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New push to open Colorado police internal-investigation files to the public finds early success

February 20, 2019 - 3:38pm

A bill that would make Colorado police departments’ records of internal affairs investigations open to the public advanced out of the state House Judiciary Committee on a 7-4 vote Tuesday after hours of testimony and discussion.

Current state law allows police agencies in Colorado to release documents related to internal affairs investigations if they believe doing so is in the public interest.

But advocates of the bill, HB19-1119, pointed out that more often than not, those records are not released. In fact, most law enforcement agencies other than the Denver Police Department deny the requests, citing officer privacy and that releasing such information would be “contrary to the public interest.”

But Rep. James Coleman, D-Denver, who introduced the bill for the second year, believes the release of those records accomplishes the opposite: more transparency and accountability in the public’s interest. The bill would allow agencies to provide a public summary of an investigation, and people would be able to request more records.

This year, Coleman and advocates of the bill, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado and the Independence Institute, collected feedback from law enforcement and stakeholders in a bid to make the legislation more palatable. The Colorado District Attorneys’ Council, the Colorado Municipal League and the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police this year did not oppose the bill, which has been touted as a bipartisan effort.

Coleman told the committee that he made concessions with this year’s bill, including more privacy protections and not allowing the law to apply retroactively.

But they weren’t enough for everyone: The Colorado Fraternal Order of Police opposes the bill, citing privacy concerns and claiming the current system works. If a person currently disputes an agency’s decision to withhold records, he or she can take it up in court.

Don Sisson, legal counsel for the Fraternal Order of Police, said the bill would “undermine and undercut principles of fairness for officers” and eliminate discretion of records release.

Advocates argued that the public and media shouldn’t have to — and often can’t afford to — go to court to get records about on-duty officer conduct.

Representatives from media organizations — including Noelle Phillips, a Denver Post editor, who testified as a representative of the Colorado Press Association —  stressed that the bill would help bring to light important public safety information.

“The public has a right to know how law enforcement officers conduct themselves while on duty and how misconduct complaints are investigated,” said Jeff Roberts, executive director of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition.

Reporter Elise Schmelzer contributed to this story.

Categories: All Denver News.

Steelers won’t tag Le’Veon Bell; will explore trade for Antonio Brown

February 20, 2019 - 1:34pm

PITTSBURGH — Le’Veon Bell is free to go. Antonio Brown, maybe not so much.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have no plans to place a transition tag on Bell, allowing the star running back to reach the open market when free agency begins next month. And while the team will explore moving Brown, general manager Kevin Colbert stressed Wednesday the Steelers will not cut the talented but turbulent star wide receiver just to appease him.

“By no means are we going to make a trade or any type of move that will not be beneficial to the Pittsburgh Steeler organization,” Colbert said. “We will not be discounting (Brown) on the trade market and we certainly will not be releasing (him).”

Brown began openly campaigning for a new team shortly after Pittsburgh finished 9-6-1, upset after being made inactive for the regular season finale against Cincinnati for failing to provide coach Mike Tomlin with an update on his status after Tomlin sent Brown home from practice a couple of days before the game to nurse an injury.

The Steelers won but missed the playoffs. Brown has spent most of the last two months thumbing his nose at the organization via social media in an effort to assure he wouldn’t be welcomed back, including calling out quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for having an “owner mentality” and questioning Tomlin’s integrity.

Yet Colbert said he doesn’t believe Brown’s erratic behavior will hurt his trade value and didn’t even rule out a chance that Brown returns to Pittsburgh for a 10th season in 2019. Brown met with Colbert, team president Art Rooney II and vice president Omar Khan in Florida on Tuesday to clear the air. Though both sides agreed “looking into a trade would probably be the best course of action,” Brown and Rooney posed for a picture afterward , a gesture Colbert called more indicative of Brown’s character than the drama that’s surrounded him at times during his prolific rise from sixth-round pick to the most productive wide receiver of his generation.

The team has not yet entered into active trade talks for Brown, the only player in NFL history with six straight seasons of at least 100 receptions. That figures to pick up with free agency set to begin on March 13 and Brown due a $2.5 million roster bonus on March 17.

“He believes there will be demand and hopefully for our situation there’s a demand that can satisfy anybody,” Colbert said.

What “satisfy” means is up to the Steelers and not Brown, who along with agent Drew Rosenhaus will be kept in the loop but will not be given freedom to go seek their own deal. Colbert declined to get into specifics on what the team is looking for, pointing out it could be a draft pick or an established player or perhaps some combination. The Dallas Cowboys gave the Oakland Raiders a 2019 first-round pick for Amari Cooper last fall. Pittsburgh even snagged a third-rounder from the Raiders last spring for Martavis Bryant.

Neither Cooper nor Bryant has anywhere near Brown’s resume, but they also don’t have his contract. Brown, who turns 31 in July, has three years left on the $68 million extension he signed in the spring of 2017. Though he’s cryptically mentioned “new demands” in various social media posts, if traded he would be tied to that deal with his new team.

Colbert allowed Brown could remain in Pittsburgh if the asking price isn’t met, and doesn’t seem too concerned about Brown’s recent antics making it impossible for him to assimilate back into the locker room.

“I’ve seen players change perspectives from beginning of a game to the end of game to the following week let alone a season to an offseason to a new season,” he said. “I don’t think any relationship is irreparable.”

At least when it comes to Brown. Mending fences with Bell isn’t a priority because there aren’t any to fix. Rather than engage in another standoff with Bell — who sat out all of 2018 after declining to sign his one-year, $14.4 million franchise tender — the Steelers will let him go via free agency.

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Pittsburgh had the option of placing the transition tag on Bell, but the machinations involved and the money and time it would tie up during the early days of free agency proved prohibitive. Colbert said the team would rather use in other areas the salary cap space created by not tagging Bell. The Steelers appear set at running back with James Conner and Jaylen Samuels but could need help at wide receiver if Brown is traded. Inside linebacker and defensive back are both filled with question marks after a 2-4 slide to end the regular season.

“Le’Veon is still a great player but we can’t afford to use any type of tag with other needs that we have,” Colbert said.

The team does plan to bring back kicker Chris Boswell, who converted just 13 of 20 field goals in 2018 after being a Pro Bowler in 2017. Boswell is expected to face competition in training camp. The team also plans to work on a contract extension for the 36-year-old Roethlisberger, though Colbert also wants some of Roethlisberger’s veteran teammates to take on more ownership of the club’s performance.

“I honestly believe (leadership) can be a burden on Roethlisberger than he may like to admit, Colbert said. “He’s got 52 kids under him, honestly, and I want them to step up and say, ‘Hey Ben, what do I have to do?’”

