leadership Studies, hopes to complete a book on the history of how U.S. school teachers have spent the summers off and present her work to international scholars in Paris. “‘Summers Off’ investigates how teachers’ summer activities challenged or confirmed race and gender roles, influenced their social-class standing, and affected their professional skills and the schools. The book will consist of an introduction, five core chapters that focus on one type of activity between the 1880s and 1930s, and an epilogue.”

Timothy Havens, Professor of Communication Studies, will “complete a draft of a new book project and write a journal article on the television locations industry in Budapest, Hungary.”

Michael Moore, Associate Professor of History, will complete his book on “The End of the Carolingian Empire: The Cadaver Trial of Pope Formosus,” a “gruesome posthumous trial [that] reveals changes in political culture and values at the end of the Carolingian Empire (888-900).”

Margaret Beck, Associate Professor of Anthropology, will study the “sacred use of red pipestone in the northeastern Plains…, exploring connections between red pipestone and red-slipped ceramics in the AD 1050-1200 period to shed light on pipestone’s evolving ritual purposes.”

Asha Bhandary, Associate Professor of Philosophy, “will be writing a book titled ‘Being at Home.’ In this new work of political philosophy, which spans multicultural political theory, psychology, public health, feminist theory and critical race theory, she will argue that the value of feeling at home in the world has been overlooked by theories of justice.”

Shuang Chen, Associate Professor of History, will study “redefining property rights in Manchuria, 1880s-1920s.”

John-Philip D’Agata, Professor of English, will write a book about Plutarch. “Around the year 90, Plutarch was traveling when he received a message that his two year-old daughter had died. Despite being only 50 miles away, Plutarch decided not to return home but instead to send a letter of consolation to his wife….Why did Plutarch not return home to be with his wife? By exploring the history of consolation letters, Plutarch’s personal life, ancient Greek attitudes toward death and children, and the author’s own questionable choices as an artist throughout his life, Professor D’Agata’s book will ask: Why do artists sometimes choose to be cruel to the people who are in their lives in order to make art for strangers?”

Roland Racevskis, Professor of French and Italian, will look at “Self, Place, and Environment in Early Modern French Literature.” He will write a “manuscript on the significance of material environments for the human experience in works of seventeenth-century French literature. The focus throughout the book is on the urgent question of humanity’s relationship to the nonhuman world, and how that relationship has changed over historical time.”

From Iowa State University:

Mitchell Squire, Professor of Architecture, “will contribute to the emerging field of performing architecture by creating a series of self-portraits and performances that explore the socio-sexual effects of extractive economies — a concept that refers to a nation that derives its productivity from non-renewable resources — on the Black body.”

Sojung Lee, Associate Professor, Apparel, Events, and Hospitality Management, “will develop a research model to examine three rural festivals in South Korea and compare them to rural festivals in Iowa to identify differences between the two cultures.”

Joanne Marshall, Associate Professor of Education, “will examine the evolving education system in Namibia, which gained its independence in 1990.”

From the University of Northern Iowa:

Heather Jeronimo, Languages & Literatures, “will undertake a book project that investigates non-normative familial relationships in contemporary Spanish literature and film through an examination of the ways in which family members understand and negotiate their identity within the family. The focus on non-normative families — including their physical and sometimes incestuous aspects, the role of literary paternity or maternity in identity formation, incidents of non-biological parenting, family formation in a post-colonial society, and the relationship between masculinity in crisis and parenthood — creates a space for dialogue about the societal and personal effects of familial difference in a hegemonic world.”

Meantime, the faculty that took sabbaticals two years ago has checked back in. Among them is Thomas Oates, associate professor of American Studies at Iowa. He “completed research and drafted three chapters for a book-length cultural history of the commercialization of playground basketball.” His research on the book “also forms the basis for a new undergraduate course titled ‘Cultures of Basketball.’”
Qualifications for obtaining a sabbatical vary by university. But all “conducted a rigorous review process for each proposed PDA,” a board document says. “Peer review and recommendation are the basis of selection at the department and college levels at each university and final approval by the provost. Criteria considered include the impact of the proposed PDA on the institution and the state.”

