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Nothing but ‘thank you’s’ and smiling faces

LEMOORE — For many people, the holiday season brings memories of time spent sitting around the dinner table sharing a good meal with loved ones; but for some families, it’s difficult to make ends meet, let alone a holiday meal.

“There’s so much life and fellowship and just comradery built around the dinner table,” said Kim Dildine, chief administrative officer of the Community Food Bank.

Community Food Bank and Tachi Palace Hotel and Casino in Lemoore have been partners for several years, so this year the food bank asked if the casino would like to do something a little different this year: a meal distribution.

Holiday meals can get big and expensive, Dildine said, especially for those families that are struggling and have to decide whether to pay electric bill or buy food for the month.

Catherine Montoya, advertising manager at Tachi Palace Casino, said she asked General Manager Willie Barrios and Assistant General Manager Bill Davis what they thought of the idea, and the two agreed it would be great for the community.

“The need is great,” Dildine said. “One in four adults and one in three kids in the Central Valley struggle with hunger on a daily basis.”

Montoya said it was a special type of distribution because the casino staff wanted to do something right before the holidays that would help families have some food for Thanksgiving or Christmas.

Families received green beans, corn, stuffing, mashed potatoes, a whole fryer chicken and about 25 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables, Dildine said.

“This is a little bit of light and a little bit of hope for them as we go into the holiday season,” Dildine said.

Montoya said most people who visited the distribution thanked the volunteers and told them it means a lot that the casino was doing something for local families.

Most of the volunteers were with Tachi Palace and some even went to volunteer on their day off, Montoya said. She said the volunteers were more than happy to help and knew they were doing a good thing for the community.

“We’re all from the community,” Montoya said of the Tachi Palace volunteers. “They’re just excited and they’re happy.”

The Tachi volunteers prepared the meal boxes and handed them out to families at the drive-through distribution. Cars were lined-up and many had waited for hours before the distribution began at 9 a.m. Monday morning.

Montoya said she heard and saw “nothing but ‘thank you’s’ and smiling faces.”

Tachi Palace is no stranger to helping the community. Montoya said the casino tries to do a community breakfast every month to assist different charities. She said information can be found on the casino's community calendar online.

When all was said and done, Tachi volunteers handed out 320 meal boxes to local families.

Montoya said Tachi Palace usually partners with Community Food Bank for an event each year and said the meal distribution is something she believes the casino staff would want to do again next year.

“Anything we can help them out with, we’re looking to do that,” Montoya said. “We want to make sure that nobody goes without food in the Central Valley.”

First guilty plea, indictment of Trump aides in Russia probe

WASHINGTON — On a black Monday for Donald Trump's White House, the special counsel investigating possible coordination between the Kremlin and the Trump presidential campaign announced the first charges, indicting Trump's former campaign chairman and revealing how an adviser lied to the FBI about meetings with Russian intermediaries.

The formal charges against a total of three people are the first public demonstration that Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team believe they have identified criminal conduct. And they send a warning that individuals in the Trump orbit who do not cooperate with Mueller's investigators, or who are believed to mislead them during questioning, could also wind up charged and facing years in prison.

Paul Manafort, who steered Trump's campaign for much of last year, and business associate Rick Gates ended the day under house arrest on charges that they funneled payments through foreign companies and bank accounts as part of their private political work in Ukraine.

George Papadopoulos, also a former campaign adviser, faced further questioning and then sentencing in the first — and so far only — criminal case that links the Trump election effort to the Kremlin.

Manafort and Gates, who pleaded not guilty in federal court, are not charged with any wrongdoing as part of the Trump campaign, and the president immediately sought to distance himself from the allegations. He said on Twitter that the alleged crimes occurred "years ago," and he insisted anew there was "NO COLLUSION" between his campaign and Russia.

But potentially more perilous for the president was the guilty plea by former adviser Papadopoulos, who admitted in newly unsealed court papers that he was told in April 2016 that the Russians had "dirt" on Democratic rival Clinton in the form of "thousands of emails," well before it became public that the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta's emails had been hacked.