Categories: All Denver News.

Hate groups in Colorado increased in 2018, Southern Poverty Law Center says

February 20, 2019 - 1:25pm

Colorado continues to see a rise in active hate groups, on par with national trends, a Southern Poverty Law Center report released Wednesday shows.

The Alabama-based center said its definition of a hate group is similar to that of the Federal Bureau of Investigation — the agency defines hate groups as those that ascribe to beliefs which attack or malign a class of people.

The group tracked 22 hate group locations in Colorado in 2018, one more than was reported in 2017. Nationally, the SPLC listed 1,020 active hate group locations, a 7 percent increase from 2017 and a new all-time high since the group began tracking hate groups more than two decades ago.

The numbers top the previous high of 1,018, reached during the height of what Intelligence Project director for the SPLC Heidi Beirich called the backlash against former President Barack Obama.

Colorado’s list includes ideologies that are anti-Muslim, anti-LGBT, white nationalist, neo-Nazi, Christian identity and black nationalist, among others.

Three chapters of Identity Evropa were listed on the map, a white nationalist group that has been making the rounds in the Front Range, passing out literature or placings its logo around cities. The group’s chapters are in Denver, Colorado Springs and Boulder. However, reports of the group’s presence over the past year in Loveland, Fort Collins and Greeley have also surfaced.

The SPLC counted each chapter of the alt-right group individually in its report.

The Denver Post attempted to contact four organizations on the hate list but was not successful in reaching them.

“The hate movement has been enlivened over the last few years,” Beirich said. She asserted that President Donald Trump and his administration have fueled the rise in hate groups through fearmongering against Muslims, Jews, immigrants, LGBTQ individuals and other marginalized groups.

“Unfortunately, there’s been a lot of mainstreaming of hate rhetoric that you just didn’t see five years ago,” she said.

The Southern Poverty Law Center released this map, seen in a screen shot Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019, showing the location of organizations they consider hate groups in Colorado.

The White House has denied the president is a racist.

Hate crimes also have been on the rise nationally, the FBI has reported. In Colorado, the numbers have remained flat.

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The SPLC acknowledges that many hate crimes are not committed by the hate groups, but the online hate propaganda exposes individuals in ways that they weren’t before, Beirich said. Unlike during Adolf Hitler’s reign in which he utilized radio to get his message out, online platforms allow for back-and-forth exchanges.

“These things are leaping from the extremes to the mainstream and it would be nice to put them back where they came from,” she said.

The Southern Poverty Law Center also is facing legal challenges from groups that oppose their hate-group designation, but Beirich defended the group’s designations and dismissed criticisms that the group is anti-conservative.

“I doubt conservatives would want to defend that kind of speech actually (from the groups),” she said. “What it is is hateful propaganda.”

One of the groups listed on Colorado’s 2018 list, ACT for America, created a website “exposing” the SPLC.

In a statement on its website, the group said “the discredited” SPLC “has waged a war against ACT for America and every other national organisation  that espouses conservative viewpoint and values.”

Colorado hate groups Group Ideology Location ACT for America Anti-Muslim Denver American Guard General Hate Asatru Folk Assembly General Hate Atomwaffen Division Neo-Nazi Colorado Alliance for Immigration Reform Anti-Immigrant Lakewood Family Research Institute Anti-LGBT Colorado Springs Generations Anti-LGBT Elizabeth Identity Evropa White Nationalist Denver Identity Evropa White Nationalist Colorado Springs Identity Evropa White Nationalist Boulder Israel United In Christ Black Nationalist Denver Mass Resistance Anti-LGBT Denver MSR Productions Hate Music Wheat Ridge Nation of Islam Black Nationalist Denver Northern Kingdom Prophets Black Nationalist Pueblo Patriot Front White Nationalist Pray in Jesus Name Project, The Anti-LGBT Colorado Springs Proud Boys General Hate Scriptures for America Worldwide Ministries Christian Identity Laporte Soldiers of Odin Anti-Muslim Denver The Right Stuff White Nationalist Traditionalist Worker Party Neo-Nazi

Source: Southern Poverty Law Center

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Slowing Washington State’s Robert Franks the key to CU basketball continuing winning streak

February 20, 2019 - 12:43pm

The Colorado men’s basketball team is a much different squad than the one that picked up its first Pac-12 Conference at home against Washington State Jan. 10.

But so are the Cougars. While the Buffaloes’ abrupt turnaround has been a team-wide effort, WSU can thank the return of one of the most explosive scorers in the Pac-12 for its recent improved play. The first time around, Buffs didn’t have to find a way to bottle up Cougars senior Robert Franks, the Pac-12’s leading scorer. With Franks back in the mix the Buffs will face a daunting defensive challenge in a venue that hasn’t been kind to them recently when they attempt to extend their five-game winning streak Wednesday night at WSU’s Beasley Coliseum.

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“We told our players Washington State is a totally different team than who we saw when they were in Boulder back in January,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said. “Colorado is a different team than we were in January. So we’ve got two teams that are playing good basketball. And Franks is back. We didn’t see him.”

Franks missed the first three league games and four overall, including the date at CU, due to a hip injury. In the nine games since his return, Franks has turned in a number of stellar performances including back-to-back 30-point games on the road two weeks ago that gave the Cougars their first weekend sweep of the Arizona schools in 10 years and their first Pac-12 weekend sweep of any sort since the 2011-12 season.

When on the floor, Franks has been a consistent force, leading the Pac-12 with an overall scoring average of 22.3 along with a league-best 22.4 per game in Pac-12 contests. Franks ranks third in league games with a .477 mark on 3-pointers, and he also is averaging 7.5 rebounds and 2.8 assists.

Read the full story at Buffzone.com.

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Royale rumble: Apex Legends smashing Fortnite records

February 20, 2019 - 12:25pm

NEW YORK — For the first time since its meteoric rise, “Fortnite” is no longer a no-doubt victory royale atop the video game industry.

“Apex Legends” — a battle royale from Electronic Arts — has charged into the market and smashed “Fortnite” records for downloads and viewership since its release three weeks ago. Tyler “Ninja” Blevins and other streaming stars have powered that surge, as has the emergence of an 18-year-old “Apex” superstar. Esports teams are already scrambling to sign talented players and invest long-term, while others are raising concerns about overcommitting to the suddenly volatile battle royale genre.

Developed by Respawn Entertainment and published by EA, “Apex” has shaken the industry by building on many of its shining successes. It has pulled popular elements from other battle royales — a type of video game where players are dropped into a map and fight in a last-man-standing format against up to 100 other gamers — while making a few key changes.