• • •

Merry Christmas

Twelve drummers drumming…

…for bee-keeper Kathy Meyer of Winterset…city manager Steve Schainker of Ames…Steve Davis at the Iowa Supreme Court…and Kate Gibson Overby, newly returned to Des Moines…and her mom and dad, Dick and Mary Susan, too…for Mark Stringer of the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa…and architect Kevin Nordmeyer, who misses no details….for Jenny Richmond of the Parks Department, who’s as nice as she is talented…and Erica Hartschen of Drake. …

Eleven pipers piping…

…for George Drake, historian and scholar and Cubs fan and former president of Grinnell College…and that group of Grinnell alums who remain active in civic and political affairs in Des Moines — including Rob Barron and Grant Woodard and Austin Frerick — and David Maxwell, the former Drake president who now chairs the Grinnell board…and trustee Connie Wimer…Oh, and legislator Chris Hall, too. …

Ten lords-a-leaping…

…for Louise Tingba, Tracy Tran, Mary Par, Esther Lian, Jaya Dahal, Niyon Jean Paul, Aling Rein, Rosey Si, Ta Mu Htoo, Aung Aung Htay, Esther Niyonsavye, Bijoux Jean, Mahamat Senoussi, Olga Sverdlova, Ehkler Taw, Thuong Cao, Jose Luis Abad Galindo Narayanan Hariharan Iyer, Maria Montehermozo, Ehkue Htoo, MJ Ventura Libanan, Lisa Wapoh Washington, Aasha Rai, Lalmuan Puii, Lucretia Koffa, Suku Gurung, Samiska Humagai, Kaibeh Joejoe, Tulia Mulibinge Mulemba and Lorena Dahl — the 30 new citizens sworn in by Federal Judge Robert Pratt during a moving ceremony at the ballpark on July 4….And to the 297 citizens sworn in at the ballpark for the previous 10 years…and to Judge Pratt, of course…and his grandson Henry. …

Nine ladies dancing…

…for Marilee Mitchell and Linda Sibley, who love dogs… and treats and rabbits to chase for Olive the Wonder Dog and her friends Lucy and Jude and Mickey…and Sabina Clutter, too…for Tom Colvin of the Animal Rescue League of Iowa…and Derron Heldt, the racing boss at Prairie Meadows…and Susan Knapp, who loves horses…for Griff, the Drake bulldog…for Christi Anderson, who is so nice to dogs and people. And cats. . . .

Eight maids-a-milking…

…for Jay and Beth Hubbell…and all those Hubbell cousins and aunts and uncles and moms and dads…especially the older generation — Jim and Fred and Mike — who give so much time and money to this city and state…for new politician Carl Voss and his wife, Susan, who never say no to a cause…and Bruce Kelley, who made possible that fantastic overlook in the beautifully redone MacRae Park…and the Dan Kelly family — Dan and Mary and Patrick and Dan and Bridget — who built the splash-pad in Greenwood Park and are giving two more in inner-city parks…and Carson King, who asked for beer money and raised $3 million for the children’s hospital in Iowa City. …

Seven swans-a-swimming…

…for Zachary and Mackenzie and Christopher and Maggie, the world’s best grandchildren…and their folks, of course…for everyone at CITYVIEW, but especially Shane and Jolene Goodman and Celeste Tilton…and Kathy Bolten, who makes the Business Record ever-more interesting…for Rachel Stassen-Berger, the Des Moines Register’s politics editor, and her boss, Carole Hunter…and blogger Laura Belin, of course…and Lisa Schmitz, the social-media specialist at Des Moines Area Community College…for scenic Iowa video guy Andrew McGuire…and, of course, for photographer Mirza Kudic, who is simply the best. …

