Thursday, January 31, 2019

Massive Memphis Investment In Electrolux 'Won't Pay Off'

Posted By on Thu, Jan 31, 2019 at 3:49 PM

Electrolux site
  • Electrolux site

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said he heard of Electrolux leaving Memphis in a press release and that the news was "disappointing."

The company said it would move much of the work done here to Springfield, Tennessee Thursday morning. The company got a massive incentive package to build a plant here in 2010 (details below). 

Here's what Strickland said of the move Thursday afternoon:

“Electrolux may be leaving Memphis, but they aren’t leaving because of Memphis. To hear about this announcement in a press release after being told a month ago that the plant wasn’t closing is disappointing to say the very least," Strickland said. “There is some consolation that Electrolux has committed to work with employees by allowing them to have time to find other opportunities, and from a community perspective, we will do all we can to help them find other employment.

"In 2010, the state, county and city acted in good faith and made an unprecedented investment in this company and in Memphis.

Just like they are exercising their option to leave, we will exercise our option to vigorously defend our investment. With a tough global economy, rising tariffs and losing a major product retailer, they are making business decisions. This in no way will affect our determination to continue to recruit new companies and jobs to our city. We are meeting with Electrolux officials tomorrow.”

Here's what U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen said of the move:

“I’m very disappointed that the employees of Electrolux learned today that Memphis’ economic development investment in one company’s future apparently won’t pay off.

The company’s abandonment of Memphis will mean potential financial hardship for its employees and suppliers, and should result in more careful review of promises made by corporations about local job creation in the future.”

Here's what taxpayers gave the company in 2010:

• Two parcels of free land totaling 800 acres in Pidgeon Industrial Park

• $40 million from city and county

• Additional $2 million from city/county for ancillary costs

• 15 year PILOT abating 90 percent city and 75 percent county property taxes

• $95 million cash grant from state of Tennessee

• $3 million federal grant from Delta Regional Authority

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State Abortion Bill Called 'Extreme Legislation'

Posted By on Thu, Jan 31, 2019 at 10:13 AM


A bill filed in the state legislature would prohibit an abortion if a fetal heartbeat is detected and would require fetal heartbeat testing before an abortion, a move Planned Parenthood said that would “make safe abortions illegal in Tennessee.” 
Van Huss
  • Van Huss

The bill was filed last week by Rep. Micah Van Huss (R- Jonesborough). The bill has 24 co-sponsors in the House. However, no companion bill has yet been filed in the Senate.

Van Huss filed similar legislation before, according to Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi and Tennessee Advocates for Planned Parenthood. The groups said in a statement Wednesday that the legislation filed previously “was not supported from Tennessee Right to Life and the state attorney general due to constitutional concerns.” They called it "extreme legislation."

“North Dakota and Arkansas both passed similar abortion bans and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars defending their laws in court, only to have the laws struck down or permanently blocked as unconstitutional,” the groups said.

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Year-End Crime Stats Show Successes, Challenges

Posted By on Thu, Jan 31, 2019 at 9:50 AM

Violent crime, gun crime, and robberies were down last year, but charges against youth were up, in a year-end analysis released Thursday.

Leaders with the Memphis and Shelby County Crime Commission and the University of Memphis (U of M) Public Safety Institute said they were encouraged by the figures but one said ”we have a long way to go.”

Here’s the basic breakdown of the figures from 2017 versus 2018 —

  • Memphis and Shelby County Crime Commission
Violent crime
(The rate is calculated based on the total number of reported murders, rapes, robberies, and aggravated assaults per 100,000 residents.)

• Memphis: down 4.2 percent

• Shelby County: down 3.6 percent

  • Memphis and Shelby County Crime Commission

Gun crime

• Memphis and Shelby County: down 15.8 percent
  • Memphis and Shelby County Crime Commission

• Memphis: down 12.1 percent (3,492 in 2017 to 3,069 in 2018)

• Shelby County: down 11.5 percent (3,626 in 2017 to 3,210 in 2018)

Charges against youth

• Brought to Juvenile Court: up 8.5 percent

• All violent and nonviolent charges: up 16.5 percent

  • Memphis and Shelby County Crime Commission

“The 2018 crime statistics give us reason to be both encouraged and concerned,” said Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich. “It is encouraging because major violent crime is down overall, especially crimes of rape, domestic violence and robbery.

"What is concerning, however, is the significant increase – 16.5 percent - in delinquent offenses charged against juveniles, including 661 major violent charges. That is a trend we all must work to reverse for the safety of the community.”
Bill Gibbons, president of the Crime Commission, said “we can take some encouragement” from the decreasing violent crime rate but that “ we have a long way to go” to reduce it further. In a statement, Gibbons said the violent crime rate was at its lowest in recent years in 2011, in which the Memphis Police Department had its highest complement of police officers.