Like “Fortnite” and “PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds,” ”Apex” is free to download and play, making its money by selling outfits and other upgrades for use in the game. Among its key differences: “Apex” players compete exclusively in teams of three and can choose characters with varying abilities, features essential to team-based esports like “League of Legends” and “Overwatch.”

The game also went hard after the existing battle royale audience. EA recruited Blevins, Richard “KingRichard” Nelson and other famous gamers, asking them to put down “Fortnite” and stream “Apex” following its release Feb. 4. Blevins alone has over 13 million subscribers on Twitch, immediately giving “Apex” a massive audience. It’s unclear if EA paid those influencers to play the game, and EA did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

“Apex” had 25 million downloads in its first week, crushing the “Fortnite” mark of 10 million over its first two weeks after launching in 2017.

“I think ‘Apex’ has caught everybody by storm,” said Andy Miller, CEO of NRG Esports, which rosters teams across various video game titles. “They did a phenomenal job of getting the influencers to play it first, feeding the market on Twitch and then watching everybody starting to play the game, and the game is good.”

Six days after the game launched, NRG announced it was recruiting “Apex” players, making it the first esports organization to seek a pro specifically for that title. General manager Jaime Cohenca led the search, combing through applications and Twitch streams. With the game being so new, Cohenca wasn’t entirely sure what he was looking for other than an “exceptional talent.”

He “knew immediately” when he came across Dizzy.

Coby “Dizzy” Meadows is an 18-year-old from Florida, and he is believed to be the best “Apex” player in the world. NRG signed him Feb. 12, and later that day, Meadows made major waves in the esports community by killing 33 of his 59 opponents in one match — a viral moment that generated nearly 500,000 views on YouTube alone. The next day, Meadows teamed up with Blevins and Nelson, also an NRG player, to win the $200,000 Twitch Rivals Apex Legends tournament against a lineup of streaming megastars.

Jose Juarez, Associated Press fileThis Sept. 10, 2018, file photo shows Tyler “Ninja” Blevins before an NFL football game between the Detroit Lions and New York Jets in Detroit.

Behind big draws for Dizzy, Ninja and KingRichard, “Apex” smashed another “Fortnite” record that day: 8.28 million hours of “Apex” were streamed on Twitch, topping the “Fortnite” mark of 6.6 million from July 20, per The Esports Observer.

Meadows has played regularly with Blevins and Nelson since. They won another tournament together later that week, and in the finals, Meadows had as many kills on his own as the entire opposing team.

“We knew this was a kid we had to take a flyer on,” Cohenca said. “Dizzy was a rock star.”

The question now: What comes next for “Apex,” ”Fortnite,” and the stars and companies building up around their popularity? No doubt, NRG’s fast move on Meadows has paid off, and other top esports organizations have since begun recruiting their own “Apex” pros. But it’s still not clear what kind of scene they’re staffing up for.

Epic Games, the developer behind “Fortnite,” hasn’t prioritized that game’s competitive sphere in the same way that companies behind “League of Legends” or “Overwatch” have. Top “Fortnite” players like Blevins aren’t necessarily stars because they win every tournament. Ninja is a skilled gamer, for sure, but what has separated him is that he’s entertaining, a talent that pairs well with a goofier game like “Fortnite.”

“Apex” lacks those cartoonish vibes, and its rules and structure could lend it better to competitive esports — where skill and teamwork become more important than engaging on Twitch. EA has experience building leagues around its games, too, most notably with sports titles like Madden and FIFA.

Right now, it’s unclear where “Apex” is going, and for how long it can hold that space. That’s part of why Ari Segal, CEO at Immortals, has been hesitant to invest in battle royale players. He remains cautious, especially now that “Apex” has drawn up such a spectacular blueprint for entering the market.

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“It’s a well-oiled flywheel that likely means new battle royale games will increasingly be able to launch to faster and larger success, at least initially,” he said.

Immortals and NRG are at opposite ends of that spectrum, in many ways. NRG already has plans to build out a full “Apex” team so it’s ready to put a talented squad in the field no matter the competitive and streaming structure. It also plans to maintain its “Fortnite” roster, which features entertaining streamers like Nelson.

Segal’s concern is that if one battle royale can so quickly pull eyeballs from the others, how do you build around each title? Formerly an executive with the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes, his ambitions are to turn Immortals into a longstanding franchise like those in traditional sports. Quickly turning over rosters to keep up with the hot new thing isn’t part of his plan.

“We believe that by selling sizzle, your customer is buying sizzle, and that by definition will flame out,” Segal said. “We’re not selling sizzle; we’re building community.”

Categories: All Denver News.

Avalanche keeping MacKinnon, Landeskog and Rantanen’s line broken up vs. Winnipeg

February 20, 2019 - 12:03pm

The Avalanche’s lines in Wednesday night’s game against the Winnipeg Jets will again look as if coach Jared Bednar drew names from a hat. There is a method to his madness, however, and Bednar wants to stick with what helped deliver a 3-0 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights on Monday.

Top scorers Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabe Landeskog — who formerly comprised the top line in hockey — will again play on separate lines at even strength. MacKinnon will center Alex Kerfoot and Sven Andrighetto; Rantanen is the right winger with center Carl Soderberg and Matt Nieto; Landeskog is the left wing with center Tyson Jost and Matt Calvert.

The fourth line consists of center Andrew Agozzino and wingers J.T. Compher and A.J. Greer.

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Before Monday, Soderberg and Nieto were the only duo to have played together regularly.

Same “unconventional” lineup for #Avs https://t.co/PXAB9YMFy2

— Mike Chambers (@MikeChambers) February 20, 2019

Footnotes. Semyon Varlamov will make his eighth consecutive start in goal for the Avs, and play for 15th time in 17 games. … Forward Colin Wilson will miss his fifth consecutive game with an upper-body injury. He skated in a red non-contact injury Wednesday morning, same as defenseman Conor Timmins (head). Defenseman Ian Cole (orbital bone) remains out indefinitely. The Avs’ healthy scratches are forward Gabriel Bourque and defenseman Mark Barberio.

Mikko Rantanen after today’s morning skate #Avs Jets tonight pic.twitter.com/tDaN7f7Lay

— Mike Chambers (@MikeChambers) February 20, 2019

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Nuggets Insider: Should Denver pursue Anthony Davis this summer?

February 20, 2019 - 12:00pm

In case you missed it, Anthony Davis threw a Molotov cocktail into All-Star weekend a few days ago, declaring that “all 29 teams” are on his list of potential trade destinations.

