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Pharmacist sent to prison for scheme at Denton drug store

A Southlake woman was convicted on two felony drugs charges last week for her role in a scheme to give out opioids from a Denton pharmacy she owned with her husband called Meg’s Discount Drugs.

Susan Megwa was convicted of delivery of a controlled substance and diversion a controlled substance by a jury in the 362nd District Court in Denton County on Thursday and was sentenced to a total of 25 years in Texas prison.

Denton police led an investigation into the pharmacy for about two years, leading to Megwa’s arrest in 2014. She and her husband were among six people rounded up by the police.

Police, along with the Texas State Board of Pharmacy, alleged the pharmacy, then located on Sunset Drive, was pushing out drugs with ease, attracting people from across the region and state. Police said in 2014 that Megwa filled prescriptions from a dentist whose license had expired.

“The number of opioids that she ordered and dispensed is staggering,” Ron White, a retired investigator with the Texas State Board of Pharmacy who testified in the trial last week, wrote in an email Friday.

Authorities also accused Megwa of laundering more than $200,000 at the pharmacy as part of the scheme.

The felony began on Oct. 7 and lasted about two weeks.

The Denton police bust made headlines around North Texas. Megwa’s husband, Eronini Megwa, was also arrested and charged first-degree felony money laundering for his alleged role in the scheme. He was an associate professor at the University of Texas at Arlington before he was suspended by the university, officials said in 2014.

He will face a jury trial in 2020 in the 362nd District Court, according to court records. A jury trial was thrice rescheduled this year.


University_of_north_texas
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Tailgater of the Week: Señor Smoke and cousin Scott Campbell
Tailgating tradition stays winning almost 10 years later

The University of North Texas football team walked-off against Middle Tennessee State University 33-30 behind the leg of sophomore kicker Ethan Mooney who drilled a 22-yard game winning field goal Saturday afternoon at Apogee Stadium.

While the Eagles improved to a 3-4 record on the season, it was the winning tradition that arrived during the wee hours of the morning that some may say helped lift the team over MTSU.

Denton resident Scott Campbell, 59, and his cousin, Brock Huddleston, 53, a resident of Liberty Hill have been tailgating at UNT home football games for almost a decade. Most of his tailgates have typically consisted of small gatherings of friends and family, Campbell said, where someone will bring the pistachios while he brings the beer. Each year though, when the leaves begin to change and cooler weather arrives to the North Texas area, Campbell says he tries to host a larger get-together that’s centered on football and barbecue.

“We decided this was a way to meet with our friends that we don’t get to see very often,” Campbell said. “I just say, ‘Hey, come to the barbecue and hopefully we’ll get some time to talk.’”

Campbell approached Huddleston about 10 years ago asking if he would be interested in coming up to Denton to cook a tailgate once a year for some of his friends and fellow alumni. Now in his ninth year of tailgating at UNT home football games, Huddleston said, it’s become an annual tradition.

An avid tailgater who went to Sam Houston State University prior to attending Texas A&M, Huddleston said that although he only comes to Denton to tailgate once a year he finds Apogee Stadium has a personable environment.

“You have a good group of people that continue to come back and support the [UNT football] program and have fun with family,” Huddleston said. “So, I enjoy the tailgate experience here.”

Jeff Woo/DRC  

Huddleston cuts up some sausage for guests to eat during his annual tailgating party cookout.

Aside from last year when they were rained out, Campbell says that in the years since their tradition began UNT has amassed a 7-1 record to include Saturday’s win against MTSU — when Huddleston is cooking.

Recognized by his sombrero-sized cowboy hat, long white goatee and large in-tow smoker, Huddleston, also known as “Señor Smoke,” said he drove up on Friday afternoon to begin preparing for Saturday’s tailgate. After the initial preparations were finished and the meats were properly seasoned, Huddleston drove out to Apogee to begin cooking their pregame meal almost 12 hours ahead of Saturday’s game.

“We got out here at 3 a.m. and started a fire, and we smoked all morning long until right now,” Huddleston said.

Photos by

Jeff Woo/DRC 

Guests line up to eat during a tailgating party hosted by Brock Huddleston and Scott Campbell near Apogee Stadium Saturday in Denton.

By 1 p.m. that afternoon, the meats were smoked and ready to be served to a hungry gathering of family, friends and colleagues. Huddleston prepared a timely Texan tradition that featured five prime briskets, 80 links of sausage, 16 pork tenderloins and one five-pound treat.

“We also have a five-pound bologna that we smoked over here,” Huddleston said. “It’s really kind of a treat if nobody’s ever had smoked bologna, it kind of changes the texture and gets softer.”

Typically, anywhere from 60 to 80 people can be expected to attend their yearly tailgate, said Campbell, who anticipated a total of 82 to attend Saturday’s festivities. While not everyone who participates in the tailgate will attend the game, Campbell said tailgating is ultimately about spending time with friends and supporting UNT football.

Jeff Woo/DRC  

Fifty-nine-year-old Denton resident Scott Campbell (middle) leads a prayer with guests before they eat.