So, what helped the crime rate drop? Here’s what the Crime Commission says:

• Enactment of tougher state gun laws and stepped up efforts at both the federal and state levels to hold individuals accountable for committing gun crimes;

• A Focused Deterrence Initiative launched by the D.A.'s office to focus on serious offenders and reduce the likelihood that they continue criminal behavior;

• The Safeways crime prevention program in major apartment communities;

• Increased staffing for the Multi-Agency Gang Unit;

• A renewed commitment to data-driven policing coupled with an increase in MPD officers.

“A recent assessment by the U of M's Public Safety Institute showed immediate reductions in major crime categories on a consistent basis in certain geographic areas identified as ’hot spots’ warranting additional resources through data-driven policing,” reads the report.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

City Will Not Invest Pension Money In Epicenter Fund

Posted By on Wed, Jan 30, 2019 at 12:38 PM


A city official confirmed Wednesday that Memphis will not invest a portion of its pension money into a local nonprofit’s investment fund.

Dan Springer, deputy director of media affairs for the city, told the Flyer Wednesday that the city’s pension investment committee won’t consider the proposal from the nonprofit Epicenter.

Epicenter asked the city in December to allocate $10 million of its $2.4 billion pension fund to a pool of money used to invest in entrepreneurs here.

The ask was an attempt by Epicenter to reach its immediate goal of aiding 1,000 entrepreneurs, including 500 new firms by 2025 and its ultimate goal of raising $100 million to fuel a 10-year strategy generating resources in and access to capital, talent, local customers, and technology commercialization.

Epicenter has already managed to raise $40 million for its investment fund, thanks in part to an initial $10 million grant from FedEx Corp.

Looking to grow the fund, Epicenter asked both city and county officials for $10 million from each of their pension funds late last year. The city’s Atlanta-based pension consultant, Segal Marco Advisors, did a preliminary assessment and recommended earlier this month that the city not invest the money into Epicenter’s fund.

In a letter to the city earlier this month, the consultant agency’s vice president Rosemary Guillette said the nonprofit doesn’t meet the city’s rules requiring that money be handled by organizations with a low turnover of personnel, capacity to undertake the fund’s accounts, expertise with similar funds, “demonstrable financial stability,” and a “competitive record of performance.”

Guillette also said that per city rules and strict guidelines around investments with the pension fund, the city’s pension fund can only be “invested for the exclusive benefit of the plan participants and solely in their interest.”

“Our preliminary assessment is that the Epicenter Fund does not meet either of the guidelines listed above and does not meet the fiduciary standards of care needed for a pension fund investment,” Guillette said. “Therefore, Segal Marco Advisors cannot recommend this investment opportunity for the pension fund.”

For this reason, Springer said the point is “moot.” The city suggested in a Facebook post last week that the pension investment committee will have the final decision on whether or not to invest in Epicenter’s fund.

However, Springer confirmed Wednesday that the city’s chief financial officer, Shirley Ford, who heads the committee, will not bring the proposal before the body and that the city will not move forward with the proposal.

Memphis Clinic Ordered to Pay $3.2M On Kickback Allegations

Posted By on Wed, Jan 30, 2019 at 9:58 AM

An East Memphis clinic gave kickbacks to doctors who referred patients there, according to federal prosecutors, and the clinic got popped for it Tuesday to the tune of more than $3.2 million.

WellBound of Memphis, a home dialysis care center, was order to pay the multi-million fine this week to federal and state government divisions, according to Michael Dunavant, United States Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee.

The payment will settle allegations against the company that it violated anti-kickback laws. A suit claimed in doing so the company effectively made false claims to Medicare, Tricare, and TennCare for services rendered at the Memphis facility. That is, doctors referring patients to the clinic were paid to do so by WellBound, according to Dunavant.

U.S. Attorney D. Michael Dunavant
  • U.S. Attorney D. Michael Dunavant
“When medical providers break the law by defrauding the government by providing illegal inducements in violation of the anti-kickback statute, we will use our resources to combat this fraud and hold them accountable,” Dunavant said in a statement.

Such kickbacks “distorts medical decision-making” and “freezes out competition,” according to Derrick L. Jackson, Special Agent in Charge at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General in Atlanta.

“This settlement sends a strong message that Medicare and Medicaid patients are not for sale,” Jackson said.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

U of M Looks to Acquire Apartments, Re-purposes Foundation to Do So

Posted By on Tue, Jan 29, 2019 at 12:50 PM

The U of M Board of Trustees at its specially-called meeting Tuesday
  • The U of M Board of Trustees at its specially-called meeting Tuesday

The University of Memphis is looking to add the Gather on Southern to its stock of residence halls.

