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Chris Soules appears for a hearing in Buchanan County District Court Thursday, Sept. 14, 2017, in Independence, Iowa. Reality TV star Soules is charged with leaving the scene in a fatal April crash near Aurora, Iowa. (MATTHEW PUTNEY, The Courier /POOL)

Jury deliberating in trial of man accused of sending threatening tweets

CEDAR RAPIDS — Federal Bureau of Investigation agents testified Tuesday a Waterloo man admitted sending three tweets “that could be perceived as threatening” to U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst in August.

Special Agent Thomas Reinwart testified in U.S. District Court he and another agent interviewed Joseph H. Dierks outside his workplace, Sub City, in downtown Waterloo, on Aug. 18. Dierks admitted to agents he sent the three tweets over Twitter to one of Ernst’s accounts on Aug. 16.

Reinwart and another agent said Dierks told them he wanted to get her attention because he wanted her help to join the military. Because of his age, 34, he would need a waiver from a higher-ranked officer — like Ernst, who is a retired lieutenant colonel from the Iowa Army National Guard.

Dierks is charged with three counts of transmitting a communication containing a threat in interstate commerce. The criminal complaint shows Dierks sent the tweets to Ernst and admitted he knew they would be viewed as threatening.

If convicted, he faces up to five years on each count.

The trial started Tuesday and the prosecution wrapped up its case before the noon break. The defense only had a few witnesses and the jurors started deliberations about 3:30 p.m. but didn’t reach a verdict.

The jury will resume deliberations this morning.

Reinwart said Dierks told him Ernst hadn’t responded to his other tweets and that’s when he sent the “threatening” tweets.

Jurors were shown examples of the tweets that use expletives and in which Ernst is told physical harm will be done to her.

FBI Special Agent Scott Irwin testified during the investigation he looked to see if Dierks had any previous convictions and found he was convicted in 2016 of second-degree harassment in Black Hawk County District Court. According to court records, he threatened bodily injury to another man, Irwin said.

Dierks was warned to stop sending tweets to Ernst before the FBI got involved and the charges were filed, Waterloo police officer Rhonda Weber testified. She said the department was first contacted by U.S. Capital Police in Washington, D.C., about previous tweets and she went to Dierks’ home Aug. 15.

Weber said Dierks admitted sending tweets and also told her about trying to get Ernst’s attention to help with a waiver for the military. Weber told him to stop sending the tweets or he could face criminal charges. Dierks “thanked me for bringing it to his attention” and he said he would “tone it down.”

Early the next morning, about 4 a.m., Dierks then sent the three threatening tweets, according to testimony.

Christopher Nathan, Dierks’ lawyer, said during his opening statement the evidence will show his client didn’t intend for the tweets to be threatening and he didn’t know they would be viewed as threatening.

Nathan asked the jurors to use their “life experiences” to determine if the prosecution has proved its case after all the evidence comes in. Prosecutors must prove more than Dierks just sending offensive tweets, he noted.

Medicaid clients can't switch to Amerigroup


DES MOINES -- Hundreds of thousands of enrollees in Iowa’s privately managed Medicaid program will have just one choice of provider when AmeriHealth Caritas of Iowa’s withdraws from the program this month.

The Iowa Department of Human Services said Tuesday Amerigroup Iowa — one of two remaining providers for 2018 — can’t take on any new clients.

Critics warn some patients’ doctors are not covered by the one Medicaid provider left to them — UnitedHealthcare.

“Amerigroup Iowa has informed the department they do not currently have capacity to take any new members, including those who have actively chosen Amerigroup Iowa as their (managed-care organization) after AmeriHealth Caritas’ withdrawal,” the agency notice reads.

Officials announced in late October AmeriHealth, one of the three companies running Iowa’s Medicaid program, would withdraw from the program by the end of November. The withdrawal affects more than 213,000 Iowans.

Both Amerigroup and UnitedHealthcare have re-signed contracts to continue management next year.

After AmeriHealth announced its withdrawal, patients were told they would be assigned to UnitedHealthcare but could make the change to Amerigroup.

Now, patients who wanted to switch to Amerigroup won’t able to do so and must remain with UnitedHealthcare.

In addition, the department said in its notice, “all new IA Health Link members will be assigned to UnitedHealthcare. In the future, members again will have a choice in MCOs and will be notified when that choice is available.”

Department spokesman Matt Highland said DHS continues to work with managed-care providers on the transition.

“We will notify members, providers and stakeholders as soon as we have finalized information,” Highland said in an email.

The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has approved a suspension of a provision that requires a choice between managed-care organizations, the department said.

The decision does not affect Medicaid members who were enrolled with Amerigroup before AmeriHealth announced its withdrawal.

Amerigroup said Tuesday its “top priority is to coordinate high quality health care for our members.”

In its statement, UnitedHealthcare said it “welcomes the opportunity to serve more than 200,000 additional IA Health Link members.”

“We have the experience, resources and dedicated teams in place to transition our new members while maintaining the high level of service that our existing members have come to expect,” UnitedHealthcare said.

State Sen. Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque, said her daughter, who has disabilities, was under AmeriHealth. Jochum recently moved her daughter to Amerigroup and received confirmation from the department, she said.

“Now I’m reading this notice from the department that we all have to go with (UnitedHealthcare). Here’s the problem: How many of the doctors and providers in our state are signed with United?” Jochum said.

Jochum said lawmakers’ “hands our tied” in terms of addressing issues with Iowa’s Medicaid program. Lawmakers could vote to rescind contracts with the providers, but Jochum said Gov. Kim Reynolds would likely veto the move.

“This really rests on the doorstep of Gov. Reynolds,” she said.

Brenna Smith, a spokeswoman for Reynolds, said the governor “is committed to improving quality and access to care, promoting accountability for patient outcomes and creating a more predictable and sustainable Medicaid budget.”

Rep. Liz Mathis, D-Hiawatha, said, “I don’t know what kind of hoops they had to jump through to get CMS to approve this or how long this temporary fix will be and if CMS will start to take a look at this and see that it is a system that is crumbling before our very eyes... . It’s just one more indication that this is a terrible idea gone awry.”