Six ladies dancing…

…for Kierra Collier, the scrappy Drake basketball player…and her colleagues and her coach, the spectacular Jennie Baranczyk…and for Susie Glazer Burt, who gave a ton of money to the women’s basketball program…and Drake all-American softball pitcher Nicole Newman, who set school and conference strikeout records and threw five perfect games in the season while getting her degree in psychology…and Van Meter’s Zach Pleggenkuhle, who holds more high school state baseball tournament records than any other pitcher in the history of Bob Feller’s hometown…for sports talker Trent Condon and sports marketer Scott Fuller…for baseball fan Sherill Whisenand in the Secretary of State’s office…and Des Moines marathon boss Chris Burch…and half-marathoners Melanie Frausto and Mark Freund. …

Five gold rings…

…for Randy Evans, who fights for the First Amendment…and Danny Homan, who fights for the union worker (for Colleen Homan, too)…for Seth Nutting, who works for the Wolves…for John McCormally in the state auditor’s office…and lawyers Paige Fiedler and Tom Dunn…for Grand View student Karen Ruiz and Graham Gillette…and — his name should head the list — 99-year-old Neal Smith, a fountain of knowledge, a textbook of history…for Ben Kieffer and Julie Englander and Pat Blank and Rob Dillard and Clay Masters and those other Iowa Public Radio people we know by their voices…and Charity Nebbe, too. …

Four collie birds…

…for everyone associated with the Des Moines Water Trails project — the Next Big Thing to happen here — especially Dan Houston and Rick Tollakson…for Chris Coleman, who is retiring after 21 years on the Des Moines City Council…and Chris Hensley, still involved in civic doings after leaving the council two years ago…and her successor Josh Mandelbaum…for former Regent and assistant attorney general Rose Vasquez, who still comes to town for baseball games…and Mark Cooper, who threw a pretty good first pitch. …

Three French hens…

…for Maddox and Harper Teut…for little Ren Harkin, who beat the odds…and former Mayor John (Pat) Dorian and the guys who gather for lunch each month: Archie Brooks and John Mauro and Michael Mauro and Ned Chiodo and the occasional straggler…for David Chivers…for everyone named Vilsack…and Mary Sellers. …

Two turtle doves…

…for all the politicians who won and who lost — including Jack Hatch and Frank Cownie and Skip Moore and Linda Westergaard and Joe Gatto and Jacquie Easley and Marco Battaglia and Chelsea Chism-Vargas…and all the poll workers, too…for Chris Donahue, sports photographer and car salesman…for the retiring Ken Quinn and welcome to his successor, Barbara Stinson. …

And a partridge in a pear tree…

…for John Culver, who cared about all of us…and Gerald LaBlanc, who protected our monuments and cemeteries…Bill Fultz, adman, and Don Wegner, barber….Charlotte Stickler, “Miss Drake” of 1941, and Alex Brown, artist and guitarist…for the fashionable Lyn Shiffler…and newspaper executive Chris Monroe…for Chief Justice Arthur McGiverin and Justice Daryl Hecht, for the brilliant and iconoclastic Bill Stowe…for Arnie Engman and banker Bob Brenton…for George Turner, golfer and broadcaster and knower of all Iowa sports history…and Casey Kincaid, a brilliant courtroom lawyer, and lawyer Bill Lillis, too…for Sara Hill and her sister Nancy Hewitt, lovely ladies…for Jeanne Hopson, who loved the theater…for Ralph Compiano and Barry Petrowski and Keith Fenton and Ron Rice and Barry Pidgeon…for RAGBRAI’s Jim Green…and Casey Gradischnig…for Iowan Bill Bolster, who knew more about television than anyone, anywhere…and Jody Reynolds…for umpire Eric Cooper, a good guy…and Jane Fuson…for Legislator Dick Deardon, the working-man’s friend…for the beloved Mark Cady. . . and the wonderful, oh so wonderful, Tony Giudicessi. …
…and, always, for the first Christopher. ♦

Godfrey judge McCall: Frank Harty is a liar.