Apparently, it’s all about winning for the Brow… for now.

If such is the case, the Western Conference’s No. 2 team seems like a fine fit for one of the game’s premier post players — who, by the way, is well suited to play alongside fellow All-Star Nikola Jokic.

The bigger question: Should the Nuggets even want him?

That’s trickier than one might think. On the face of it, the answer is a resounding yes. But once you get into the weeds, well, things get complicated.

To begin with, Davis will have just one year left on his contract when the trade market opens back up in June. If the Nugs don’t have assurances Davis will sign a long-term deal to stay in the Mile High City, then end of discussion.

Second, even if the Nuggets were confident they could convince Davis to stay, would they be comfortable giving away the collection of assets needed to make this happen? To put an even finer point on it: Does Denver really want to trade high-ceiling rookie Michael Porter Jr. — no doubt a must-have for New Orleans in any Davis deal — before they even know what they have in him?

If you were to ask Nuggets beat writer Mike Singer, the answer is “a hard no.”

But if you’re asking yours truly … well, let’s at least talk this thing out.

Right now, Porter is a complete mystery — the Mirror of Erised personified. He could be a Ferrari. He could be a Pinto that breaks down over and over again. We have literally no idea.

What we do know is that his combination of size and talent — once good enough to make him the top high school recruit in his class — is alluring enough to pique the Pelicans’ interest. We also know he’s had multiple back surgeries before his 21st birthday and has played just three actual games since graduating high school.

In addition, the likelihood that he is anything approaching Davis — a true generational talent who could win multiple MVPs — is minimal. Which makes him imminently movable in a Brow trade.

But given the godfather offer the Pelicans already turned down from the Lakers, it’s clear the Nuggets are going to have to offer a whole lot more than Porter Jr., as well as some throw-in contracts to make the money work.

That means at least two, probably three, of some combination of Jamal Murray, Monte Morris, Malik Beasley and Gary Harris, as well as multiple first-round picks, another big salary and a willingness to take on Solomon Hill’s albatross contract.

That’s a whole lot to ask, especially with Murray, Beasley and Morris under some form of cheap team control for the next two seasons, and each of them looking like legit contributors to a contender.

But, man, Jokic and Davis sharing the same side of the court, making sweet inside-out basketball love 50-plus nights a year at the Pepsi Center … that’s a dream that doesn’t die easy.

So should the Nuggets do it?

I say they at least have a meeting about it — then ponder what they can do with all that cap space this offseason.

Matt Schubert, The Denver Post

NEW 
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Denver’s seen less snow than Seattle this winter. But that could soon change.

February 20, 2019 - 11:58am

If it feels like everyone else is seeing snow and we’re not, well, you’re probably right.

Through Monday, Denver’s 19.5 inches of snow so far this winter is way behind average. We should be somewhere around 33 inches of snowfall, though we’ve made up a bit of ground with a fairly cold and snowy February to date.

But while Denver and much of the Front Range might be running behind average on snowfall, much of the rest of the country is digging out of what’s been an exceptionally snowy winter.

Take Seattle for instance — yes, that Seattle. The Emerald City — world famous for its cloudy, rainy days — averages less than seven inches of snow per year. Yet so far this month, Seattle has seen more snow than Denver has seen all winter. Seattle’s 20.2 inches of snow this February, through Monday, just beats out Denver’s 19.5 inches of snow so far this winter. Denver averages more than eight times Seattle’s annual snowfall.

Kansas City, Missouri’s average annual snowfall of 18.8 inches is less than a third of what Denver gets in a full winter, but so far this winter, they’ve got Denver beat. Through Monday, Kansas City’s 23.3 inches annual total (with more piling up Tuesday night) had Denver beat by almost four inches.

RELATED: 4 key things to consider when reading the weather forecast

Believe it or not, Minneapolis, Minnesota actually averages slightly less snow than Denver does each year (Minneapolis averages about 54 inches per winter to Denver’s 57). But Minneapolis’ 22.6 inches of snow in the last two weeks alone beats Denver’s seasonal total by a fairly healthy margin.

Here are a few other cities that average less snow per winter than Denver, yet had more snow than the Mile High City’s 19.5 inches total through Monday:

-Milwaukee, Wisconsin (44.7 inches of seasonal snow through Monday)

-Spokane, Washington (44.3 inches)

-Billings, Montana (42.2 inches)

-Des Moines, Iowa (40.8 inches)

-Reno, Nevada (26.6 inches)

-Detroit, Michigan (26.4 inches)

-Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (24.7 inches)

-Toledo, Ohio (21.0 inches)

-St. Louis, Missouri (20.8 inches)

So why the Denver snow shortage? Well, for the most part, it’s pretty localized. As any skier or snowboarder will happily tell you, Colorado’s mountains are running well above average so far this winter in terms of snowpack. Big mountain storms often produce drying, downsloping winds in Denver and along the Front Range. That’s part of the reason why it can warm into the 50s and 60s in Denver while the mountains get pounded with snow.

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The other main reason for Denver’s comparable lack of snow comes down to a degree of sheer luck. An active storm pattern across the West has often translated to a stormy pattern for the eastern half of the country. Storms have regularly just missed Denver, and they’ve usually gone on to dump big snows to our east instead.

That said, a cold and snowy outlook over the next few days could have Denver back atop some of these locations sooner rather than later.

Chris Bianchi is a meteorologist for WeatherNation TV.

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Colorado Springs pot shop owner guilty of not paying $3.1 million in taxes

February 20, 2019 - 11:57am

The owner of a prosperous, but unlicensed, Colorado Springs marijuana business called the Lazy Lion confessed in court that he did not pay $3.1 million in federal taxes as he should have, authorities say.

Andrew C. Poarch, 31, pleaded guilty last week to filing a false federal income tax return, according to a news release by U.S. Attorney Jason Dunn and IRS Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge Steven Osborne.

Poarch and his wife, Shuntay Poarch, 31, opened a marijuana business approximately in January of 2013, according to the news release from Jeffrey Dorschner, Dunn’s spokesman.

Shuntay Poarch, who is charged with making a false tax return, is scheduled to go on trial on March 25 in U.S. District Court in Denver.

Between 2013 and August of 2016, customers could go to the store and join a private club by signing a customer agreement.  The Lazy Lion, which was never registered as a recreational dispensary, sold membership agreements to members enabling them to buy marijuana.  Members initially paid a one-time membership fee and then an entry fee thereafter, the news release said.

