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KELLY WENZEL, COURIER STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER 

A snow sculpture sits on the corner of West 15th and Franklin streets in Cedar Falls on Monday morning.


Govt-and-politics
Waterloo chief ‘insulted’ by proposal to trim pay

WATERLOO — Police Chief Dan Trelka took offense Monday at a councilman’s suggestion to reduce his command staff and cut his pay.

Councilman Pat Morrissey detailed his budget proposals during a Monday work session that included eliminating a Waterloo Police Department captain and lieutenant position in favor of two patrol officer hires.

The plan also would cut Trelka’s salary and benefits package by $22,000 and add $30,000 in overtime for fireworks enforcement efforts, all part of a net $110,500 savings in the police property tax askings.

“The police department has 11 administrative managerial positions,” Morrissey said. “What this does is it pares that back to nine positions and replaces those with two boots-on-the-streets positions.”

Trelka said the proposal “guts the police department” and would leave the city open to more lawsuits.

“I think it’s an insult,” Trelka said. “The proposal is an insult to me and the men and women that I lead.

“When we get sued … what they attack is training and supervision,” he said, noting the department’s command staff is significantly lower than it was 30 years ago. “It creates significant challenges and liability for the city.”

Trelka, who currently draws a $135,000 annual salary, also addressed the idea to cut his pay.

“I have never complained about my salary; I am paid well and I realize that,” he said. “I also give a lot back to the community.

“Out of the 11 largest departments in this state I am one of the lowest paid chiefs in this state. With this proposal I would be the lowest paid, and I’ve been serving longer than all but two of these chiefs.”

Council members Bruce Jacobs and Margaret Klein both took issue with Morrissey’s proposal.

“To target one department so drastically I think would be a concern for all of us,” Jacobs said. “We’ve made great progress, but I don’t think Chief Trelka would say we’re there yet.”

Morrissey, who noted other city departments have faced significant cuts during his five years on the City Council, said he felt his proposal made sense because it adds one sworn staff member to the department.

“It doesn’t take away any sworn officers, it just reduces the number of administrative positions,” he said. “I don’t see disaster. I don’t see the sky falling from anything like this.”

City Council members have held multiple work sessions over the last three weeks to prepare a budget set for a public hearing Thursday. They were set to return for a 5 p.m. work session Tuesday where Mayor Quentin Hart is expected to present his budget proposal.


Crime-and-courts
NEW DETAILS: Independence man seen pouring gas, charged with arson

INDEPENDENCE — An Independence man accused of setting his home on fire while relatives were inside Saturday night was seen pouring gas into the residence, according to authorities.

Shane Allen Heins was heard saying something to the effect of “you all deserve to die” and “go to hell,” and lit a piece of paper, court records state.

After starting the fire, which sent at least two people to the hospital, Heins drove off and went to his mother’s home in Oelwein, according to authorities.

Heins, 44, of Independence, was arrested for first-degree arson and was in the Buchanan County Jail as of Monday morning. He had been renting the home for about two years.

Court records indicate Heins’ wife and stepdaughter were in the house at the time of the blaze, as was the wife’s elderly uncle. All three were taken to Buchanan County Health Center, and the wife and uncle were flown to University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City for further treatment.

Their conditions weren’t available as of Monday night.

According to officials, firefighters were sent to 711 13th St. N.E. at 11:57 p.m. Saturday.

The daughter escaped through a door, and the mother had to crawl through a window, according to Fire Chief Richard Newton of the Independence Fire Department. The uncle remained trapped inside.

Independence Police Officer Chris Cass and Buchanan sheriffs deputies Dylan Leech and Blake Gallery were first to arrive. Leech broke out a bedroom window, and Cass and Gallery pulled the uncle out, said Chief Dustin Dallenbach with the police department.

Smoke began billowing from the window, but officers were able to pull the uncle to safety.

Within minutes, flames began to engulf the house, according to police. Newton said the blaze had already burned through the roof when firefighters arrived. A portion of the roof then collapsed, keeping firefighters from getting at the heart of the blaze, he said.

Firefighters from Jesup came to assist.

“We were on the scene battling the fire for seven hours,” Newton said. “It was a pretty prolonged extinguishment.”

