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Water agency approves $11B for California twin tunnels plan

LOS ANGELES (AP) — California's largest water agency on Tuesday approved a nearly $11 billion plan to help fund two enormous tunnels, breathing new life into Gov. Jerry Brown's ambitious and controversial plan to remake the state's water system.

The board of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California voted to pay about $10.8 billion toward the twin-tunnel project supported by the governor.

"This is a historic decision that is good for California — our people, our farms and our natural environment," Brown said in a statement praising the decision.

Brown wants California water agencies to pay to plan and build two, 35-mile-long (55-kilometer-long) tunnels to divert part of the state's largest river, the Sacramento, to supply water to the San Francisco Bay Area, the agricultural San Joaquin Valley and Southern California. State water districts had previously balked at the $16 billion total cost of the two tunnels.

The MWD has been the steadiest long-term supporter of either one tunnel or two — saying each project would help secure water for its millions of urban customers.

While MWD staff recommended that the board choose the one-tunnel plan because it's less risky financially, they have maintained that building the full Sacramento-San Joaquin delta project would provide more overall benefits to California's water delivery system.

Tuesday's vote pit MWD's two biggest members, the city of Los Angeles and the San Diego County Water Authority, against its third-largest member, the Municipal Water District of Orange County — one of the agencies that pushed to get the two-tunnel proposal back on the agenda.

Los Angeles has the biggest vote under MWD's system, which weighs the votes of member agencies according to assessed property values in their service areas.

Environmental groups have opposed the original twin-tunnel project, fearing Southern California water agencies would use the tunnels to drain too much water from the Sacramento River, above its delta with the San Joaquin River.

The Sacramento is the state's biggest river and a vital supplier of fresh water to the San Francisco Bay, part of the largest estuary on the West Coast of the Americas.

Brown and other project supporters say the tunnel project would modernize California's outdated north-south delivery system, where pumps and overall water withdrawals are blamed for the steady dwindling of native fish and other wildlife that depend on delta water.

Opponents rallied outside MWD headquarters to urge the board to reject both tunnel plans, which they fear will raise water bills and property taxes without delivering any water or economic benefits to Southern California residents.

The two-tunnel project would cost LA's ratepayers an average of $1.73 per month in 2017 dollars, according to a report last year by Fred Pickel, director of the city's Office of Public Accountability, who acts as a watchdog for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

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Tradition of honoring Kings county victims continues

HANFORD — This year’s Victims’ Rights Ceremony was in tune with the theme and Kings County’s continued effort to reach all victims.

The theme for the National Crime Victims’ Rights Week was “Expand the Circle: Reach All Victims.”

Four victims of various crimes stood in front of the Kings County community Tuesday evening to share their stories and to talk about how various resources available to victims helped them get through a difficult time in their lives.

An event that initially started as a private event for victims has turned into a large affair with a minimum of 100 participants.

Julia Patino, the program coordinator for the Victims Witness Assistance Program, said they sent out invitations to around 400 victims for this year’s event. However, this event is also open to anyone wishing to pay respect and support victims in the community.

Previous ceremonies have focused on victims of homicide and their families. It has since expanded to include victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, kidnapping and elder abuse.

This year was the first year the event had people speak about experience of being a victim of elder abuse. Although the victims spoke in public, they were identified only by first names. They wished to keep their last names private because not all their cases have completed the court process. 

Reynaldo, 81, shared that through the efforts and help of his social worker and victim-witness advocate, he found the strength to admit that he was being abused physically, emotionally and financially.

“I was embarrassed,” he said. “I was abused for the last five years.”

Reynaldo recited from memory the of organizations and services available to help Kings county's victims - and that helped put on the event.

Kings Coalition for Wellness and Awareness, Champions, Kings County District Attorney Victim Witness Assistance Program, NAS Lemoore Fleet and Family Support Center, Kings Community Action Agency, Kings Partnership for Prevention, the Commission on Aging, Human Services Agency and many others helped to make this event possible.

When each victim went up, members of agencies that helped them went up to support the victims as they shared with the crowd of people their journey as a victim.