RELATED: Colorado marijuana sales crack $6 billion since 2014 legalization, state says

Poarch and his wife owned several marijuana grow houses in Colorado Springs that sent the product to the Lazy Lion. Members could buy and smoke marijuana at the store.

The Lazy Lion was a cash-only business. It had an ATM inside the dispensary for customers who didn’t have cash.

The business had gross revenues of $10.8 million, the news release said.

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In 2014, Poarch claimed income of only $19,294, when he and his wife actually took in $2.8 million, the news release said. For that year alone, Poarch and his wife owed $1 million in federal taxes, it said.

The couple failed to file personal income tax returns for 2015 and 2016.  Their net income for 2015  was $4,187,449, and their net income for 2016 was $1,325,575, the news release said.

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The NBA playoff push starts now with All-Star break ending

February 20, 2019 - 11:55am

MIAMI — Golden State is still the favorite for a fourth title in five years.

Milwaukee, Toronto, Indiana, Boston, Philadelphia, Oklahoma City, Denver, can all go ahead and cancel those mid-April vacation plans if they were foolish enough to have made them in the first place.

For LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, some work awaits them.

The All-Star break ends Thursday, with about one-third of the season remaining for most clubs — and that means the playoff push now gets very serious. Nobody has officially clinched a spot yet, though it would take a highly improbable series of events for the current top teams in the Eastern and Western Conferences to miss the postseason.

“Every year is a new challenge, different circumstances,” Golden State guard Stephen Curry said. “We are motivated. We understand what’s at stake.”

James has been to the NBA Finals in each of the last eight seasons, all out of the East — four with Miami, four with Cleveland. His Los Angeles Lakers currently are 10th in the West, three games behind the Clippers for the final playoff berth.

James has been to the playoffs in 13 consecutive seasons.

“I hope that first off, we all get healthy,” Lakers President Magic Johnson said. “This has been one of the worst seasons I’ve ever been around Laker basketball as far as injuries are concerned. When we were healthy, we were in fourth place. Now we’re like 10th place. But when you’ve got LeBron James, anything is possible.”

The Miami Heat are part of a six-team, three-spot race in the East, and Wade is hoping for one last postseason trip out of his 16th and final season. Heat President Pat Riley said he thinks the way the Heat ended its pre-All-Star schedule — with a 2-3 road trip, though one where Miami could have won four of the games — is a good sign.

“It looks as though there’s something happening here,” Riley said.

Sacramento is right in the race to end the NBA’s longest current playoff drought; the Kings haven’t been to the postseason since 2006. Phoenix’s drought will hit nine straight seasons, but Orlando — currently holders of the third-longest drought at six seasons — hit the break with a five-game winning streak and is in the East mix.

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“I think we feel good about ourselves,” Magic All-Star forward Nikola Vucevic said. “I know we have good confidence.”

Here’s some other things to know going into the final third of the season:

LEBRON AND MICHAEL

LeBron James is finally going to pass Michael Jordan.

In scoring, at least.

While the debate will rage forever about which player is better, James will soon have scored more points than Jordan. James is 211 points shy of passing Jordan (32,292) for the No. 4 spot in NBA history. When he gets there, each of the top four spots on that list will be occupied by current or former Los Angeles Lakers — No. 1 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,392), No. 2 Karl Malone (36,928), No. 3 Kobe Bryant (33,643), and James.

SCORING AND PACE

Unless every team drastically changes the way it plays over the next two months — which won’t happen — the league will finish this season with its highest scoring average and fastest pace in 30 years.

Teams are averaging 110.7 points and 100 possessions per game this season. That’s the best scoring number since 1984-85 (110.8 points per game) and fastest pace since 1988-89 (100.6 possessions per game).

All 30 teams are on pace to average at least 100 points per game this season. The last time every team in the league averaged 100 was 1986-87, when the NBA had 23 franchises.

3’S ARE WILD

The NBA is on pace to see records in 3-pointers made and 3-pointers attempted. If that sounds like an annual statement, it is: This will be the seventh consecutive season where both marks fall.

Houston’s James Harden has a shot at the record for 3s in a single season. He has 274 (which would be fifth-best for a season already), putting him on pace for 401 if he plays in all 25 of the Rockets’ remaining games. Golden State’s Stephen Curry holds the mark with 402 makes from deep in 2015-16.

Harden seems like a lock for the 3s-taken record — Curry took 886 in his record-setting year, Harden has 733 now and is on pace for 1,072.

MORE HARDEN

The Houston All-Star is in the throes of a historic offensive season.

Harden’s current scoring average — 36.6 points per game — would be eighth-best all-time, and the best mark since Michael Jordan averaged 37.1 points in 1986-87. Jordan (once), Elgin Baylor (once) and Wilt Chamberlain (five times) are the only players to finish a season with a higher average than the one Harden is toting now.

Harden leads Oklahoma City’s Paul George by 7.9 points per game in this year’s scoring race. That is an enormous number. To put that in perspective: If George stays at his current scoring rate, 28.7 per game, Harden would remain the NBA’s scoring leader even if he went scoreless in each of his next 14 games.

GOOD BUCKS

Already with 43 wins this season, it’s already safe to say this the best year for Milwaukee in a long time.

The Bucks won 44 games last season, and 46 in 2009-10. This will almost certainly be Milwaukee’s first 50-win year since 2000-01 (52-30), and the Bucks could flirt with their first 60-win year since 1980-81. Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer says he joined Milwaukee at the perfect time.

“The fans there, the energy in our arena, it’s off the charts,” Budenholzer said. “New practice facility, a roster that’s in a great place, ownership, front office — everything is just really, really set up to have great success.”

BAD KNICKS

David Fizdale, the very likable and highly respected first-year Knicks coach is overseeing a team that’s on pace for 16 wins — which would be the worst record in franchise history. Obviously, it’s all about the draft and free agency for the Knicks, who are in position to be major players when the NBA’s annual superstar-shopping window opens on July 1.

Phoenix is also on pace to have its worst season ever. Chicago and Cleveland probably won’t hit all-time rock bottom, but look like they’ll come close. In all, four teams will likely finish the season with a winning percentage under .250 — the most since six teams were that bad in the 1997-98 season.

The draft lottery is May 14, and that’s when the Knicks, Suns, Bulls and Cavaliers could declare this season’s suffering worthwhile.

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Colorado hunters warned about “zombie” deer as chronic wasting disease spreads

February 20, 2019 - 11:22am

Colorado hunters looking ahead to next deer season are advised to be on the lookout for zombie deer.

Photo courtesy of Colorado Parks and WildlifeA Colorado mule deer suffering from the effects of chronic wasting disease.

