Wednesday, October 27, 2021

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Civic Skinny

Door of Faith boots Tirrell; Massachusetts jails him. Christensen to head Court; Young pays back taxes.


Marty Tirrell, the smooth-talking scammer and loud-talking sports-radio host, has been kicked out of the Door of Faith residential treatment center where he was awaiting his April 7 sentencing in federal court.

And now he’s in jail in Greenfield, Massachusetts.

At the Door of Faith, Tirrell was deemed to be in noncompliance with the pretrial supervision terms because, according to court documents, he failed “to attend ‘his home church,’ open a bank account, and create a budget.” It is a touch ironic that failure to create a budget was the problem, since as a swindler of friends and acquaintances and perfect strangers he seemed to be a master of creative finance — or, put another way, at stealing millions of dollars and getting away with it for years.

In February, after the Door of Faith booted him, the federal defender’s office asked the court to let him move to Deerfield, Massachusetts, to live with his sister until the sentencing date. The prosecutors at first objected but then agreed to the deal, and that’s where he is now.

But not at his sister’s house.

Prep Iowa

There has been a warrant for his arrest in Massachusetts since 2017 — it’s unclear why — and he has been in and out of the state in the past couple of years apparently without worrying about it. This time, though, authorities there got wind of his travels and arrested him. An officer at the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office in Greenfield told CITYVIEW that Tirrell was arrested and has been unable to make the $5,000 bail. The officer wouldn’t give any other details.

An Iowa acquaintance of Tirrell says a court appearance in Massachusetts is set for March 13.

Tirrell, who had hopped from station to station in Des Moines and then to cable TV over the past 20 years or so — since he moved here from Massachusetts — was charged last year with 10 federal felonies, including wire fraud and bank fraud and credit-card fraud. In December, broke and homeless, he pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud in return for the government’s dropping of the other nine counts in federal district court in Des Moines. 

Under the agreement, the 60-year-old 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. The length of the sentence will be up to Federal Judge Stephanie Rose, a onetime prosecutor. Some court watchers have guessed he’ll get five to seven years, but that’s just a guess.

Tirrell’s crimes usually involved getting people to lend him money for ticket-buying schemes to major sports events, schemes in which Tirrell ended up keeping the money and the tickets. He was regularly sued, but he rarely showed up in court. The list of default judgments against him is long and runs into the millions of dollars.

Meantime, showing a certain amount of chutzpah, he recently opened a new Facebook page, complete with a picture of him in a radio studio. The page says “lives in Deerfield, Mass.” It doesn’t say where  — and it doesn’t say the residency will soon be changing to a federal prison. …

A couple of years ago, CITYVIEW’s Jim Duncan wrote that Polk County Medical Examiner Greg Schmunk was “a bona fide celebrity in his field. He was the forensic consultant for hit TV series ‘CSI,’ ‘CSI Miami,’ ‘Bones, Rizzoli & Isles,’ ‘The Blacklist’ and ‘Rosewood.’ He has also made multiple appearances as himself on ‘Forensic Files.’ Prosecutors in Des Moines have told me that he’s a brilliant expert witness, that he even asks them to never object when he is being cross examined, no need.”

Duncan also wrote: “Others say that kind of arrogance scares them.”

Now, Schmunk has been fired, and people at the county say it was that arrogance that got him fired — that some disparaging comments he made about some staffers led to his ouster. Schmunk, 64, told KCCI that there had been “infighting between some of my staff.” He said he believed he was “the victim of a political turf war involving the public-employees union (AFSCME) and the Polk County Board of Supervisors.”

The medical examiner came to Des Moines 17 years ago after high-profile careers in Sacramento and San Francisco and was the highest-paid public official in Polk County. His salary, when he was fired, was $268,047 a year, $50,000 more than the county manager makes. He was given notice on Feb. 10, and KCCI reported it on Feb. 13. The Des Moines Register still hasn’t noted it. …

The rest of the story: “Register Tops State Journalism Awards,” said the headline in The Register, and, in fact that’s what the story said. “The Des Moines Register journalism staff was cited 30 times in the 2020 Iowa Better Newspaper Contest on Friday night, taking top awards for general excellence, community leadership and excellence in editorial writing, among other categories.”

