CHRISTOPHER — Beth Ann Pheasant, 37, died at 11:10 p.m. Monday, Oct. 31, 2016, at home.
WASHINGTON — A former senior adviser to President Donald Trump's election campaign pleaded guilty Friday to federal conspiracy and false-statements charges, switching from defendant to cooperating witness in the special counsel's probe of Trump's campaign and Russia's election interference.
The plea by Rick Gates revealed that he will help special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation in "any and all matters" as prosecutors continue to probe the 2016 campaign, Russian meddling and Gates' longtime business associate, one-time Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
With his cooperation, Gates gives Mueller a witness willing to provide information on Manafort about his finances and political consulting work in Ukraine, and also someone who had access at the highest levels of Trump's 2016 presidential campaign.
Also Friday, Mueller's team unsealed a new indictment solely against Manafort that included an allegation that he, with Gates' assistance, secretly paid former European politicians to lobby on behalf of Ukraine.
The indictment accuses Manafort of paying the former politicians, informally known as the "Hapsburg group," to appear to be "independent" analysts when in fact they were paid lobbyists. Some of the covert lobbying took place in the U.S.
The indictment says the group was managed by a former European chancellor. Court papers accuse Manafort of using offshore accounts to pay the group more than 2 million euros.
Gates, 45, of Richmond, Virginia, made the plea at the federal courthouse in Washington. He admitted to charges accusing him of conspiring against the U.S. government related to fraud and unregistered foreign lobbying as well as lying to federal authorities in a recent interview.
The plea came a day after a federal grand jury in Virginia returned a 32-count indictment against Gates and Manafort accusing them of tax evasion and bank fraud.
The indictment in Virginia was the second round of charges against Gates and Manafort, who were initially charged last October with unregistered lobbying and conspiring to launder millions of dollars they earned while working on behalf of a pro-Russian Ukrainian political party.
Manafort continues to maintain his innocence.
"I had hoped and expected my business colleague would have had the strength to continue the battle to prove our innocence. For reasons yet to surface he chose to do otherwise," Manafort said Friday. "This does not alter my commitment to defend myself against the untrue piled-up charges contained in the indictments against me."
In court filings over the past few months, Gates gradually began to show the strain the case was placing on him and his family.
He frequently pleaded with U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson for leniency in his house arrest to let him attend sporting events with his four children. Even on Friday, ahead of his plea, Gates had asked the judge to let him take his children to Boston for spring break so they could "learn about American history in general, and the Revolutionary War in particular."
Under the terms of the plea, Gates is estimated to face between 57 and 71 months behind bars. Prosecutors may seek a shortened sentence depending on his cooperation.
Gates' decision marks the fifth publicly known guilty plea in the special counsel probe into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin during the 2016 campaign.
It comes on the heels of the stunning indictment last week that laid out a broad operation of election meddling by Russia, which began in 2014, and employed fake social media accounts and on-the-ground politicking to promote Trump's campaign, disparage Hillary Clinton and sow division and discord widely among the U.S. electorate.
The charges to which Gates is pleading guilty don't involve any conduct connected to the Trump campaign. They largely relate to a conspiracy of unregistered lobbying, money laundering and fraud laid out in his indictments.
But his plea does newly reveal that Gates spoke with the FBI earlier this month and lied during the interview. That same day, his attorneys filed a motion to withdraw from representing him for "irreconcilable difference."
Gates served on the Trump campaign at the same time that Manafort, Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner met with a team of Russians in Trump Tower in June 2016. He was also in the top ranks of the campaign when then-Sen. Jeff Sessions held a pair of undisclosed meetings with Russian ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak.
For a few months in 2016, Gates was indispensable to Trump, leading the ground effort to help Trump win the Republican nomination and flying from state to state to secure Republican delegates in a scramble that lasted all the way until the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
But his power and influence waned once Trump fired Manafort in August 2016 after The Associated Press disclosed how Gates and Manafort covertly directed a Washington lobbying campaign on behalf of Ukrainian interests.
Gates survived his mentor's ouster and worked through the election on Trump's inaugural committee — but among Trump aides he earned the nickname "the walking dead." Gates also worked briefly with the outside political groups supporting Trump's agenda, America First Policies and America First Action, but was pushed out of that job last year.