The U of M Board of Trustees approved the acquisition Tuesday morning at a specially called meeting.

In order to acquire the property, the university is re-purposing its Tigers of Memphis Athletic Foundation as the University of Memphis Auxiliary Foundation.

The Tigers of Memphis Athletic Foundation was established in 2014 to support the university’s athletic endeavors, but after not being utilized it was absolved by the Secretary of State in 2018.

The foundation was re-established this month and now as the University of Memphis Auxiliary Foundation will be responsible for holding and operating auxiliary enterprises that directly benefit the university.

Raaj Kurapati, the university’s chief financial adviser, said the model for financing public higher education is shifting from reliance on state support to “an expectation of greater reliance on self-generated revenues.”

“The current administrative structure that governs public institutions of higher education at times impedes the university’s ability to react quickly to opportunities and think creatively to take advantage of alternative mechanisms to sustain the current infrastructure and expand services to support future growth,” Kurapati said in a report to the university board of trustees.

The new foundation will help the university be “nimble” and take advantage of alternative opportunities to make investments in infrastructure, like the Gather on Southern.

The Gather on Southern
  • The Gather on Southern

The Gather, constructed in 2014 by Dallas-based Rael Development Corp., houses 435 beds and sits adjacent to the university opposite the railroad tracks. The university is looking to enter into a partnership with Municipal Acquisitions to manage and eventually acquire the property after 30 years.

Kurapati said the deal would be economically beneficial to the university because it wouldn't have to take on too much debt with the proposal.

Aside from the financial benefits, Kurapati said the university’s management of the Gather would lead to greater security measures on that property, citing three major felony-type incidents that took place at the Gather over the past three weeks. The acquisition would allow for the university to expand its secure perimeter to include the Gather and to better control what happens there, he said.

U of M president M David Rudd supported the proposal, saying that the average age of the buildings on the campus is about 57 years, and that constructing new residence halls is an expensive endeavor.

“We have not been able to build the kind of housing that is attractive to students,” Rudd said. “We can’t afford to get in the business of building new housing.”

Rudd said the newest residence hall, Centennial Place, costs the university upwards of $56 million. Acquiring the Gather is a way to contain costs — an overarching goal of the university.

The university’s plan to acquire the property has been endorsed by state officials, but must also be approved by the Attorney’s General office.

This move by the university comes after the creation of a federal program in 2017 that offers financial incentives for those who want to invest in areas designated as “opportunity zones.”

The program allows businesses or individuals to be forgiven of taxes on capital gains when invested in an opportunity zone. Kurapati said that a significant portion of the properties around the university have been designation as opportunity zones, and that the creation of the University of Memphis Auxiliary Foundation will help the university “fully capture the benefit of the program.”

Travel Channel Dubs Memphis 'Hottest Southern Destination of 2019'

Posted By on Tue, Jan 29, 2019 at 11:31 AM

  • Travel Channel

Travel Channel called Memphis its “hottest Southern destination of 2019” on its website Tuesday.

The distinction comes only a week after the TripSavvy travel site named Memphis its best overall travel destination for 2019.

”Memphis seems to be on everyone’s radar right now,” reads the post on the Travel Channel website. ‘Here’s what’s making this Southern city known for shaking hips, quacking ducks, and all things pink a must-go in 2019.”
Travel Channel pointed to the “Riverfront Reboot,” the ongoing improvements along the city’s shore along the Mississippi River. (“Riverfront Reboot” was also the headline for our story on what’s happening there this year.)

As for ”shaking hips,” the channel wondered ”if you went to Memphis and didn’t visit Graceland, home to the King of Rock and Roll, did it really happen?”

Elvis remains a major tourism draw, apparently, but the Travel Channel also encouraged visitors to see locations featured in the Hallmark Channel’s recent Christmas at Graceland movie and to grab a peanut butter and banana sandwich at The Arcade.

Barbecue, of course, made the Travel Channel list noting the more than 100 barbecue restaurants in the city, the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, and Bartlett-based Memphis Barbecue Supply.

The “quacking ducks” reference is to the twice-daily marches of The Peabody Hotel’s famous ducks to and from its lobby fountain. 
  • Justin Fox Burks

The Travel Channel also urged visitors to see the National Civil Right Museum, ride a trolley, tour the Pink Palace Museum (all things pink, get it?), and to see the city’s “museum-quality street art” via Julien de Casabianca’s Outings Project.

Stax and Sun made the list. Beale Street did, too, with Travel Channel writers giving it a top-ranked superlative.

Beale Street
  • Beale Street
“Historic Beale Street may be the most well-known street in America [dang!] thanks to its vibrant multi-colored neon signs and heart-pumping music,” reads the post. “It's squarely at the heart of the local music scene and even has its own app whether you want a historic tour or need help finding live music, including blues, jazz, gospel, and of course, rock and roll.”