What it didn’t say: The (University of Iowa) Daily Iowan was named the association’s “Newspaper of the Year.” …

If it hasn’t been announced by the time you read this, justices of the Iowa Supreme Court are picking Susan Christensen to be the new chief. Christensen, from Harlan, was appointed to the court last year. To outsiders, who were expecting Tom Waterman to be elected by his peers, it seems a surprise choice; but insiders say, elliptically, “there’s a reason.”

On Feb. 24, the Court announced that Christensen has indeed been elected chief. …

Here are some tax incentives the city granted last year:

— In January, it approved an economic-development deal with Nelson Development on a hotel on University Avenue, near Drake University. The incentives — in the form of tax breaks — total $2,837,825 over 10 years, though the project adds to the overall tax base.

— In March, the Waldinger Corp. negotiated a tax break for a $32 million building it planned on Southwest 63rd Street. The break equals $2.3 million.

— Also in March, the city negotiated a financial-assistance package with the struggling Merle Hay Mall, agreeing to give it up to $4.8 million over 12 years — $400,000 a year from a tax-increment-finance district fund — for renovations.

— In May, the city agreed to a deal with the owner of the Argonne Apartments at 1723 Grand Ave. downtown for a $7.7 million renovation. The incentive is estimated at $1,617,227 over 20 years.

— In August, the city agreed to a deal with Lincoln and Lisa McIlravy for a new, 112-room, $21.5 million Element Hotel by Marriott on East Third Street. The assistance, in tax relief, is estimated at $2 million over 10 years.

— In November, the city council agreed to a deal with Frank Levy’s Connolly Loft Associates for a 57-unit, four-story, $11.8 million housing project on Southeast Sixth Street. The incentive is estimated at $532,038 over 10 years. 

— In December, the city agreed to a deal with Jake Christensen’s development company on an 87-room hotel and small commercial building at 25th and Grand Avenue. The project is valued at $18.2 million, and the incentive is estimated at $1,964,133 over 10 years.

— In  December, too, the city agreed on incentives valued at $3,192,962 over 10 years for a transloading facility planned at 200 Southeast 15th Street. The developers are Paul Cownie and Gabe Claypool. 

If each of these deals works out, economic-development people always say, the long-term tax benefit to the city will exceed the incentives since the sites now pay little or no taxes.

And here are some claims paid by the city in 2019 to settle lawsuits or other disputes:

— In January, the city paid $26,622.50 to Lennie Terrell to settle a worker’s compensation dispute.

— In February, the city paid $27,988 to Jennifer Barsetti as a “compromise settlement” under a worker’s compensation claim.

— In May, the city paid Robert and Linda Foss $185,000 to settle a lawsuit arising after Robert Foss was injured when his bicycle struck a curb that the city had put across what most people believed was a city bike path at 16th Street and Martin Luther King. [In 2018, the city settled a similar lawsuit, filed by Mark Evans, for $1.5 million. A third suit, by bicyclist Larry Conklin, is pending in Polk County District Court.]

— In May, the city paid Douglas Triplett $50,000 after he sued the city for denying a worker’s compensation claim.

— In September, the city paid Des Moines Transload $25,000 to settle a lawsuit against the city alleging breach of contract in a real-estate deal.

— In September, the city settled for $39,892 a worker’s compensation claim filed by Kevin Holzhauser.

— In September, the city agreed to pay $90,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by the estate of Jason Hunt, who was killed in 2016 when the car he was driving was struck by a vehicle that was fleeing a Des Moines police car in a high-speed chase on Lower Beaver Road. In 2017, his estate sued the city, the police department and a police officer, alleging, among other things, gross negligence. 

