School board diverts bond funds from unfinished school security projects to speculative land deal

  The District 196 school board voted to divert $6 million from bond funds approved by voters to improve school security for a speculative land deal in Rosemount.
   Following a so-called “special” school board meeting—not recorded and available for viewing as are regularly scheduled school board meetings—district administrators drafted a letter of intent to purchase 34.4 acres of undeveloped farm land east of Highway 3 at the corner of Akron Avenue and Bonaire Path. The current owners of the land are identified in the letter of intent as JMOR Real Estate Investments, LLC, BVM Real Estate Investments, LLC & Kogl Family Partnership, dba Rosemount Farms Joint Ownership Group. The board voted to approve the letter of intent at its most recent public meeting.
  District officials have claimed the funds are available from cost savings on construction projects financed by a $180 million bond package approved by voters in 2015. The bond package resulted in a property tax increase to homeowners in the school district.
  The school board acknowledged before its unanimous vote approving a letter of intent to purchase the Rosemount property that the land deal was speculative.
  “It’s speculative,” District 196 school board vice-chair Joel Albright said. “There’s no guarantee we’re going to put a school there.”
  If the district does not build a school at the site, Albright suggested they would sell the land. The letter of intent includes a provision to assign rights to the land. The buyer of the property is identified in the letter of intent as “Independent School District 196 and/or it’s [sic] assigns”.
  The school board has claimed the money to buy land is available because of cost savings from construction projects funded by a 2016 $180 million bond referendum pitched to voters as necessary to improve school security and technology. Not all of the projects funded by the bond money have been completed. The school district reported, in response to an inquiry, the projects are on schedule.
  At one elementary school, which is not being identified for security purposes, the construction of a security entrance appears to be at a standstill. The school’s gardens and front lobby with windows were removed and replaced with a solid wall, creating a dark narrow passage for students and visitors to the school.
  The school, meanwhile, must continue operations without its main entry and exit point. With no secure entrance, an administrative assistant’s desk has been moved from the administrative office to the narrow hallway leading from a side door, near the school’s kindergarten, that has become the makeshift main entrance. The assistant sits alone in the hallway with a drinking fountain at her back, away from the principal, teachers, and other staff.
  Students must channel to two opposite sides of the building for dismissal, leaving school staff stretched thin. During a recent dismissal, older students were left guarding what is now the main entrance to prevent younger students from leaving unattended.
  The makeshift “temporary” conditions have been in place since last summer and will likely last past the end of the school year. Work crews have come and gone, often with long stretches of time in between.  No information or updates have been provided to parents as to when the project will be completed. In response to an inquiry, a representative from the construction company said the project will be finished by the end of June.
  In its Spring 2016 newsletter, the school district wrote “Safety and security improvements and adding space at the elementary level are the top priorities in a tentative schedule of bond referendum construction projects.” 

Eagan police are looking for this suspect in the robbery of US Bank at Byerly's on Promenade Avenue during the April 14 blizzard. The robber approached the bank shortly after 11 a.m., showed a gun and demanded cash, according to police. Anyone with information is urged to contact police at (651) 675-5799.
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Appeals court affirms 38-year Martynenko sentence

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  Reasoning that his actions had contributed to the suicides of two teenagers, the Eighth Circuit federal appeals court upheld a 38-year prison sentence for Anton Martynenko, the Eagan man convicted of child pornography charges after he catfished and blackmailed teenage boys via the internet—convincing them to send nude photos of themselves to someone they thought was a woman.
  “Martynenko engaged in a four-year scheme to entice dozens of minor males to send him nude photographs on social media, then to distribute those photographs to their acquaintances, blackmailing them to send more,” a three-member panel of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals wrote, in an unpublished opinion released by the court.  “The victim impact statements demonstrate the devastating effect of the crimes on their young lives, and two of his victims later committed suicide.”
 “The presentence report describes uncharged relevant conduct to which Martynenko did not object, including blackmailing minor victims into engaging in coerced sexual acts,” the appeals court continued. “On these facts, a 38-year sentence does not give rise to an inference of gross disproportionality, and we thus reject Martynenko's Eighth Amendment challenge.”
  Martynenko, 34, was sentenced in December 2016 after pleading guilty to federal child pornography charges. He was captured after Eagan police helped execute a search warrant at the 4637 Penkwe Way home owned by his mother. During the raid, Martynenko, who lived at the house, tried to destroy computers containing records of his activity and pornographic images.
  Martynenko sought a reduction of his sentence after he assisted authorities in closing the Jacob Wetterling disappearance case. Martynenko was a cellmate of the man who confessed to kidnapping and murdering the 11-year-old, who had been missing for decades before his killer’s jailhouse confession. Because of his role, the federal sentencing court took two years off a recommended 40-year sentence.

Human remains found in Burnsville

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   Police are investigating the discovery of human remains near the Minnesota River in the area of Route 35W and Black Dog Road. Burnsville Police and the Dakota County Sheriff’s Office were at the scene. No further details were released.