Papadopoulos was not charged with having improper communications with Russians but rather with lying to FBI agents when asked about the contacts, suggesting that Mueller — who was appointed in May to lead the Justice Department's investigation — is prepared to indict for false statements even if the underlying conduct he uncovers might not necessarily be criminal.

The developments, including the unexpected unsealing of a guilty plea, usher Mueller's investigation into a new, more serious phase. And the revelations in the guilty plea about an adviser's Russian contacts could complicate the president's assertions that his campaign had never coordinated with the Russian government to tip the 2016 presidential election in his favor, the central issue behind Mueller's mandate.

Mueller's investigation has already shadowed the administration for months, with investigators reaching into the White House to demand access to documents and interviews with key current and former officials.

The Papadopoulos plea occurred on Oct. 5 but was not unsealed until Monday, creating further woes for an administration that had prepared over the weekend to deflect the Manafort allegations. In court papers, Papadopoulos admitted lying to FBI agents about the nature of his interactions with "foreign nationals" who he thought had close connections to senior Russian government officials.

The court filings don't provide details on the emails or whom Papadopoulos may have told about the Russian government effort.

Papadopoulos has been cooperating with investigators, according to the court papers. His lawyers hinted strongly in a statement Monday that their client has more testimony to provide.

There, too, the White House scrambled to contain the potential fallout, with press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders contending that Papadopoulos' role in the campaign was "extremely limited." She said that "any actions that he took would have been on his own."

The criminal case against Manafort, who surrendered to the FBI in the morning, had long been expected.

The indictment naming him and Gates, who also had a role in the campaign, lays out 12 counts including conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder money, acting as an unregistered foreign agent, making false statements and several charges related to failing to report foreign bank and financial accounts. The indictment alleges the men moved money through hidden bank accounts in Cyprus, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the Seychelles.

In total, more than $75 million flowed through the offshore accounts, according to the indictment. Manafort is accused of laundering more than $18 million.

Outside the courthouse, Manafort attorney Kevin Downing attacked the charges and said "there is no evidence that Mr. Manafort or the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government."

Manafort's indictment doesn't reference the Trump campaign or make any allegations about coordination between Russia and campaign aides. But it does allege a criminal conspiracy was continuing through February of this year, after Trump had taken office.

Felon found with loaded gun in car

LEMOORE — After being stopped for speeding in a school zone, 22-year-old Eric Cline was arrested on suspicion of having a loaded gun in his car and other charges, police said.

On Friday at about 2:45 p.m., Lemoore Police said a Youth Development Officer was conducting after-school traffic enforcement in the 500 block of West Bush Street near a heavily-traveled Lemoore Elementary School crosswalk.

Police said the traffic enforcement was a result of school and parent complaints of speeding cars and cars failing to yield for students at the crosswalk.

Police said the officer used a radar detector to record the speed of a white Cadillac sedan driving westbound on West Bush Street approaching the crosswalk at 31 mph in a 25 mph marked school zone.

Officers said the 25 mph speed limit was due to the school just being dismissed and children being present.

The officer also noticed the vehicle didn’t have a front license plate displayed, which is another traffic violation, police said.

Police said the officer conducted a traffic stop on the Cadillac, which had pulled over in the area of West Bush and Vine streets. They said Cline, who is from Lemoore, was the only person in the car.

During the traffic stop, police said the officer smelled the odor of burnt marijuana coming from inside the car and also saw a marijuana joint in the center console’s ash tray.

Police said the officer noticed Cline displaying visible impairment symptoms and asked him to step out of the car for further investigation.

Cline gave consent to the officer to search the vehicle and police said the officer found a loaded .40 caliber pistol in a bag behind the passenger seat on the floorboard.

Police said a records check of the firearm revealed it was reported stolen out of Fresno.

Furthermore, a criminal history search of Cline revealed he was a convicted felon and prohibited from owning a firearm and/or ammunition, police said.

Authorities said Cline was arrested and booked into the Kings County Jail on suspicion of possession of a loaded firearm in a vehicle, felon in possession of a loaded firearm, felon in possession of ammunition, possession of a loaded firearm within 1,000 feet of a school zone and possession of a stolen firearm.

Officials said Cline’s bail was set at $85,000.