CARBONDALE — Standing in the lower level of Grinnell Hall on Thursday night, Southern Illinois University student Alyssa Copeland laid out a defiant challenge for an imaginary audience.
“You think you know what a dysfunctional family is, but you don’t know the half,” Copeland said.
Copeland was rehearsing for her role in the Tunnel of Oppression, an interactive project that aims to give visitors deeper insight into forms of oppression and discrimination that some people face every day.
In the project, sponsored by the Black Togetherness Organization and University Housing, participants are led through a series of connected rooms, each showcasing a different scene depicting a form of oppression.
Tours will be held from 5 to 8:45 p.m. Monday through Thursday on the lower level of Grinnell Hall, located at 275 E. Park Street.
Copeland serves as narrator in a skit about a dysfunctional African-American family put on by the SIUC Branch NAACP. The skit includes depictions of abuse and mental illness, and one of the characters is transgender.
Vyctoria Brooks, a senior studying psychology and president of the Black Togetherness Organization, said this year’s event is themed around intersectionality.
“In the African-American community, sometimes they shy away from heavier topics, like homosexuality maybe, and mental illnesses. It has just been a thing as a culture, because we are taught that the world is against us and you don’t want to give them any more ammunition because of it. But those characteristics make you who you are,” Brooks said.
Maiya Patrick, a junior and an NAACP member, plays the mother who is physically abused by her husband, and doesn’t want to confront what’s going on with her children.
“But the mother is also verbally abusive to her children, because she doesn’t know how to deal with the societal standards that are going on with them. She wants them to be quote-unquote normal, but she’s having a hard time accepting that everything can’t be perfect,” Patrick said.
Unique Warfield, a senior and president of the SIUC Chapter NAACP, said the group worked to develop the skit to shine a light on that dynamic in African-American families.
“We just want people to really open their eyes and see that this is something that goes on day in, day out. Whether it’s in the household or outside, we see it, it’s on television, we ignore it. Especially speaking from my own family point of view, we ignore it, we downplay it. So this whole scene is very, very sensitive for me,” Warfield said.
Most of the students participating have never acted before, with the exception of members of the African Theater Lab organization, who are performing two skits in the project. Those students have helped the other groups with their acting chops — and Brooks said acting from experience makes a big difference, too.
“Because we talk it out, and because I ask them what they’re passionate about (while developing the skits), it’s more relatable to them. It’s way easier to act out something that’s already happened to you, or you know a lot about it,” Brooks said.
The rooms are ordered from least extreme to most extreme, Brooks said.
“I think it’s very effective and impactful because a lot of students grew up in small towns who come to SIUC, and even if they grew up in a big city, they might have had one perspective of how life is, but Tunnel of Oppression shows all different types of perspectives. So when they go through it, they realize — wow, this is something that can happen to somebody, and I never knew,” Brooks said.
It can be an emotional experience, she said.
“I have definitely seen students cry, adults cry. I’ve cried myself, just because sometimes you go through a room and it’s something you even identify with, and you’re like, wow, this did happen to me. That’s why I cried, and I was like, ‘I’m so glad they’re finally telling people this story,’” Brooks said.
Organizers suggest that those attending be at least 17 years old, and those under 18 will need a waiver signed by a guardian. Each tour ends with a debriefing by staff members from the university’s Counseling and Psychological Services.
“(The actors) do curse, they do yell. They never touch, but it can be scary for at least younger people,” Brooks said.
Taje Buckingham, treasurer of the Black Togetherness Organization, said there’s a reason the actors are so provocative and intense.
“When we interact with the audience, we really want them to feel what the room is. We don’t want it to be just like, ‘Oh, we’re just watching a few actors,’ you know, how when you watch on TV you might think, ‘That’s happening over there’ or ‘It doesn’t really concern me’ … we want to interact with the audience so they can feel exactly what’s going on,” Buckingham said.
The project offers a more immediate demonstration of oppression than talking about it theoretically in a classroom, Buckingham said.
“Here, you have people who are showing it to you at face value. They are showing you the raw emotion, the raw feelings, with no sugarcoating,” Buckingham said.
Travis Hardwick, assistant director of education and outreach for residence life, serves as an advisor to student groups within University Housing.