Strickland Talks Past, Present, Future in State of City

Posted By on Tue, Jan 29, 2019 at 8:25 AM


During his third State of the City address Monday night, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said he is “hungry for more” progress, growth, and momentum in Memphis.

“I don’t simply want to have momentum in Memphis — I want to accelerate our momentum,” Strickland said. “I want to take this special time in our history and continue turning the corner into a prosperous future for everyone — a prosperous future that we all know Memphis deserves.”

Strickland delivered the address in three parts, highlighting what his administration has done, what it is doing, and what it will do.

A few of the accomplishments Strickland reported are:

• Roughly 18,000 more Memphians are employed today than when he took office with the unemployment rate at “near record lows.”

• Poverty is down about 17 percent, according the latest census data.

•The Memphis Police Department (MPD) hired more officers in the last 17 months than in the entire six years prior.

• Prosecution of violent crime is up with the prosecution of gun crime up 58 percent.

• The major violent crime rate dropped over four percent in 2018.

• About $15 billion worth of development is happening in the Memphis area.

• Homelessness is down 14 percent from a year ago and 41 percent from 2012.

• In the most recent fiscal year, the city doubled the amount spent with minority businesses from when Strickland took office in 2016.

•The tax rate went from $3.40 to $3.19 during Strickland’s time in office so far.

“We have momentum in our spirit, momentum in our grind, and momentum with how we’re running an efficient, responsible city government,” Strickland said. “We have momentum in how we’re tackling our challenges, too. And under my watch, you can rest assured that tackling our challenges remains this administration’s priority every waking hour.”

What the city is doing now:

Strickland said his administration is a “neighborhoods-first” one.

“And instead of just saying that, we’re incorporating that philosophy into the long-term plan for our city, which you may have heard about — it’s called Memphis 3.0,” Strickland said. "Over two years, our Memphis 3.0 staff heard from 15,000 of you, and came up with a new strategy for our growth: We’re going to build up, not out.

“We’re going to cast a road map to better transit. We’re going to invest in our core and our neighborhoods. We’re going to invest in Memphians.”

With that, Strickland announced the creation of two initiatives that will put “our money where our mouth is” and “will ensure Memphis 3.0 isn’t just another plan that collects dust on a shelf at city hall.”

The first initiative, the Memphis Community Catalyst Fund, will be dedicated to renewing the source of money used to make infrastructure improvements to key neighborhood areas — or places the Memphis 3.0 plan refers to as anchors. Under the initiative, the city will work with neighborhoods to identify areas that need improvement to infrastructure hoping to spark private development.

“That can be anything from new sidewalks, new pedestrian crossings, new lighting,” the mayor said. “It’s a tailored approach to what works best for you, and what will have the most lasting impact in making your neighborhood better for years to come.”

The details for the fund haven’t been finalized, Strickland said, but the plan is to commit roughly $2 million toward it in its first year with additional investments in the following years.

The final proposal will be delivered to the Memphis City Council in April during the 2019-2020 fiscal year budget presentation.

The second initiative is a group of eight private investment opportunities in properties owned by the city or city partners.

The properties include:

• The former Tillman Cove housing complex in Binghampton

• Nine acres in Midtown near Crosstown Concourse, where Interstate 40 was previously planned

• Outparcels on the Raleigh Town Center, where Raleigh Springs Mall used to stand

• Parts of the Fairgrounds redevelopment

• Parts of the Pinch District

• The Historic Melrose High School building

• A block of land in the South City redevelopment, just south of Clayborn Temple, which the city is calling the South City Cultural Block

• A proposed site for residential development on Powers Road in Raleigh

A website will launch next week with details and instructions for the call for redevelopment proposals, Strickland said. The city will select the developers with proposals that will best “jump-start” the neighborhoods.

Continuing, Strickland also said the city is working to improve public services, like picking up piles of limbs on the curb and cutting down the time it takes to repair potholes.

To that end, the city is partnering with a technology company to pilot machine learning that could lead to scans of the streets for potholes and filling them faster. This will be implemented by placing cameras on city vehicles that detect and report potholes.

Also in an effort to improve streets, the mayor said he’s charged his team with “paving early and often this spring, as soon as the weather allows it.,” announcing the “long-awaited” improvements to Elvis Presley Boulevard to begin in the spring.

Minority contracting is another area Strickland said the city is looking to sustain and improve through a program called Buy901. It will be an online directory of locally owned and city-certified minority and women-owned businesses.

“Instead of just having this information for ourselves, we thought, why not share it with all Memphians?” Strickland said. “Need a new roof or fence and want to hire a local or minority contractor? Great. Just visit, and you’ll be able to pick the same contractors we use … It’s a long-term way to build equity in our economy and attack poverty, and now you can help.”