Polk County District Judge Brad McCall on Nov. 12 ruled against a motion by attorneys for the state of Iowa and former Gov. Terry Branstad to overrule a jury’s $1.5 million judgment in favor of Chris Godfrey, the former head of the Iowa Workers Compensation Board who had sued the state, the former Governor and others for discrimination and retaliation.

Then, on Nov. 22, the state appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court.

In a 56-page opinion, the judge, among other things, in effect called Branstad Attorney Frank Harty a liar. One of many issues raised by the state was whether the trial was improperly moved to Jasper County from Polk County after Godfrey’s lawyer, Roxanne Conlin, was hospitalized as a result of the bad air quality in the courthouse, which is being remodeled.

“Defendants’ contention Courtroom 208 was ‘safe and appropriate’ is disingenuous, at best,” McCall wrote. “Their contention that ‘Defense counsel experienced no health problems or concerns from the air quality’ is a blatantly false statement. (Emphasis in original.) McCall then attached as an exhibit to his ruling a letter from Harty to the judge that said:

“I write to follow up on our conversation about trial logistics this afternoon. My team unanimously supports any location for our trial other than the old Polk County Courthouse. After just a couple of hours we are experiencing respiratory issues. And with a nose the size of mine — that is no small problem.”

McCall’s ruling also questioned the credibility of Branstad as a witness.

So far, the state has spent $1,919,162.30 in fees to private lawyers defending Branstad, according to Cityview’s calculations, and if the verdict holds the state will need to pay not only the $1.5 million judgment but also the fees of Godfrey’s attorney, Roxanne Conlin. She has pegged those at over $4 million, so far.

Reynolds says the cost of the appeal will be minimal, but no one has defined minimal. The bills must be approved by the five-person Executive Council, and two members, State Auditor Rob Sand and State Treasurer Mike Fitzgerald, have indicated they will oppose them. Both are Democrats. The other three members, including Reynolds, are Republicans.

Conlin told the Associated Press that the decision to appeal is “deeply dumb.” ♦

Mark Cady, 1953-2019

Mark Cady was a lovely man, and a remarkable one.

The Chief Justice of the Iowa Supreme Court was everything everyone said about him after he died so suddenly and so unexpectedly, felled by a heart attack at age 66 while jogging with his beloved Labradoodle, Lucy, outside Principal Park in the early evening of Nov. 15.

He was, as they said, kind and caring, brilliant and hard-working. He was, as they said, thoughtful and funny, eloquent and elegant. He was, as they said, a good father and grandfather and husband and brother. He was, to so many, a good friend as well as a great man.

[An aside: And a man of many talents. One pretty evening last summer, when he had been assigned baby-sitting duties, there he was walking to his seat in the ballpark, his little granddaughter Cameryn in his arms, a hot-dog in his hand, a diaper bag over his shoulder. He could multi-task.]

But there’s also this: From the depth of his soul to the marrow of his bones, he believed in equality, and that is what drove him. Equality for all people in Iowa and equality for the judiciary in the three-legged stool of Iowa government.

Time and again, through legal scholarship and persuasive leadership, he furthered the first, expounding rights and expanding liberties guaranteed in the Iowa constitution. But, in the end, he lost the battle for the second as Republicans in the Legislature and Gov. Kim Reynolds and perhaps one or two of his newer colleagues — apparently still angry 10 years after he wrote the decision guaranteeing gay people the right to marry in this state — staged a late-night coup this spring that changed the way justices are chosen in Iowa, that gave the Governor firm control over the selection of justices and that in effect shortened Cady’s term as Chief Justice though not his term on the Court.

The decision to shorten his term as chief dismayed and disappointed him, but the move to weaken the judiciary as an equal branch of government ate away at him day and night. He feared for its long-term impact and the possible politicization of the Court.

[An aside: Many of those folks who went after Cady made somber and sad statements upon his death. “I am heartbroken to learn of the passing of Chief Justice Mark Cady,” Reynolds tweeted. “…He leaves behind a legacy of service and dedication that we should never forget.” But, she failed to note, one that she did not want to see continue.]