“It really is a great game day experience. I love my stadium, I love the leadership in the athletic department and what they’re doing for the athletes,” he said. “I just want to support it… So, I try to get people to come to the game and to the tailgate.”

The Mean Green will play their next home football game against the University of Texas at El Paso at 2:30 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 2, at Apogee Stadium.


Washington
AP
Caught up in Trump impeachment, US diplomats fight back

WASHINGTON — Three years of simmering frustration inside the State Department is boiling over on Capitol Hill as a parade of current and former diplomats testify to their concerns about the Trump administration’s unorthodox policy toward Ukraine.

Over White House objections, the diplomats are appearing before impeachment investigators looking into President Donald Trump’s dealings with Ukraine and they’re recounting stories of possible impropriety, misconduct and mistreatment by their superiors.

To Trump and his allies, the diplomats are evidence of a “deep state” within the government that has been out to get him from the start. But to the employees of a department demoralized by the administration’s repeated attempts to slash its budget and staff, cooperating with the inquiry is seen as a moment of catharsis, an opportunity to reassert the foreign policy norms they believe Trump has blown past.

“It’s taken a while to understand just how weird the policy process has become but it was inevitable,” said Ronald Neumann, president of the American Academy of Diplomacy. The group wrote a letter last month calling for the administration to support career diplomats and protect them from politicization.

The State Department officials parading through Capitol Hill include high-ranking diplomats with decades of experience serving both Republican and Democratic administrations. Among them: Kurt Volker, who resigned as the administration’s special envoy to Ukraine after being named in the whistleblower complaint that jumpstarted the impeachment inquiry.

Others who have testified behind closed doors include Marie Yovanovitch, the former ambassador to Ukraine who was pushed out of the post after a concerted campaign by Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani; Michael McKinley, who resigned after 37 years in the foreign service in part over treatment of Yovanovitch; and Fiona Hill, a National Security Council staffer who worked closely with the former Ukrainian ambassador.

Volker told investigators he did not believe there was anything improper in his dealings in Ukraine. But the others have all spoken of their unease and concern about Trump’s approach to Ukraine and their testimony has largely corroborated the whistleblower’s complaint, which centered on a July phone call between Trump and Ukraine’s leader, as well as Giuliani’s dealings in the former Soviet republic.

Yovanovitch, who remains a State Department employee, said she was “incredulous” at being recalled early from her post despite having been told she did nothing wrong. She lamented that her experience is evidence that American diplomats can no longer count on support from their government if they are attacked by foreign interests.

“That basic understanding no longer holds true,” she said according to the text of her opening statement to lawmakers. “Today, we see the State Department attacked and hollowed out from within.”

McKinley said he was “disturbed by the implication that foreign governments were being approached to procure negative information on political opponents.”

Trump has long cast career government officials as part of the “deep state” out to undermine him, associating the officials’ service under Democratic administrations as signs of their political leanings. That’s despite the fact that most longtime career officials have served under both Republicans and Democrats.

Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, argued last week that the diplomats were disparaging Trump because they were upset that he was imposing his political priorities on their work. He singled out in particular McKinley, who entered the foreign service while Republican Ronald Reagan was in the White House and had served under presidents from both parties.

“Elections have consequences and foreign policy is going to change from the Obama administration to the Trump administration,” Mulvaney said. “And what you’re seeing now, I believe, is a group of mostly career bureaucrats who are saying, ‘You know what? I don’t like President Trump’s politics, so I’m going to participate in this witch hunt that they’re undertaking on the Hill’.”

Former Deputy Secretary of State William Burns called Mulvaney’s assertion “offensive.”

”For them to be dismissed unfairly and accused of acting out of some political motive I think is just wrong,” said Burns, who is now president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

“They are demonstrating that they are responsible, decent public servants and that they have an obligation to tell the truth even when it isn’t convenient for the administration,” he said. “It gives a lie to the deep state caricature. These aren’t people plotting behind anyone’s back. They are stepping up to do their jobs.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in an interview Sunday with ABC’s “This Week,” joked, “I think Bill Burns must be auditioning to be Elizabeth Warren’s secretary of state.” Warren, a Massachusetts senator, is a Democratic presidential candidate.

The White House has insisted the administration, including career officials, would not participate in the impeachment investigation. Democrats have compelled the testimony of most of the officials through subpoenas and the State Department has so far not retaliated against those who have appeared.

Neumann, the American Academy of Diplomacy president, urged Pompeo to back up his staff if there are calls for them to be punished.

”So far, Pompeo has failed to show loyalty to the people who work for him,” he said. “But, he has another test. Does anything happen to those who testify? If nothing happens, I would give Pompeo credit for having blocked it.”

Pompeo has not spoken frequently about the inquiry except to say it is unfair to the people who work for him because they are not allowed to bring State Department lawyers with them to testify.

“My view is that each of us has a solemn responsibility to defend the Constitution and to speak the truth. ... I hope those officers who go to Capitol Hill will speak truthfully, that they’ll speak completely,” he said Sunday.