Finally, Strickland said the city is continuing to work to reduce violent crime by taking actions like hiring more police officers and working with the General Assembly asking them to pass a law to enhance the penalty for road rage shootings.

Wrapping up, Strickland talked about his vision for the city in its third century. It includes:

• Safer streets with continued reduction of violent crime

• Smoother streets, where “we treat our infrastructure with the care it deserves, sending that visual message to every neighborhood, in every part of our city, that we care”

• Better access to opportunities for youth

• Building up, not out

• An equitable and just city, where poverty continues to fall and black-owned businesses flourish

• More jobs

Read Strickland's full address here

Monday, January 28, 2019

New U of M Donations Support First-Generation Students

Posted By on Mon, Jan 28, 2019 at 10:20 AM


The University of Memphis received $1.4 million to enhance the experience of first-generation college students, the university announced Monday.

The funds, donated by the Suder Foundation and an anonymous donor, will be used to establish an endowed scholarship fund for first-generation students, those who are the first in their families to attend college.

The new funds will also create the Office of First Generation Student Success (OFGSS) at the U of M. The OFGSS will be tasked with expanding the existing programs for first-generation students, as well as creating new ones.

The average national graduation rate for first-generation students is 34 percent — 21 percent less than the average for the general undergraduate student. At the U of M, 35 percent of undergraduate students identify as first-generation, compared to the national average at four-year universities of 17 percent.

Student success of the university’s top priority, U of M president M. David Rudd said.

“We have studied the unique challenges of the growing number of first-generation students on our campuses, and are committed to providing them with the resources they need to succeed,” Rudd said. “The remarkable commitments from the Suder Foundation and other donors will benefit thousands of students and support them in earning their degrees.”

The Suder Foundation was launched in 2008 by Eric and Deborah Suder to support and establish initiatives that increase graduation rates for first-generation students. The Foundation has offered a scholarship and supportive program for first-generation students since 2012.

“We understand how important holistic support is for first-generation students and are thrilled to help the U of M establish the OFGSS as a strategic, innovative approach to serving first-generation students,” Diane Schorr, executive director of the Suder Foundation, said. “We are committed to investing in initiatives like the OFGSS that address student development on the personal, academic and professional levels.”

Friday, January 25, 2019

XPO Named ‘Admired Company,’ Organization Says It’s Offensive

Posted By on Fri, Jan 25, 2019 at 12:22 PM


Fortune magazine named XPO Logistics one of the “World’s Most Admired Companies” for 2019, and one group is calling that offensive in light of several recent allegations brought forth by its employees.

Employees at XPO’s Verizon warehouse here reported sexual harassment and unsafe, hazardous working conditions, including extreme heat last summer. In the last year, more than a dozen XPO employees have filed Equal Employment Opportunity claims against the company relating to unsafe conditions

There have also been various incidents of pregnancy discrimination, including refusals to allow pregnant employees to take on less strenuous tasks, leading to several miscarriages, which was brought to light in October by The New York Times.

However, XPO made the list as one of Fortune’s “World’s Most Admired Companies” in the trucking, transportation, and logistics category, based on criteria including investment value, quality of management and products, and social responsibility.

James P. Hoffa, president of International Brotherhood of Teamsters General
  • James P. Hoffa, president of International Brotherhood of Teamsters General

President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters General, James P. Hoffa said including XPO on the list is offensive to all of the women who have brought allegations forward about the company.

“XPO Logistics being named a ‘World’s Most Admired Company’ is offensive to the dozens of women who have come forward with allegations against the company of pregnancy discrimination and sexual harassment, and the hundreds of port truck drivers employed by XPO who are suffering egregious wage theft,” Hoffa said. “Even after The New York Times report, along with over 100 members of Congress and a number of national organizations calling on XPO to address these issues, the problems with the working conditions and culture still fester throughout the company and across the country.”

House Members, led in part by Tennessee Congressman Steve Cohen, urged the House Committee on Education and the Workforce in December to investigate the many allegations of “disturbing treatment” of pregnant employees at XPO’s warehouses around the country.

Hoffa said XPO is not a company people should be admiring.

“There is nothing admirable about women losing their unborn children on the warehouse floor,” Hoffa said. “There is nothing admirable about workers losing their life on the job because they were denied medical attention. There is nothing admirable about XPO employees working 14-16 hour days with little to no breaks. There is nothing admirable about illegally classifying workers as ‘independent contractors’ and stealing their wages.”

Hoffa said Fortune should have looked more closely at the companies they recognize: “Just a little investigation into XPO would show a company that fails its workers when it comes to social responsibility.”