Cady was a political moderate — over the years, he had registered as a Democrat, a Republican and an independent in Webster County — who was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1998 by former Gov. Terry Branstad in what one long-time political watcher called perhaps the greatest decision Branstad ever made. As the court became more divided in recent years, he often was the swing vote, particularly after he became Chief Justice in 2011.

It was a fluke that Cady was chosen to write the Court’s unanimous decision in Varnum v. Brien, the case that established his legacy and that said that denying gay couples the right to wed was denying them the equal protection they are guaranteed under the Iowa Constitution.

The ruling was the most significant decision from the Court in more than 100 years, and it was assigned to him when he drew the name out of a paper bag on a day that 22 cases were being assigned by then-Chief Justice Marsha Ternus.

The opinion is simple and straightforward, eloquent in its clarity and inspiring in its explanation of our rights under the Iowa Constitution — the right of equal protection for all, the right of freedom of religion for all — rights that, the Cady opinion explains, are not in conflict.

It is a piece of literature, like “Huckleberry Finn” and “Charlotte’s Web,” that should be reread every year, reread to ponder the message and to savor the writing.

Cady wanted Iowans not to fear the court system, but to embrace it. When he became chief, he started taking the Court around the state to hold sessions in high-school auditoriums and civic arenas. Then, afterward, he’d talk to the folks who showed up, and he and his colleagues would mingle with them over coffee or Cokes and cookies. He, more than anyone, demystified the court system.

He was genuinely gregarious, not in a back-slapping way but in a touch-on-the-shoulder, clasp-of-the-hand sort of way. He was an attentive listener, and he had a day-brightening smile. (He was also movie-star handsome. Last summer, having breakfast at the Cub Club, he stopped by a table to say hello to a friend, who introduced him to a visiting television producer and his movie-actress wife. Afterward, the man and woman noted how nice he was — and how good-looking. “If he ever retires,” one of them said, “he could get a role tomorrow as a leading man in Hollywood.” Justice David Wiggins heard of that and passed it along to the chief. “Talk to my agent,” Cady responded.)

Both of Cady’s grandfathers were carpenters, he once noted, and that is why he learned to “measure twice, cut once,” to measure and remeasure the facts and the law before setting out to write. It was that careful analysis that led him to understand, over time, how the brains of young people developed. He encountered young people who had done awful things — horrible things — but he ultimately concluded that they were still developing, that in 20 or 30 or 40 years they needed a chance to become productive citizens. He guided the Court in striking down laws that would send young people to prison for life without a chance of parole.

He was the young person’s best friend. “While some children need to face the full force of the court system, we have learned most do not,” he told legislators two years ago. “Most children only need a process of justice that best assures their potential will be discovered and achieved. This is what the process of justice must be for all of Iowa’s children.”

He talked about a Polk County program for troubled girls, girls who had committed crimes, had turned to drugs. “Some are mothers, yet, they are all still children who, too many times, looked back for support that was not there.” The program was working, he noted, and the girls now face a future that is no longer bleak. Six of the girls sent notes of thanks to Cady.

“You rock,” one said.

And, indeed, Mark Cady rocked. ♦

— Michael Gartner


  1. Susan Imus says:

    You too, ROCK, Michael Gartner. The generosity and kindness that you extended to the Cady family during this challenging time is highly remarkable. Hence my comment. With great appreciation, Mark’s sister-in-law.

  2. Diane S Kolmer says:

    Once again, Michael Gartner you have nailed it….the 12 Days of Christmas Ode is brilliant..and made me smile…especially the last missive of those that have left our mortal coil…made me tear up. This January will be the 10the year of my father’s passing…Lee Kolmer..he was one of the Good Guys in Iowa…he never chose a ‘side’ …but he chose a ‘result’ or a solution to an issue. While he garnered both praise and derision during his time at ISU..he never doubted the role of the. press…especially the Register..and your leadership. Thank you for giving me a little taste of what ‘else’ is going on in Des Moines…all the best to you and your endeavors in 2020..HAPPY NEW YEAR!

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