Two more diplomats get their turn to talk this week: William Taylor, currently the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, and Philip Reeker, the acting assistant secretary of state for Europe.


International
AP
US troops in Syria going to Iraq, not home as Trump claims

KABUL, Afghanistan — While President Donald Trump insists he’s bringing home Americans from “endless wars” in the Mideast, his Pentagon chief says all U.S. troops leaving Syria will go to western Iraq and the American military will continue operations against the Islamic State group.

They aren’t coming home and the United States isn’t leaving the turbulent Middle East, according to current plans outlined by U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper before he arrived in Afghanistan on Sunday. The fight in Syria against IS, once spearheaded by American allied Syrian Kurds who have been cast aside by Trump, will be undertaken by U.S. forces, possibly from neighboring Iraq.

Esper did not rule out the idea that U.S. forces would conduct counterterrorism missions from Iraq into Syria. But he told reporters traveling with him that those details will be worked out over time.

Trump nonetheless tweeted: “USA soldiers are not in combat or ceasefire zones. We have secured the Oil. Bringing soldiers home!”

The president declared this past week that Washington had no stake in defending the Kurdish fighters who died by the thousands as America’s partners fighting in Syria against IS extremists. Turkey conducted a weeklong offensive into northeastern Syria against the Kurdish fighters before a military pause.

“It’s time for us to come home,” Trump said, defending his removal of U.S. troops from that part of Syria and praising his decision to send more troops and military equipment to Saudi Arabia to help the kingdom defend against Iran.

Esper’s comments to reporters traveling with him were the first to specifically lay out where American troops will go as they shift from Syria and what the counter-IS fight could look like. Esper said he has spoken to his Iraqi counterpart about the plan to shift about 1,000 troops from Syria into western Iraq.

Trump’s top aide, asked about the fact that the troops were not coming home as the president claimed they would, said, “Well, they will eventually.”

Acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney told “Fox News Sunday” that “the quickest way to get them out of danger was to get them into Iraq.”

As Esper left Washington on Saturday, U.S. troops were continuing to pull out of northern Syria after Turkey’s invasion into the border region. Reports of sporadic clashes continued between Turkish-backed fighters and the Syria Kurdish forces despite a five-day cease-fire agreement hammered out Thursday between U.S. and Turkish leaders.

The Turkish military’s death toll has risen to seven soldiers since it launched its offensive on Oct. 9.

Trump ordered the bulk of the approximately 1,000 U.S. troops in Syria to withdraw after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made it clear in a phone call that his forces were about to invade Syria to push back Kurdish forces that Turkey considers terrorists.

The pullout largely abandons America’s Kurdish allies who have fought IS alongside U.S. troops for several years. Between 200 and 300 U.S. troops will remain at the southern Syrian outpost of Al-Tanf.

Esper said the troops going into Iraq will have two missions.

“One is to help defend Iraq and two is to perform a counter-ISIS mission as we sort through the next steps,” he said. “Things could change between now and whenever we complete the withdrawal, but that’s the game plan right now.”

The U.S. currently has more than 5,000 American forces in Iraq, under an agreement between the two countries. The U.S. pulled its troops out of Iraq in 2011 when combat operations there ended, but they went back in after IS began to take over large swaths of the country in 2014. The number of American forces in Iraq has remained small due to political sensitivities in the country, after years of what some Iraqis consider U.S. occupation during the war that began in 2003.

Esper said he will talk with other allies at a NATO meeting in the coming week to discuss the way ahead for the counter-IS mission.

Asked if U.S. special operations forces will conduct unilateral military operations into Syria to go after IS, Esper said that is an option that will be discussed with allies over time.

He said one of his top concerns is what the next phase of the counter-IS missions looks like, “but we have to work through those details.” He said that if U.S. forces do go in, they would be protected by American aircraft.

While he acknowledged reports of intermittent fighting despite the cease-fire agreement, he said that overall it “generally seems to be holding. We see a stability of the lines, if you will, on the ground.”

He also said that, so far, the Syrian Democratic Forces that partnered with the U.S. to fight IS have maintained control of the prisons in Syria where they are still present. The Turks, he said, have indicated they have control of the IS prisons in their areas.

“I can’t assess whether that’s true or not without having people on the ground,” said Esper.

He added that the U.S. withdrawal will be deliberate and safe, and it will take “weeks not days.”

According to a U.S. official, about a couple hundred troops have left Syria so far. The U.S. forces have been largely consolidated in one location in the west and a few locations in the east.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing operations, said the U.S. military is not closely monitoring the effectiveness of the cease-fire, but is aware of sporadic fighting and violations of the agreement. The official said it will still take a couple of weeks to get forces out of Syria.

Also Sunday, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi led a group of American lawmakers on a visit to Jordan to discuss “the deepening crisis” in Syria.

Jordan’s state news agency Petra said that King Abdullah II, in a meeting with the Americans, stressed the importance of safeguarding Syria’s territorial integrity and guarantees for the “safe and voluntary” return of refugees.