Middle schools face suicide concerns

Real estate agent charged with mortgage fraud

  Fourteen percent of middle school students have expressed thoughts of suicide, according to a presentation by District 196 school counselors.
  No longer labeled “guidance counselors” nor limited to helping students with college selection, school counselors are grappling with higher and more complex caseloads, counselors told the District 196 school board. “We are asked to wear many hats,” Apple Valley High School counselor Michelle Gustafson told the school board. “With our caseloads, we are stretched very thin.”
  Counselors are increasingly dealing with student mental health issues, the counselor told the board.
  Counselors expressed their concerns outside the school board’s regular agenda, as a special communication request to the school board, a five-minute segment typically used by parents who can’t get resolution to problems at their school or by special interest groups seeking to make a pitch to the board. The time is so limited, the beeping of a 5-minute timer could be heard in the background as Gustafson discussed school safety.
  The school board had spent the previous 30 minutes of its meeting congratulating its staff and students, some of whom were absent from the meeting, for various achievements.
   An Iowa man is facing felony charges in connection with a 2016 real estate closing in Eagan.
  Yussuf Hamid, 37, of 102 N. 2nd Ave. E. #1012, Newton, Iowa, has been charged with theft by swindle and residential mortgage fraud, according to a criminal complaint.
  The charges stem from an investigation by the Minnesota Commerce Fraud Bureau into a report of fraud related to a mortgage closing in Eagan in February 2016. Hamid was the real estate agent for the purchase of a house in Apple Valley. Investigators allege Hamid asked an uncle to appear at the real estate closing posing as a buyer who signed a document indicating he would be living in the home purchased with a mortgage. The uncle never lived in the house. Hamid allegedly rented it out to someone else instead, according to investigators.
  Investigators also allege Hamid submitted fraudulent documents in his uncle’s to help obtain a mortgage for the house.
  The house wound up in foreclosure after the mortgage wasn’t paid, according to the criminal complaint.
Glacier Hills names new principal
   An administrator from outside the school district has been selected as the new principal of Glacier Hills elementary school.
  Adriana Henderson, currently an interim principal at a District 197 magnet school, will replace Scott Thomas as principal at Glacier Hills on July 1. Thomas was transferred to the principal position at another magnet school in Burnsville. The magnet schools are part of District 196’s desegregation program.

Foster mother and boyfriend charged in 3-year-old's death

  An Eagan foster mother and her live-in boyfriend have been charged with the killing of a 3-year-old foster child at their Oakridge Circle home last June.
  Charles Homich, 27, of 1645 Oakridge Circle, Eagan, was charged with three alternate counts of second-degree murder and two alternate counts of first-degree manslaughter in connection with the June 7, 2017, death of 3-year-old Zayden Lawson. Lawson was pronounced dead at Children’s Hospital in St. Paul after Eagan police and fire were called to help a child who was unconscious and not breathing.
  Zeporia Fortenberry, 39, of 1645 Oakridge Circle, Eagan, was charged with two alternate counts of second-degree manslaughter by means of child neglect and knowingly permitting continuing physical abuse.
  While Eagan police have said little about their nine-month investigation, criminal complaints released in the case reveal 3-year-old Zayden Lawson died a violent, likely painful death in an abusive home with no help arriving until he was cold and lifeless on the floor June 7.
  The criminal complaints released Monday detail disgraceful and abusive conditions in a home where four children, two of them foster children lived. The agency in charge of the state’s foster care system, the Department of Human Services did not respond to a request for comment. The agency’s last public statement, issued the day Fortenberry was arrested without notice to the public, heralded April as Child Abuse Prevention Month.
  Eagan police and paramedics arrived to help Lawson shortly after 3 p.m.June 7, according to the criminal complaint. By then, Lawson was “cold to the touch” with no pulse. The 3-year-old was taken to Children’s Hospital in St.Paul, where he was pronounced dead.
  A June 8 autopsy showed the child had suffered “multiple blunt force injuries,” according to the complaint. The autopsy revealed bruising on his abdomen and his legs, a large amount of blood in his abdominal cavity, and soft tissue hemorrhage to his abdominal connective tissue.
  The autopsy also revealed the child had suffered lacerations to his liver, perforations to his small intestine, and head injuries including bleeding on his brain, according to court records.
  The criminal complaints against Homich and Fortenberry detail the final days of Zayden Lawson’s life, during which he was left in the care of his foster mother’s friend because his foster mother was afraid to leave him with her boyfriend while she worked an overnight shift. During that time, according to criminal complaints, the 3-year-old was strapped in a high chair while the care taker slept, freed himself and ate baking soda and then, the following evening, was left in the care of a man he feared.
  The foster mother’s friend told police Fortenberry asked her to babysit overnight “because she did not trust Homich with Lawson.” The babysitter told police “Homich would ‘lose his cool’ if he had to change Lawson’s dirty diaper.”  The babysitter told police Fortenberry was concerned about a time when “Homich ‘whooped’ Lawson.”
  Police seized cell phones from Homich, Fortenberry, and the babysitter, whom they did not identify by name, according to the criminal complaint. In text messages, Fortenberry told the babysitter, via text message, she “sensed” the child wanted to misbehave and deserved to stay with Homich as a result.
  Homich sent a text to his mother five days after Lawson was found dead telling his mother he thought he was going to prison, according to investigators. Homich allegedly asked his mother to take the blame for the child’s death.
  Police also interviewed a friend of Homich, who told investigators Homich admitted he “punched the f*** out of Zayden in his stomach,” according to court records. When Homich told him Lawson’s vomit was black, the friend told Homich the child needed a doctor. “Homich replied that if they were to take Lawson to the doctor, the doctor would see his bruises,” investigators wrote, “and Lawson is old enough to tell them who gave him the bruises.”
Zayden Lawson
Charles Homich
Zeporia Fortenberry
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