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Five Memphis Drug Offenders Face Lengthy Prison Sentences

Posted By on Fri, Jan 25, 2019 at 11:33 AM


A Cordova woman and her accomplice admitted to distributing heroin resulting in death, and now the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Western Tennessee plans to seek the maximum penalty — life imprisonment.

Glenda Aldape, 42, pled guilty to conspiracy to distribute heroin resulting in death and possession of heroin with intent to distribute, D. Michael Dunavant, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee, announced Thursday.

In March 2016, Aldape sold heroin to Sean Heywood, who would later die from a lethal dose of the drug, according to court documents. Over the phone, Heywood agreed to buy a half of a gram of heroin from Aldape for $75.

Aldape subsequently sent a text to the co-defendant in the case — David Mitchell Murray — who would deliver the drugs to Heywood at a nearby Huey’s. Surveillance footage shows Heywood getting into the car with Murray, receiving the heroin, and being driven home.

Within a couple of hours, Heywood’s father found him on the bathroom floor unresponsive. When emergency personnel arrived, Heywood was pronounced dead, and an autopsy later revealed he died from a lethal dose of heroin.

A plastic bag of heroin in Heywood’s pocket, a syringe, a spoon with .19 grams of heroin, and his cell phone were collected as evidence. Heywood’s cell phone records led police to Aldape.

The next day, looking to arrest Aldape, detectives with the Memphis Police Department (MPD) used Heywood’s phone, pretending to be Heywood to set up another buy. Aldape showed up to make the sale, detectives identified her, and then arrested her.

At the time of Aldape’s arrest, police found just under a half of a gram of methamphetamine, .08 grams of heroin, and various pills on her person. Aldape gave a statement to police admitting to setting up the sale with Heywood the previous day and intending to sell to him that night.

Murray also pled guilty to conspiracy to distribute heroin resulting in death in August 2018. Aldape will be sentenced on April 26th and Murray on March 1st. The pair faces a minimum sentence of 20 years and up to life imprisonment.

U.S. Attorney Dunavant said cases involving heroin distribution resulting in death is a top priority for his office.

"Under our district-specific opioid strategy, heroin distribution cases resulting in death receive top priority for investigation and federal prosecution, regardless of quantity of heroin involved or the prior criminal record of the offender,” Dunavant said. “Our Heroin Initiative also provides time-sensitive case coordination between law enforcement agencies and medical examiners, to ensure that opioid overdose death cases are investigated quickly and thoroughly to identify the nature and source of the drug distribution.

“The U.S. Attorney’s Office will aggressively prosecute and seek the maximum guidelines sentences in these cases in order to disrupt trafficking organizations, hold the distributor accountable for the death of the victim, and to deter others from selling poison to our citizens."

  • Justin Fox Burks

Dunavant also announced Thursday that, a 39-year-old Memphis man, Antonio Rucker, will serve 151 months in the Federal Bureau of Prisons for possession with intent to distribute heroin, cocaine, and oxycodone pills.

In March 2018, Rucker was stopped for a traffic violation when officers smelled marijuana coming from his car. The officers, a part of the MPD Organized Crime Unit, searched the car and found a box in the floorboard with 100 grams of heroin, 125 grams of cocaine, and over 100 oxycodone pills.

At an October hearing, Rucker admitted to the aforementioned offenses and because of his several prior felony drug convictions, was determined to be a career offender under the United States Sentencing Guidelines at his sentencing hearing.

Dunavant said Rucker’s 151-month sentence demonstrates his office’s commitment to removing career drug traffickers.

"Drug trafficking is an inherently dangerous business that is often conducted by recidivist offenders who have dedicated their lives to criminal activity, and who have no regard for the addiction, injury, and death caused by their sale of illegal drugs,” Dunavant said. “This sentence demonstrates our commitment to remove career drug traffickers from our streets by seeking significant mandatory sentences for selling poison in our community."

U.S. Attorney D. Michael Dunavant
  • U.S. Attorney D. Michael Dunavant

Two more Memphis men face up to 47 years imprisonment for their robbery of a CVS pharmacy in April 2018.

Jesse Robert Coop, 41, was convicted by a federal jury in August for his involvement in the armed robbery. Coop, along with another individual, Keith Harrington, 41, demanded drugs from the pharmacy safe, while brandishing a revolver.

They had stolen $44,250 worth of drugs including oxycodone, Oxycontin, morphine, hydrocodone, and Nucynta. However, a tracking device was previously installed on one of the pill bottles, leading MPD officers to a residence where both Coop and Harrington were found and arrested.

Coop admitted to his participation in the robbery and Harrington was identified using surveillance footage and eye-witness accounts. Both were charged with robbery affecting interstate commerce, use and carry of a firearm in a crime of violence, and conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute controlled substances.