Chronic wasting disease, a contagious disease that kills deer, has now spread to 24 states, including Colorado. And, while it has yet to happen, there is some concern it could spread to humans who hunt and eat the meat.

The disease can cause drastic weight loss, lack of coordination and drooping ears, which prompted the nickname “zombie” deer disease.

Colorado has mandatory testing for deer harvests in certain regions, according to Jason Clay, a public information officer for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. This past hunting season, the region that includes Boulder County was a mandatory testing region.

“(Chronic wasting disease) is one area of increasing concern across Colorado,” Clay said. “We are looking to find adaptive management tactics for helping prevent further spread of CWD and controlling it in herds that are already affected. Controlling chronic wasting disease is critical for the long-term health of our herds.”

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Read more at dailycamera.com

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Kelsey Berreth murder conspiracy fueled by affair between Patrick Frazee, Idaho nurse, documents say

February 20, 2019 - 11:21am
ProvidedFrom left are Kelsey Berreth and Patrick Frazee.

An Idaho nurse admitted that while she repeatedly agreed to kill Kelsey Berreth to earn her lover Patrick Frazee’s approval, she was lying to her husband of eight years about assassination trips she took to Colorado.

Krystal Kenney Lee’s affair with Frazee became a central investigative avenue for the FBI, Colorado Bureau of Investigation and Woodland Park police detectives, according to Frazee’s arrest warrant affidavit released Wednesday.

“Lee did not mention her sexual and romantic relationship with Patrick to investigators, and based on the circumstances, investigators consider this information to be both material and relevant,” the affidavit said regarding her initial interview with an FBI agent.

Exploring Lee’s relationship with Frazee ultimately helped investigators build a case against the Florissant rancher and blacksmith.

On Tuesday afternoon, Teller County District Court Judge Scott Sells found enough evidence during Frazee’s all-day preliminary hearing to take the suspect’s murder case to trial.

The arrest warrant affidavit offers new details that were not disclosed during the court hearing, including Lee’s subterfuge in hiding from her husband, Chad Lee, the true motive for her many trips to Colorado in the summer and fall of 2018.

RELATED: Timeline for the disappearance of Kelsey Berreth

“Lee lied to Chad about her whereabouts during Nov. 24th and 25th of 2018. Initially, she told Chad she was going to a birthday party at a friend’s house in Idaho, then told Chad she was going to help her friend Meghan (Garrison) move, also in Idaho,” the affidavit said

In fact, Lee drove to Garrison’s house in Idaho to pick up Garrison’s 2012 black Volkswagen Jetta and then drove to Colorado to sanitize the Berreth’s home after Frazee allegedly pummeled his fiance to death with a baseball bat in her living room. When investigators interviewed Meghan, she acknowledged that Lee’s explanation of going to her house was an alibi in case her husbnad called to see where she was, the document said.

When police interviewed Lee about her trip to Colorado on Dec. 14, Lee again lied to her husband, telling him she had actually gone to Colorado around Thanksgiving to see a horse she and Frazee owned together, the document said. She told her husband she thought “someone set her up,” the document said.

Chappin Everett, The Gazette via APPatrick Frazee leaves the Teller County District Court in Cripple Creek, Colo., Monday, Dec. 31, 2018. Frazee learned of the five charges against him during his brief court appearance Monday in Cripple Creek. A charging document says the 32-year-old Frazee is accused of working to find someone to kill Kelsey Berreth between Sept. and Nov. and causing her death on or around Thanksgiving.

When investigators interviewed Chad Lee, he divulged that his wife and Frazee had dated in college and that they were involved in a sexual relationship during at least 2016 and possibly 2017, the record said.

“Chad did not want any of the details of the affair, and did not have further information regarding their relationship to provide,” the document said.

Lee later called Garrison and apologized for lying to her about her reason for borrowing her Jetta, it said.

When investigators approached Lee again about issues with her version of events, which contradicted their findings, she said she would give a complete and true version of events. First, she wanted to hire an attorney.

On Dec. 20, Lee and her attorney met with Colorado Bureau of Investigation Agent Gregg Slater and other law enforcement officers at the Colorado Springs Police Department headquarters.

The 32-year-old Twin Falls nurse offered a story of loyalty and fear of her lover, describing how far she went to earn Frazee’s love.

She told investigators that in August Frazee wanted to kill his fiance because she was a terrible mother, Slater testified Tuesday at Frazee’s preliminary hearing. The following month, Frazee asked Lee to poison Berreth with her favorite Starbucks coffee.

“Frazee wanted her to put Valium and Ambien in the coffee,” the affidavit says.

RELATED: Patrick Frazee tied a sweater around Kelsey Berreth’s face and beat her to death with a bat, Idaho nurse told police

Lee knocked on Berreth’s townhome door, introduced herself with an alias as a new neighbor, and gave the coffee to Berreth as a friendly gesture. However, Lee never put poison in the coffee.

Lee apologized to Frazee, who was angry, for not killing Berreth. He offered her two more opportunities. On Oct. 15, he gave her a two-foot metal pipe to bludgeon Berreth to death. When Lee lost her nerve, Frazee instructed her on Oct. 21 to jump Berreth in front of her home and beat her to death with a baseball bat. She was to throw Berreth’s body in a dumpster afterward, Slater testified.

After Lee refused to kill Berreth, Frazee allegeedly took matters into his own hands.

On Thanksgiving Day while at Berreth’s house, Frazee tied a sweater around her eyes as a blindfold and asked her to guess the scents of candles, the affidavit said.

“While she was blindfolded and distracted, he hit her with the bat, causing her death,” the affidavit said.

Sexual assault, domestic violence resources

Denver Sexual Assault Hotline: thebluebench.org. Call the hotline at 303-322-7273 for free, 24-hour help. National Domestic Violence Hotline: thehotline.org. Call the hotline at 1-800-799-7233 for free, 24-hour help. Violence Free Colorado: Use this map to locate resources by county in Colorado. The website also has resources like a guide to helping someone you know who is being abused. SafeHouse Denver: safe-house-denver.org. Reach local professionals by calling the 24-hour crisis and information line at 303-318-9989. Moving to End Sexual Assault (MESA): movingtoendsexualassault.org. Call the 24-hour hotline at 303-443-7300.

Lee told investigators that Frazee called her later that day and told her she “had a mess to clean up,” referring to Berreth’s townhome after he had killed her. She drove in Garrison’s car all night on Nov. 23 and arrived at Frazee’s ranch the next day. He had left a key for her next to the property’s front gate, Slater testified.

