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Civic Skinny

Catching up before a break

3/24/2020

CITYVIEW is taking a break with its printed edition — until we’re all hale and hearty again — so here’s an update on news Civic Skinny has been following.

Marty Tirrell is out of jail in Massachusetts. While awaiting sentencing in federal court in Des Moines for mail fraud, the sports talk guy and con man was given court permission to spend the holidays in Massachusetts, where his mother and sister live and — as it turns out — where he first honed his talent to lie and cheat and steal.

He was promptly arrested in Massachusetts on larceny charges stemming from yet another ticket scheme — promising to get big-event tickets for a guy and then keeping the money but not coming up with the tickets. He couldn’t make his $5,000 bond, but after spending several days in jail he got it reduced to $2,500 and was released. He’s due back in Iowa before that case comes to trial in Massachusetts.

Tirrell, 60, Tirrell, 60, is scheduled to be in federal district court in Des Moines on May 13 for sentencing by Judge Stephanie Rose, who the other day moved the sentencing date back from April 7 because of the coronavirus pandemic. His crime — he pleaded guilty to the one count in return for getting nine counts dismissed — carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.  In the guilty plea, he admits he stole more than $550,000 in schemes from September of 2016 through December of 2017, but court records document a years-long trail in which he scammed and schemed to steal several millions of dollars from friends, acquaintances, employers, wives, advertisers and about anyone else he ran into. Sometimes, they were sham business deals, but usually they involved getting people to put up money so he could buy blocks of tickets to big sporting events with the idea that he’d resell them at a profit. Usually, though, Tirrell kept the money or the tickets, and the “investor” got nothing.

He lived large as a conman, but in recent months was broke and homeless. Awaiting trial, he had been staying at a Door of Faith Rehabilitation Center, but he was kicked out of that before he went to Massachusetts, court records show.

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Chip Ainsworth, a veteran reporter in Massachusetts, says Tirrell was once very popular in Franklin County, “an energetic play-by-play voice who honed his craft as a youngster broadcasting high school games into a tape recorder.”  But there were early signs of trouble. At a high-school game, it appeared to Tirrell that a local boy was fouled on what would have been a last-second, game-winning shot. “Without saying anything, he ripped off his headset and stormed on to the court and chased the officials into the locker room,” a fellow broadcaster told Ainsworth. “It was a glimpse of trouble to come.” Indeed, the owner of one Massachusetts station called him “a station manager’s worst nightmare.” …

From Warren Buffett’s 2020 letter to stockholders of Berkshire Hathaway:

“Three decades ago, my Midwestern friend, Joe Rosenfield, then in his 80s, received an irritating letter from his local newspaper. In blunt words, the paper asked for biographical data it planned to use in Joe’s obituary. Joe didn’t respond. So? A month later, he got a second letter from the paper, this one labeled “URGENT.”

Chris Godfrey’s never-ending lawsuit against the state of Iowa and former Gov. Terry Branstad alleging discrimination and retaliation now is idling at the Iowa Supreme Court. 

To recap: In January 2012, Godfrey, then the head of the Iowa Workers Compensation Board, sued the state, Branstad and several members of his administration alleging discrimination and retaliation because he was gay (and happened to be a Democrat, too). Appointed by Gov. Tom Vilsack and reappointed by Gov. Chet Culver — both Democrats — Godfrey had a fixed term that didn’t expire when Branstad beat Culver in 2010. Nevertheless, Branstad tried to fire him, and when Godfrey refused to leave, Branstad reduced his salary. The cut amounted to about $150,000 over the remaining four-and-a-half years of the term.

Godfrey then sued, and late last year an eight-person district court jury ruled in his favor, granting him $1.5 million. Branstad wanted to be represented by private lawyers, not the Attorney General’s office, so as of a few days ago the taxpayers had paid two law firms a total of $2,807,051.13 in the $150,000 case. In addition, since Godfrey won, the state is required to pay his law fees, too, and by the end of the trial those totaled $3,078,268.74.

The state has appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court, which means two things: The case will continue to drag on, and the bills from both sides will continue to mount. So far, nothing has been filed with the Supreme Court because the court reporter from the district-court trial has not completed the whole transcript.

“It will be years” before this case is over, says a person involved.  Godfrey is represented primarily by Roxanne Conlin — who lost the 1982 gubernatorial race to Branstad, which adds a little spice to the case. Branstad and the state initially were represented by George LaMarca, but he retired and the case then was given to the Nyemaster law firm and is being managed by Frank Hardy. …

The trial started out in the old Polk County Courthouse, but after Conlin was hospitalized with lung problems tied to dust from reconstruction, it was moved to Jasper County. There was a big dust-up (though that’s a poor choice of words) over moving the trial — after agreeing to the move, Hardy then objected — and there was an argument over whether the courtroom really was polluted. 

So on June 10, Conlin’s son, J.B. Conlin, showed up during business hours in the courtroom — it by now had been vacated — with air-measuring equipment. A deputy sheriff was called, and he ordered Conlin to leave. Conlin refused and was arrested and charged with interference with official acts. On June 13, Conlin, represented by Monty Brown, pled not guilty. On Feb. 20, a jury found him guilty.

Interference with official acts is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $65 to $650 and jail of no more than 30 days. Sentencing is set for March 27. …

An Internet conversation:

Herb Strentz: “Given the springlike day, Joan and I took a walk around the Kruidenier Trail at Gray’s Lake and for the first time saw that one of those small plaques on the bridge is “IN MEMORY OF STRUNK AND WHITE.”

Randy Evans: “Obviously the plaque is intended as a warning to people crossing the bridge to not dangle their participles there.” …

In October of last year, CITYVIEW reported on the complicated lives of criminal-defense lawyers John and Katherine Sears

We reported:

“John lost his law license for at least two years. Katherine filed a potential class-action lawsuit against the brothel in Nevada where she was working part-time. John pleaded guilty of assaulting his ex-wife, Kelsey Sears, and John and Katherine sued Kelsey for the return of a crockpot and two vibrators. Meantime, Katherine has kept busy tweeting under the nom-de-prostitute Morrigan Eris.”

Life goes on. The suit over the crockpot and vibrators was settled out of court, and Katherine Sears seems to have taken a break from her part-time Nevada job. But the lawsuit she filed against the brothel continues. 

Despite her claim to Channel 8 that she earned $55,000 as a prostitute in three weeks at Sheri’s Ranch in Pahrump, Nevada,, she and a co-worker a year ago sued the brothel alleging that they were paid less than the minimum wage, that they were not paid overtime, and that the ranch illegally kept half of the tips given to the prostitutes, who are referred to as “courtesans” in the lawsuit.

The suit goes on in federal district court in Nevada. The brothel is seeking dismissal of the case, but the judge has not yet ruled.

And happy 100th birthday to Neal Smith — farmer, soldier, lawyer, politician, statesman — who as a Congressman showered Iowa with wisdom and money and who continues  to give us wisdom and perspective. He is our living textbook. ♦

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