Crews remained on the scene well into Sunday to help investigators comb through the wreckage and gather evidence. The Iowa Fire Marshal Division and the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation assisted.


Crime-and-courts
Defense alleges misconduct at trials in girl's 1990 slaying

WATERLOO — At three trials over three decades, a convicted thief has testified he saw Stanley Liggins with 9-year-old Jennifer Lewis shortly before she was kidnapped, raped, strangled and left dead in Davenport.

Antonio Holmes insisted at each trial prosecutors did not give him any benefit in exchange for his testimony, which helped convict Liggins at trials in 1993 and 1995 and keep him behind bars since then. But newly unearthed records show those statements weren’t true: The Scott County Attorney’s office had given him a favorable plea agreement that was conditioned upon his testimony at Liggins’ trial.

The discovery is a potential blow to the prosecution in the 1990 slaying that shocked the Quad-Cities region of eastern Iowa and western Illinois. Liggins has twice been convicted of first-degree murder but won new trials after appeals courts ruled the verdicts were tainted by other errors.

A Waterloo jury deadlocked in September on whether he was guilty at a third trial, and a fourth is scheduled for next week in Waterloo.

Liggins’ attorney last week found old court documents showing Holmes was required to testify at Liggins’ trial under a 1992 plea agreement that reduced theft and burglary charges. Among those involved in negotiating Holmes’ deal was assistant Scott County Attorney Julie Walton, who is still prosecuting Liggins.

At last year’s trial, Walton asked Holmes whether he had “ever received anything” from her office for his cooperation. “No,” he replied.

A judge has scheduled a hearing today in Davenport to consider defense motions asking her to force Walton to recuse from the case, to delay the trial to allow for additional investigation or to dismiss the case altogether.

Liggins’ attorney Aaron Hawbaker argued in a filing that Holmes’ credibility would have been undermined if jurors were aware he was getting an “extremely generous” deal in exchange for his testimony. He argued the prosecutors’ efforts to “repeatedly elicit untruthful testimony from a key witness” are misconduct violating his client’s rights.

“This newly discovered information calls into serious question the integrity of this prosecution and exposes the limitless efforts by the state to deny Mr. Liggins a fair trial in exchange for a conviction,” Hawbaker wrote.

Scott County Attorney Mike Walton, who is Julie Walton’s brother, said the allegations are inaccurate but didn’t explain how, saying his office would elaborate in a filing.

Holmes’ testimony was significant at all three trials because he was the only witness to claim to have seen Liggins and Lewis together — at a liquor store in Rock Island, Illinois, moments before her kidnapping. Liggins, who was a friend of Lewis’ mother, has said he gave Lewis $1 to walk to the store to buy gum and she never returned. Her burning body was found behind a Davenport elementary school in September 1990, and Liggins was charged in her death a week later.

Holmes told jurors in 1993 he did receive a plea agreement but the leniency “didn’t have anything to do with me testifying.” In 1995, he testified he didn’t get anything from the state for his testimony.

But minutes from a December 1992 hearing show the plea agreement called for Holmes to testify at Liggins’ February 1993 trial. The presiding judge indicated he would follow the agreement “if the anticipated testimony is given,” they show. Court staff members were instructed to set Holmes’ sentencing date “post-Liggins trial.” The day after Holmes’ testimony, the court held his sentencing hearing and the judge accepted the plea agreement.

The deal dismissed first-degree theft and burglary charges, and he pleaded guilty to operating a vehicle without the owner’s consent. A potential prison sentence was reduced to six months with credit for time served.

Julie Walton also cut Holmes a break weeks before he would testify a second time against Liggins at a 1995 retrial after the Iowa Supreme Court overturned Liggins’ first conviction. She dismissed two pending felony burglary cases against Holmes, saying the state needed more time to analyze shoe prints and fingerprints. Hawbaker said he wants to investigate whether the dismissal of those cases were linked to Holmes’ testimony.

Holmes is not the first witness whose relationship with the state has become an issue. A woman who was a paid Davenport police informant testified she saw a vehicle resembling Liggins’ near the school where the girl’s body was left. The Iowa Court of Appeals in 2013 granted Liggins a new trial, ruling the state failed to disclose her relationship with police.