“We hear about (oppression) in the news, we see about it on TV, but for most of us it’s not our lived experiences, and to see about it and think about it in a face-to-face experience then gives you that chance to go back and think, ‘OK, this is what people around me do face. How can I help make a difference in that?’” Hardwick said.
As rehearsal of the “dysfunctional family” skit wrapped up Thursday night, Copeland and other actors again confronted their imaginary audience, this time yelling: “If you’re not going to help, then get out!”
Buckingham said he hopes that line sticks with people.
“That is them trying to say, ‘You guys should start helping now,’ and the audience is going to feel that,” Buckingham said.
The event is free and open to the public. To reserve a spot, call 618-536-5505, or email Travis Hardwick at email@example.com. A reservation form is also available online through University Housing’s website. Each tour lasts about an hour. Walk-ins may attend if space allows.
BENTON — After what was scheduled to be his final pretrial before a March trial, Brian Pheasant, the Christopher man accused of killing his wife on Halloween night in 2016, will be tried for the crime in May.
Pheasant, 43, is charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the shooting death of his wife, Beth Pheasant, 37.
Pheasant appeared in court Friday with defense attorney Paula Newcomb and Franklin County State’s Attorney Evan Owens to hash out any last-minute motions and details for his scheduled court date on March 6. During the hearing, a motion to suppress part of a two-hour video of an interview of Pheasant was presented by the defense — Judge Thomas Tedeschi said he was unaware of the motion until the hearing Friday.
At issue for Newcomb was a portion about two-thirds of the way through the video. However, Tedeschi said hearing arguments on the motion and watching the video itself could take the better part of a day without considering all the other motions that were to be heard — earlier in the hearing, Newcomb had already been granted a continuance for filing extra motions after she missed several days of work because of the flu.
After a brief recess, a motion for continuance was made by the defense and a jury trial date of May 8 was granted. A court date of March 9 was also set for future motions to be heard. Tedeschi estimated the state and defense may be meeting every other week until trial.
CHRISTOPHER — Beth Ann Pheasant, 37, died at 11:10 p.m. Monday, Oct. 31, 2016, at home.
Pheasant was scheduled to be tried in October, but because of a motion filed by the state Sept. 13 to have Pheasant psychologically evaluated, it was pushed back until March.
This came after defense attorney Paula Newcomb filed a defendant notice Sept. 13, which said the “defendant may request to offer a proposed jury instruction for guilty but mentally ill in this case as he was suffering from severe depression at the time of the incident.” Responding to this clause, the Franklin County state’s attorney's office said in its motion that this instruction would not be proper because the defense has not raised an insanity defense. However, the motion also said that “it appears that the defense is anticipating a plea of guilty but mentally ill or is otherwise asserting a mental defense,” which prompted the request to have Pheasant evaluated.
Christopher man charged with murder in wife's death to undergo psychiatric evaluation; trial postponed to 2018
BENTON — Brian Pheasant will not appear before a jury this year to face the charge that he killed his wife last year.
Owens said that any time the defense brings up or even alleges any type of insanity or mental competency plea, the state has the right to have the defendant evaluated.
Also at issue Friday was the status of several affirmative defenses — Owens told the court he was still not sure of the status of an insanity plea by the defense.
CAIRO — Major to moderate flooding is projected for parts of the region throughout the weekend, according to the National Weather Service in Paducah.
Sean Poulos, a meteorologist for the Paducah’s NWS office, said according to a forecast from 9:44 p.m. Thursday, major flooding is projected for the Grand Chain Dam along the Ohio as well as moderate flooding between Paducah and Cairo.
Poulos said major and moderate signifiers can differ from place-to-place. It depends on what is within the flood path, Poulos said.
Continued rain throughout the weekend will keep waters from receding until after a crest next week. Poulos said the crest is expected Tuesday.
The region saw heavy rainfall in the last week — Poulos said some places have picked up 4 to 5 inches in the last 72 hours.
Poulos said he is not aware of any fatalities from rising waters, but asked that those in the path of floodwaters pay attention.
“Just heed any flood warnings that we may be issuing here in the next few days. Just stay alert for possible rising waters,” he said.
Rain is expected throughout the region through Saturday, with the potential for severe weather included on Saturday afternoon and early evening.