Harrington pled guilty earlier this year and Coop was later found guilty after a two-day trial. Sentencing for Harrington and Coop will take place on April 12th and May 3rd respectively.

Dunavant said robberies involving controlled substances present the risk of more addiction and death in the community from illegal opioids.

"Robberies of businesses with a firearm are especially dangerous and violent due to the high risk of death and serious bodily injury to innocent victims,” Dunavant said. “Pharmacy robberies for controlled substances present the further dangerous risk of hundreds of prescription opioids being unlawfully distributed into the community, causing further potential addiction, injury, and death.

“As demonstrated in this case, we will not tolerate this senseless gun violence and will use all available resources to remove dangerous offenders from our communities for a very long time. Gun Crime is Max Time."

New Plan for Tom Lee Park to be Unveiled Next Week

Posted By on Fri, Jan 25, 2019 at 10:56 AM

A view of Tom Lee Park from Studio Gang's 2017 Riverfront Concept Plan. - STUDIO GANG
  • Studio Gang
  • A view of Tom Lee Park from Studio Gang's 2017 Riverfront Concept Plan.

Riverfront leaders will unveil the vision of the future for Tom Lee Park next Saturday and, with ideas from the community and guidance from two design firms, they say, ”We’ve finally nailed it.”

Last year, the Mississippi River Parks Partnership (MRPP) picked Studio Gang, a Chicago-based design firm, and SCAPE, a New York landscape and urban design firm, to lead the redevelopment of the massive park, perhaps best known as the festival grounds for Memphis in May. The Riverfront Development Corp. (RDC), the precursor of the MRPP, hired Studio Gang to deliver a new concept plan for the riverfront, which it did in 2017.

Studio Gang's concept plan shows a reactivated Wolf River Harbor. - STUDIO GANG
  • Studio Gang
  • Studio Gang's concept plan shows a reactivated Wolf River Harbor.

Early reports of the Tom Lee Park redesign have included adding rolling hills and trees to the park, and sectioning the now-wide-open space into a series of outdoor rooms. Such features were shown in Studio Gang's concept. But no new concept renderings have been published.

That will change at noon Saturday, February 2nd. The public is invited to see new pictures, a scale model, animations, and “an immersive virtual reality experience,” according to a news release from MRPP. The event will be held at a new “engagement center” located at the north end of Tom Lee Park. 
Coletta - MRPP
  • MRPP
  • Coletta

“Memphians have been imagining what this riverfront can be for almost 100 years,” said MRPP president and CEO Carol Coletta. “After two-and-a-half years of studying every riverfront plan and hearing from more than 4,000 Memphians, I think we’ve finally nailed it.

“Memphians are going to be so excited by what’s coming to Tom Lee Park. This project is already making national news and will be an unequaled civic statement we can all be proud of as we begin our third century.”

MRPP is halfway to its goal of raising $70 million to support riverfront projects. Some of the money has already been spent on the design and build of the new River Garden park, the River Line bike and pedestrian pathway, and the restoration of the historic cobblestone landing. The remaining funds will be spent to redesign Tom Lee Park.

An aerial view of the new River Garden park. - JUSTIN FOX BURKS
  • Justin Fox Burks
  • An aerial view of the new River Garden park.

Construction on the park is slated to begin in June and wrap up by the end of 2020.

The new Tom Lee Park Engagement Center will be open from 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, for anyone interested in learning about the future of the park. MRPP staff will be at the center from 4 p.m.-7 p.m. every Wednesday and from noon-3 p.m. every Saturday through May.

For more information on the unveiling event, check it out on Facebook.

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Permit Shows $1.5M Renovations for Clayborn Temple

Posted By on Fri, Jan 25, 2019 at 9:02 AM

  • Clayborn Temple/Facebook
Major renovations appear to be getting under way at Clayborn Temple.

A $1.5 million building permit was pulled Thursday for the building, located at 294 Hernando. The church and community gathering place was scheduled to close this spring for renovations. The permit did not include any details of the work to be done.

The building was purchased in 2015 by Memphis entrepreneur Frank Smith.

“This place is way too important for it just to be a church on Sunday," Smith said in Memphis magazine last year. "It needs to be alive and breathe with the same kind of energy it did all of its life.”

  • Clayborn Temple/Facebook
Here's a bit of history on the church from the Clayborn Temple website:

"In 1979, Clayborn Temple was added to the National Register of Historic Places. The AME congregation continued to worship in Clayborn until the doors were closed due to the congregants, similar to Second Presbyterian before it, moving away from Downtown.

"For over 25 years this formative institution in Memphis has sat vacant. One of our nation’s most significant church buildings, vibrant gathering places, and a landmark in the civil rights movement still stands here in Memphis awaiting restoration.