Lisa detailed how her family, friends and fiancé have helped her after she was sexually assaulted.  She also stressed how prompt and respectful the men and women of the Lemoore Police Department, Kings County Sherriff’s Department and District Attorney’s Office were.

She also offered advice to victims not to listen to what others may say. Lisa stressed that it is not the victim’s fault.

Casilda was comforted as she cried while reading a letter about the time her two children were kidnapped.

Members of Margarita’s support team held her hands as she did breathing exercises while another member of her support team read her prepared statement about being a victim of domestic violence.

After sharing and hearing how crime has affected these women and men, the crowd listened as Mikayla Williams, senior at Sierra Pacific High School, sang “Amazing Grace” while holding balloons that had notes on them about people’s loved ones who have died or about their time as a victim.

After Williams finished singing, the crowd was encouraged to let go of their balloons and let their burdens float away with it.

As people went inside to feast on the food provided by different organizations and restaurants, they took the chance to admire the quilt commemorating people who died  in recent years.

District Attorney Keith Fagundes said this event is meant to bring awareness to resources available to victims and to support victims as a community.

This event has been celebrated in Kings county since 1996.

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Judge orders Debbie Hawk's remains returned to her family

HANFORD — Following a two-day court hearing, Superior Court Judge David Minier ordered Tuesday that the human remains of Debbie Hawk be returned to her family members for burial or cremation.

Debbie Hawk, 46, had disappeared from her Hanford home on June 13, 2006, and her body was found nearly 10 years later.

Debbie Hawk’s three children, who had returned from visiting their father, Dave Hawk, in Lemoore, found blood trails from their mother’s bedroom to the garage. Authorities found Debbie Hawk’s van abandoned in southwest Fresno two days later.

Dave Hawk was arrested for the killing in 2008. A Kings County jury convicted him in 2009 on charges of first-degree murder for financial gain, tax evasion, embezzlement, grand theft and perjury.

Prosecutors secured the conviction based on circumstantial evidence showing Dave Hawk killed his ex-wife to hide the theft of more than $300,000 from their children’s trust fund accounts.

The whereabouts of Debbie Hawk’s body remained a mystery until March 18, 2016, when her skeletal remains were found in a field near Stratford. Following the discovery, prosecutors and Dave Hawk’s attorney, Mark Coleman, agreed to preserve the remains for DNA testing.

On Feb. 22, The Kings County District Attorney filed a motion and request to return Debbie Hawk’s remains to her family.

DA’s officials said a hearing on that request began on March 8, with Kings County Sheriff’s Detective Sgt. Mark Lusk testifying to the location of the remains, collection methods, and condition of the remains and soil where they were located. Additional testimony was taken from the two farm employees who located the remains while excavating a field, officials said.

Assistant District Attorney Phil Esbenshade conducted the hearing, which continued on April 10, where California Department of Justice DNA Analyst Christopher Johnson testified to the DNA testing that was conducted on the remains.

Officials said Johnson testified that no DNA profiles were located on thirteen acrylic fingernail fragments that were found within the remains.

A press release from the DA’s office said Johnson further testified that he conducted DNA analysis on several teeth, and found only a degraded profile of Debbie Hawk. No profiles other than that of Debbie Hawk were found during analysis.

Officials said Johnson further detailed how the condition of the remains and the significant time period that they were exposed to the elements severely compromised any chance of a locating the DNA profile of a perpetrator. He also stated that DNA testing was complete, and that, in his opinion, no further DNA testing would be fruitful, officials said.

Following the hearing, the District Attorney’s officials argued for immediate return of Debbie Hawk’s remains to her family for burial or cremation. Minier granted the request and a court order was signed. No future court dates are scheduled.

NOE GARCIA, The Sentinel 

Sierra Pacific catcher Kaitlin Thayer pumps her fist after crossing home plate for the winning run in the bottom of the seventh inning in an East Sequoia League game against Corcoran on Monday.

Sentinel file photos 

Hanford Police Capt. Karl Anderson stands next to a photo of Debbie Hawk at a press conference on March 23, 2016, announcing the discovery of Hawk's remains buried in a field near Stratford.