Lee used the key to enter Berreth’s townhome where she found blood on books, baby toys, oven mitts, stuffed animals and Berreth’s purse, the affidavit says. Blood coated the living room walls, the ceiling, wood floor, and furniture, Slater testified. Lee wore gloves, a hair net, booties and a white hazardous materials suit over her whole body when she cleaned the apartment over the span of four hours.

He asked Lee to search for a tooth because when he hit Berreth in the face with the bat several of her teeth flew out, the affidavit says. Lee told authorities she later found a tooth, root and all and threw it away.

Lee accompanied Frazee to the “Nash Ranch” about a half hour drive time from his ranch to retrieve a black tote bag containing Berreth’s body and the bat he allegedly used to kill his fiance, Slater testified.

Frazee asked Lee to take the body with her to Idaho but she refused, the affidavit said.

They returned to Frazee’s ranch. He put the tote into a 100-gallon metal trough, put wood in the trough, poured gasoline from a five-gallon container on the wood and tote and lit it on fire, the affidavit said.

“Lee never saw the body prior to it being burned, but Frazee said the body was in the black tote. At one point, the tote had melted, and there was a heap that Lee believed to be a human body still in the fire,” the affidavit said.

Frazee gave Lee a bag containing Berreth’s gun, the affidavit says.

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“Frazee wanted Berreth’s firearm to appear to be missing in an attempt to lead investigators to believe that Berreth might have committed suicide. Frazee said that because she wouldn’t take the body, she had to take Berreth’s firearm with her and dispose of it,” the affidavit said.

Slater said that after Lee returned to Idaho, she gave the gun to a friend. Investigators retrieved the gun from the man and confirmed it had been purchased and owned by Berreth.

Frazee intended to dispose of Berreth’s remains in a river or a trash dump, Slater testified, saying Lee had told him about the plan during her interview with police.

Slater also testified that Lee explained to him she was willing to commit to killing Berreth and to cover up the crime because she loved Frazee and wanted his approval, he testified.

Berreth’s remains have yet to be found.

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These Colorado restaurants are among the nation’s best in 2019, says AAA

February 20, 2019 - 11:13am

Known for its collection of black-diamond ski routes, Colorado is home to a handful of sought-after diamonds of another sort in 2019: four- and five-diamond-rated restaurants.

Bestowed each year by AAA, the prestigious diamond ratings date back to 1985 when the organization formalized its system for inspecting and categorizing restaurants across the country. In the restaurant world, earning four diamonds means AAA inspectors believe a restaurant is “distinctive.” Earning five diamonds means the place is “leading edge,” according to AAA.com.

Eighteen Colorado restaurants were deemed four-diamond worthy in 2019, AAA Colorado announced in a news release last week. Just one — the Penrose Room at the Broadmoor hotel and resort in Colorado Springs — earned five-diamond praise.

“The panoramic rooftop view is one splendid element of this restaurant’s elegant ambience,” a AAA inspector wrote of the Penrose, one of nearly a dozen dining options at the decorated resort. “Audible gasps are heard when artfully presented desserts arrive at the table.”

Colorado 18 four-diamond restaurants in 2019 are:

  • Element 47, Aspen
  • Grouse Mountain Grill, Beaver Creek
  • Mirabelle at Beaver Creek, Beaver Creek
  • Splendido at the Chateau, Beaver Creek
  • Frasca, Boulder
  • The Flagstaff House Restaurant, Boulder
  • Summit, Colorado Springs
  • Colt & Gray, Denver
  • Edge Restaurant & Bar, Denver
  • Guard and Grace, Denver
  • Mizuna, Denver
  • Palace Arms, Denver
  • Panzano, Denver
  • Rioja, Denver
  • Alpenglow Stube, Keystone
  • Keystone Ranch Restaurant, Keystone
  • The Cliff House Dining Room, Manitou Springs
  • Game Creek Restaurant, Vail

Only 2.1 percent of the almost 32,000 restaurants AAA assessed across the county for its 2019 list earned four diamonds. Just 67 restaurants, including the Penrose Room, earned five.

The Penrose Room held fast as Colorado’s only five-diamond winner from last year. After consistently adding restaurants to its ranks in recent years, Colorado lost a four-diamond winner in 2019. Chefs Club by Food & Wine in Aspen did not make the cut after being featured on the list in 2018. The 18 restaurants listed above are previous winners.

The shrunken list is a testament to how rigorous the inspections are, AAA Colorado spokesman Skyler McKinley said.

“Properties really need to be making continual, year-round improvements to stay on the list,” he wrote in an email, “and meet the highest standards out there to get on it for the first time.”

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Rockies prospect Josh Fuentes out 4-6 weeks with hand injury

February 20, 2019 - 10:57am

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Josh Fuentes’ first big-league camp has ended almost before it started.

The Rockies’ corner infield prospect — and cousin to all-star third baseman Nolan Arenado — is scheduled to undergo surgery to his left hand Wednesday afternoon and will be out of action for an estimated four-to-six weeks.

Fuentes, who shined at Triple-A Albuquerque last season and was named the Pacific Coast League MVP, injured the hamate bone in his left hand on Monday.

“He hurt his hand in live BP (batting practice) a couple of days ago and he felt a little something in his wrist,” manager Bud Black said Wednesday morning. “It’s a relatively common hand injury (in baseball), so he’s going to have that hook of the hamate bone removed. He could be out anywhere from four-to-six weeks.”

RELATED: Nolan Arenado’s younger cousin is gunning for his job. “I think I’m better than Nolan … I really think I am.”

The hamate is close to the wrist and below the ring finger and small finger. The bone is triangular shaped and has a small hook-like bony projection on the palm side called the hook of the hamate. Dr. Donald Sheridan, a Phoenix-based hand specialist who has performed surgery on Rockies players in the past, will operate on Fuentes.

Fuentes, 26, who signed with the Rockies as an undrafted free agent in 2014, had a breakthrough 2018 season at Triple-A, where he batted .327, posted an .823 OPS, hit 14 home runs and drove in 95 runs. He was named the Pacific Coast League MVP, as well as rookie of the year. He also was named the Triple-A All-Star Game MVP. Success earned him a spot on Colorado’s 40-man roster and an invitation to his first big-league camp.

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Cactus League starters. Black announced that right-hander Chad Bettis will start Saturday’s Cactus League opener against Arizona at Salt River Fields. Right-hander Jeff Hoffman is also scheduled to pitch. They are both competing for a spot at the back end of Colorado’s rotation.

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Kellyn Acosta signs 3-year contract with Colorado Rapids

February 20, 2019 - 10:20am

The Colorado Rapids have signed midfielder Kellyn Acosta to a new three-year contract, according to MLSsoccer.com.