— In October, the city agreed to pay Theodore Crum $71,298 to settle a disputed worker’s compensation claim.

All of these incentives and settlements have been partially offset by $178.50 — the price the city charged CITYVIEW for providing the documents. …

The rest of the story: Developer Jeff Young — or his bank — has paid the back taxes on his two downtown properties, the Bank of America building at 317 Sixth Ave. and the adjacent parking ramp at 500 Locust. The properties had been listed on the tax-sale register, meaning Young had fallen behind in taxes and someone else had stepped in to pay them, forcing Young ultimately to lose the properties or else to redeem the properties by paying the third party the taxes plus 2 percent interest per month. 

But Community State Bank, which regularly finances Young’s transactions, has stepped up and paid $218,657 on the bank building and $67,155 on the garage.

Young is scheduled to go on trial April 13 on five felony counts of “fraudulent practices.” According to court documents, he paid a lot of money for five expensive cars but lied about those values when he registered them with Polk County, short-changing the state of the revenue due it. He has been offered a plea deal but hasn’t yet rejected or accepted it. …

Local boy makes good: Adam Meyer, who grew up here, has just been named provost — chief academic officer — of the Juilliard School in New York. Juilliard is the nation’s premier school for performing-arts education, for musicians and dancers and actors. Meyer, who is 40 and the son of Gene and Kathy Meyer of Winterset, is a violist who is renowned as a musician as well as an academic. The appointment is a big deal in the world of performing arts (and in the Meyer household). ♦

‘Statistical ties’

 Here’s something to remember this election season when reading a newspaper story — or listening to a television report — about polls:

Margins of errors work both ways.

A story might say that Sen. Bernie Sanders is leading a nationwide poll among likely Democratic voters with 22 percent and that Mayor Pete Buttigieg has 19 percent.  Then it will say the margin of error is 4 percentage points, and then it might add that thus “the two are in a statistical tie.” 

Maybe that’s true, maybe not. 

It’s just as likely that it’s a blowout. Saying that something is a statistical tie assumes that the margin of error works only in favor of making the race look closer. But it doesn’t. Reporters — or campaign aides with the candidate with the lower number — say that if, well, you add that 4 points to Buttigieg or you add two to him and take two from Sanders, well, then, Buttigieg wins. 

In fact, it can work the other way just as often. You  could add four to Sanders and subtract four from Buttigieg, in theory. The bias is in making the race look closer than the actual poll numbers — in the best estimate of the race — say it is.         

It could be that Sanders had 26 percent (22 plus 4) and Buttigieg had 15 percent (19 minus 4). Or maybe Sanders had 18% percent (22 minus 4) and Buttigieg had 23 percent (19 plus 4). Or maybe it’s anywhere along those spectrums. But the thing to remember is this: The best estimate is reflected in the numbers in the poll; all other numbers are inferior estimates. There are two estimates of any race — the best, and then all others, which are inferior.

In truth, it’s quite complicated. The margin of error reported by a pollster is typically the maximum margin of error for the sample size, but each finding in every poll has its own margin of error. The margin is highest when the findings are closer to 50-50 but lower in the case of a blowout — say 80-20. Also, remember that margins of error are given in percentage points, not percentages. 

But the main thing you need to remember is this:

Margins of errors work both ways.  The journalist — or campaign aide — who conveys a race as a “statistical tie” wants you to see it that way.

You will be tested on this next month. ♦

One Comment

  1. Stephanie Gifford says:

    Thank you for writing about Marty Tirrell and shining a light on his crimes, as they go on for decades. It’s a shame and astonishing more media doesn’t cover this criminal, as his behavior has affected the community and state of Iowa, and the state of Massachusetts before that, not to mention the states in between that have had judgements against him also. Better laws, or better enforcement of laws, and awareness is needed to deter Marty and those like him.

    Iowa Nice doesn’t cut it! Staying silent doesn’t stop the crimes either.

    Why is he even in Massachusetts?! He should be in jail in Iowa awaiting his sentence. Ridiculous!

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