Photos: Stanley Liggins trial

COURTESY PHOTO  

MaKayla McDonald 


 

Luke Perry 


Local
Here's the reason why Ocwen is closing Waterloo, other offices

This article has been updated to correct that the company is not closing its Houston office, that positions were being eliminated companywide and not just at the locations closed, and that Ocwen officials dispute the contention that they violated the WARN Act in 2013 and 2014 as per then-spokeswoman of the Iowa Workforce Development Kerry Koonce.

WATERLOO — The acquisition of another large mortgage services provider was the reason Ocwen closed in Waterloo and several other U.S. cities last week, a company spokesperson said Monday.

Ocwen Financial Corp., which services residential and commercial mortgage loans, announced last week it would close six of its 10 domestic offices, including Waterloo, according to Dico Akseraylian, Ocwen senior vice president of corporate communications.

Around 175 of Ocwen’s 7,100 employees work at the Waterloo office at 3415 Hammond Ave., according to Akseraylian.

“The most important thing is we are trying to do everything we can to ease the impact to employees,” he said. “Decisions like this are very difficult when they impact employees.”

The office will close in August. Akseraylian said employees will get “no less than 60 days’ notice,” be eligible for severance benefits and be offered some kind of career transition help, whether it’s job fairs, help writing resumes or interview tips.

The Greater Cedar Valley Alliance and Chamber has already reached out to company officials about assisting displaced workers.

“The Greater Cedar Valley Alliance and Chamber is committed to supporting the Ocwen employees and will collaborate with Iowa Workforce and other partners to help the employees find other job opportunities that are aligned with their skills in Waterloo and the Cedar Valley,” said GCVA president Cary Darrah.

“We will remain in contact with corporate regarding next steps for employees and distribute the information as soon as determined,” she added.

Ocwen’s property in Waterloo has an assessed value of $11 million. The 38,000-square-foot building was constructed in 1980, and a 40,000-square-foot addition was added in 1984.

All told, Ocwen will lay off 2,100 employees all at locations and completely close down offices in Atlanta, Orlando, Addison, Texas, Glendale, Calif., and Fort Washington, Pa., as well as Waterloo.

The company will retain offices at its corporate headquarters in West Palm Beach, Fla., as well as Houston, Mount Laurel, N.J.; Rancho Cordova, Calif.; and St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. It will also continue operations in India and the Philippines.

“It ultimately was a result of, ‘Where are the locations where we want to be?’” Akseraylian said.

Akseraylian said Ocwen’s acquisition of PHH in October, another large mortgage servicing provider, was the impetus behind the changes.

“As you can imagine, two large mortgage servicers coming together, that’s going to impact” operations, he said.

Ocwen, which acquired the former GMAC Mortgage, previously employed as many as 800 workers in Waterloo, the company’s largest location. The company laid off 238 Waterloo workers in 2013. Layoffs continued in 2014 when 51 workers received pink slips. In 2015, 300 workers were cut.

According to Courier articles, in 2013 and 2014 the company failed to notify the Iowa Workforce Development Center of impending layoffs as required by the federal government’s Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act. IWD communications director Cory Kelly said Ocwen must notify his department 60 days before the date of layoffs to remain in compliance, and is not in violation of the WARN Act yet.

Akeraylian said he "emphatically disagreed" that the company ever violated the WARN Act.

"We're treating this seriously. We're complying with all federal regulations," Akseraylian said in a follow-up Thursday.

Hundreds laid off at Ocwen in Waterloo

WATERLOO | Numerous recent acquisitions prompted Ocwen Financial Corp. to issue layoff notices Tuesday to more than 800 workers nationwide,  including 238 at the former GMAC Mortgage operation in Waterloo.

In 2017, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau sued the company, saying the accounts Ocwen serviced were riddled with errors. It said the company would go after borrowers long before verifying whether the debt was valid, allegedly foreclosed illegally on at least 1,000 homeowners and charged borrowers for add-on products without their consent.

This article has been updated to correct that the company is not closing its Houston office, that positions were being eliminated companywide and not just at the locations closed, and that Ocwen disputes the contention that they violated the WARN Act in 2013 and 2014.


Morrissey