"It would be a great loss if this legacy ended because of an inability to restore the building in time. After years of non-use, Clayborn Temple is on track for restoration. This is likely Memphis’ last chance to see Clayborn Temple not only preserved but utilized as a worshipping, gathering, working place and symbol for the new Memphis that is growing within the city, particularly Downtown.

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Thursday, January 24, 2019

Major Expansion at Southland Gaming

Posted By on Thu, Jan 24, 2019 at 5:20 PM


At Southland Gaming & Racing’s Kennel Club, Delaware North chairman Jeremy M. Jacobs and co-CEO Lou Jacobs were joined this afternoon by several Arkansas government officials as the company unveiled plans for a major expansion to the casino. The $250 million project, the biggest ever investment in West Memphis, will include a new 113,000-square-foot casino complex and a high-rise hotel.

At the moment, Southland Gaming & Racing holds 2,000 gaming machines and several live tables games. The project is estimated to increase those numbers to 2,400 machines and 60 tables games. In addition, Southland will build a new dining space with an expanded buffet, larger steakhouse restaurant, new food hall and coffee shop, a player lounge, and bars.

The main component of the additions, however, is the 20-story high-rise. The hotel can accomodate 300 rooms: 216 standard, 72 corner suites, and 12 top-floor penthouses. To accommodate the extra guests, Southland will add a covered parking garage with space for 1,250 cars. Overall, construction on all the new structures is expected to take about 18 months. By then, Delaware North, which is privately financing the project, believes the new additions will be a major boon for the West Memphis community.

“When construction is completed, Southland will become even more of a destination than it is today. Our commitment is to being good neighbors,” said Lou Jacobs, “and we will continue to partner with nonprofit organizations in West Memphis.”

Southland expects the process to create 1,500 construction jobs over the next year. When the structures are completed, 400 permanent jobs will be available at the casino, bringing the total employment at Southland to around 1,200 jobs.

Senator Keith Ingram labeled Southland as an historic part of Arkansas. “Many people from my generation who grew up in West Memphis, we’ve never known the track not to be here. It’s provided so many jobs, a second a paycheck to people who wanted to help their families or put their children through school.”

In 2018, Southland saw over three million guests, and paid out a total of almost $46 million in taxes to the municipality. In addition, it contributed a further $215,000 to charity. Overall, Southland is estimated to have an economic impact of $144 million annually.
While the renovations will be a huge boost to Southland, Delaware North is looking to expand its options in the immediate future. The organization plans to take advantage of the recently passed amendment to legalize official casinos in Arkansas and include 40 live table games, comprising blackjack, craps, and roulette, while sports betting areas are also in the works.

Thousands of Old Tires to be Made into State Park Trail

Posted By on Thu, Jan 24, 2019 at 10:28 AM

Volunteers stacking collected tires at T.O. Fuller Park - FACEBOOK- MICHAEL MEISTER
  • Facebook- Michael Meister
  • Volunteers stacking collected tires at T.O. Fuller Park

More than 10,000 waste tires were collected by volunteers and officials in T.O Fuller State Park Monday and those tires will soon be shredded and used for park trails.

Nearly 500 volunteers, joined by officials from the city, county, and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC), as well as leaders from various partner organizations, including Clean Memphis, and Friends of T.O. Fuller State Park gathered at the park on Monday for the cleanup.

Led by Tennessee State Parks Conservancy, the Martin Luther King Jr. Day event aimed to collect waste tires that will be recycled to form a new, nearly three-mile pedestrian and bike trail at the park.

“Our overall goal is to convert a chronic waste issue of discarded tires into a valuable outdoor recreational resource for everyone to enjoy,” Brock Hill, TDEC Deputy Commissioner, said.

Monday’s effort, a part of Tennessee State Park’s Tires to Trails Program, was the first in a series of three similar events planned for the park.

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, as well as Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris were two of the officials present Monday.

“There is no better way to honor Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy than with a day of service,” said Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris. “It was great to see hundreds of people volunteering together to not only clean up the community, but to kick off the Tires to Trails Program to improve T.O. Fuller State Park.”

The project is funded by a $200,000 liter pickup grant from the Tennessee Department of Transportation and two additional grants from TDEC to be used for construction.

10,000 tires were collected on Monday - FACEBOOK- MICHAEL MEISTER
  • Facebook- Michael Meister
  • 10,000 tires were collected on Monday

The ultimate goal is to collect close to 36,000 tires from predetermined locations in the Memphis area that will then be recycled into a pavement-like surface for the trail. The recycling process will be done by Patriot Recycling in Bristol, Tennessee.

State Rep. Barbara Cooper, who was there Monday, lauded the project.

“Environmental cleanups are important and I applaud the state for the financial support to involve businesses and the surrounding area towards protecting and maintaining one of Shelby County’s crown jewels,” said State Rep. Barbara Cooper.

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