AP sources: Raid related to payments to women accusing Trump

WASHINGTON — Federal agents who raided the office of President Donald Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, were looking for information about payments to a former Playboy playmate and a porn actress who claim to have had affairs with Trump, two people familiar with the investigation said Tuesday.

Public corruption prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney's office in Manhattan are trying to determine if there was any fraud related to the payments to Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels, according to one of the people. McDougal, a former playmate, was paid $150,000 by the parent company of the National Enquirer for her story, though the magazine never published it. Cohen paid $130,000 to Daniels as part of an agreement, made before the 2016 election, to keep her from going public with her allegations.

A warrant used in the raid Monday specifically authorized agents to seize records related to McDougal, said one of the people, who demanded anonymity to discuss the confidential details.

The payments appear to be part of a pattern of Trump' self-described fixer trying to shield the businessman-turned-politician from embarrassing press by buying women's silence.

The new details on the Cohen raid, first reported by The New York Times, emerged as the president boiled over on Twitter about it and amid evidence that investigators are zeroing in on his inner circle. The raid on Cohen was not carried out by special counsel Robert Mueller's team but instead by federal authorities in New York.

But the president's ire has been directed at Mueller and his boss, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. On Monday, Trump called Mueller's investigation "an attack on our country" and suggested he was considering firing the special counsel.

The White House remained defiant that the president has the power to directly fire Mueller — despite Justice Department regulations saying otherwise. The regulations say only Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller last May, has the authority to fire him and only for specific cause. Rosenstein has repeatedly said that he has not seen any reason to dismiss Mueller.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Tuesday that Trump "certainly believes he has the power" to fire Mueller, though he isn't taking that step now. She echoed Trump's frustration, saying he believes federal authorities have "gone too far" by seizing communication between a lawyer and his clients.

The furious president himself blasted out his displeasure early Tuesday, saying on Twitter: "Attorney-client privilege is dead!"

In fact, attorney-client privilege is not absolute and can't be invoked when the discussion was part of an effort to commit a crime. The search was authorized by a judge and no evidence suggests it was carried out improperly.

The search did not appear related to allegations of Russian election interference or possible coordination with the Trump campaign, the main focus of Mueller's probe. But the raid was prompted, at least in part, by evidence or allegations uncovered by Mueller's team.

Under Justice Department regulations, Mueller must consult with Rosenstein when his investigators uncover new evidence that may fall outside his original mandate. Rosenstein then determines whether to allow Mueller to proceed or to assign the matter to another U.S. attorney or another part of the Justice Department.

FBI agents searched Cohen's office, apartment and a hotel room where he's been staying while his home is under renovation, looking for documents related to Daniels and McDougal.

McDougal has said she carried on an affair with Trump in 2006 after the birth of his son. The Enquirer's publisher, American Media Inc., said they paid McDougal for details of the alleged affair, but they never appeared in print. AMI has said she was paid to become a fitness columnist.

Cohen's attorney, Stephen Ryan, did not respond to questions about McDougal on Tuesday.

Agents also seized records related to a $130,000 payment made to Daniels, who says she had sex with Trump the same year as McDougal. Daniels' team has had extensive communications with federal investigators, said a third person familiar with the investigations, who demanded anonymity to discuss the confidential matter.

Cohen has said he paid Daniels out of his own pocket shortly before the 2016 presidential election, but has not explained why.

Several former officials at the Federal Election Commission have said the payment could have violated campaign finance laws, because it may amount to an unreported campaign donation.

Cohen has said neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was involved in the transaction with Daniels and he was not reimbursed for the payment. Trump has said he didn't know about the payment. The White House has consistently said Trump denies the affair.

In his first public comments since the raid, Cohen told CNN on Tuesday that he is rethinking how he handled the payment to Daniels because of what it's done to his family. He also praised the FBI agents who carried out the search as "professional, courteous and respectful."

Asked if he was worried, Cohen told CNN: "I would be lying to you if I told that I am not. Do I need this in my life? No. Do I want to be involved in this? No."