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The deal is worth an average of $800,000 a year and includes club options for the 2022 and 2023 seasons.

Acosta, 23, was acquired from FC Dallas in July 2018 for forward Dominique Badji. In 12 games with the Rapids last year, he tallied two goals and three assists.

He also has two goals and an assist in 23 appearances with the U.S. men’s national team.

Colorado is close to finalizing new contracts for two other players, according to MLSsoccer.com.

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Capitol Hill resident posts sign threatening to poison dogs if owners don’t pick up poop

February 20, 2019 - 10:17am
The Denver ChannelA Capitol Hill resident posted a sign that threatens “poisoned meatballs” and “paw crushing traps” in response to an apparent dog poop problem.

Residents in Denver’s Capitol Hill neighborhood say a homeowner’s sign about cleaning up dog waste has gone too far.

The sign, posted in front of a home on South Logan Street, reads: “These are the kind of inconsiderate a–holes that should never own or walk dogs!” The author of the sign also threatens to use poisoned meatballs and paw crushing traps if owners continue to fail to pick up after their dogs.

“I’m frightened for the health of my dog,” said Capitol Hill resident Jamie Zynger. “Somebody has now put in a large sign that she is going to poison animals that wander onto her property or set hunting traps to potentially kill them.”

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A neighbor said there’s a lack of responsibility from dog owners and people on Nextdoor defended the sign. One woman wrote: “I doubt she meant the threats, but geeze dog owners clean up after your dog.”

Neighbors said they are worried about their animals or worse, that a child will get hurt.

Read the full story on thedenverchannel.com.

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Reports said the Alliance of American Football got a bailout, but it’s co-founder says it was a buy-in

February 20, 2019 - 9:45am

Alliance of American Football co-founder Charlie Ebersol on Tuesday attempted to rebut reports that the first-year league was in dire financial shape and needed a massive infusion of cash to make payroll, in the form of a $250 million investment from Carolina Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon.

In an interview with the Orlando Sentinel’s Mike Bianchi, Ebersol framed the investment as a buy-in from a businessman who saw a good opportunity to get in on the ground floor. He claimed the league was not in serious financial jeopardy before Dundon’s cash infusion, contradicting a report in the Athletic that said the league needed the money to make payroll after only its first weekend of games.

“We are a start-up, and start-ups usually raise money in pieces — there’s a Series A piece, Series B, Series C, etc.,” Ebersol said. “After the success of the first week, we had a number of investors come to us and offer us all kinds of different investments. Tom Dundon showed up and said, ‘Do you want to continue to raise Series B, Series C and Series D or do you want to raise Series Infinity right now and be taken care of from now on.’ That was an offer I was not going to refuse.”

The AAF, co-founded by Ebersol and longtime NFL personnel executive Bill Polian, previously had received funding from a number of high-profile venture capital firms, including the Founders Fund backed by billionaire Peter Thiel and the Chernin Group, which also owns a majority stake in Barstool Sports.

The Action Network’s Darren Rovell reported Tuesday that the league missed payroll during its first week, with player agents being told it was because of a “glitch with switching to a new administrator.” The players — who all have identical non-guaranteed contracts worth $250,000 over three years — were paid Tuesday, Rovell reported, and Ebersol told Bianchi that the league had the money to meet payroll, even before Dundon’s investment.

Dundon seemed to confirm this to Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio on Wednesday.

“The league has many years of cash if things don’t go according to plan,” Dundon said. “The way we set it up, I think, is well in excess of what I think we’ll need for the league to be sustainable or profitable without me having to prop it up.”

He added that he told Ebersol and Polian that they started the league too quickly (the AAF’s first games took place less than one year after it was officially announced).

“You shouldn’t have done it so fast, you shouldn’t have done it with the capital structure, but it’s pretty amazing what you accomplished,” Dundon said he told the co-founders.

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The Hurricanes confirmed Dundon’s investment on Tuesday and announced that he would become chairman of the AAF board of directors. Ebersol, however, stopped short of calling Dundon the league’s de facto owner in his comments to Bianchi, saying merely that he had become the league’s “biggest investor” who bought in after the league’s first weekend of games received generally positive reviews and stronger-than-expected TV ratings.

“After that first week of games, we were at the height of our valuation and were able to dictate our future,” Ebersol said.

“If I was going to describe to you my dream investor, I would have told you a 47-year-old football fan who has professional sports ownership experience and is self-made — a man who went from zero to billions of dollars completely on his own work. That describes Tom Dundon,” he continued. “In my wildest dreams, I didn’t think we would be able to get someone like Tom Dundon to come in the way he did.”

The first two AAF games were broadcast by CBS on Feb. 9 and drew 3.25 million viewers, more than an NBA game airing on ABC at the same time. A game the next day on NFL Network drew 640,000 viewers. Numbers for the league’s Week 2 games on Saturday and Sunday have yet to be released.

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2020 presidential race: U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet is on his way to Iowa following his viral moment

February 20, 2019 - 9:00am

Late last month, over sandwiches and chips at a Des Moines, Iowa, cafe, Lisa Lemon and her wife ticked off the list of potential Democratic presidential nominees.

Kamala Harris. Cory Booker. Kirsten Gillibrand. 

And then there’s that senator from Colorado. His name escapes Lemon and Elizabeth Keest Sedrel, but they grow excited recounting his impassioned floor speech about the partial federal government shutdown.

“I’d suggest he do more of that,” Lemon said.

That senator is Michael Bennet, the Denver Democrat who broke out of his typical mild-mannered character  Jan. 24 when he delivered a rebuke on the shutdown to colleague Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican.

“I love that he said Cruz was full of it,” Keest Sederl said.

Now Bennet, 54, is traveling to Iowa to meet with voters there for the first time since talk of his possible presidential run arose. He’ll make several stops beginning Thursday in Dubuque, a town of about 58,000 an hour northeast of Cedar Rapids.

In December, there were news reports that Bennet was having conversations with leaders of the Democratic Party in Iowa. Then just after the New Year, he changed his personal Twitter account’s name from BennetForCO to MichaelBennet. Earlier this month, he said on “Meet The Press” that he thinks there’s ample room in the already crowded Democratic primary for him. He has been the subject of flattering columns in national media, including one penned by Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough. And later this spring, Bennet will release a book that focuses on today’s politics.

“I think Bennet has really caught fire, and I think he’s representing Colorado really well,” said state Rep. Leslie Herod, a fellow Denverite. “I think he wants to get more things done. I believe he’s considering running because he wants to move this country forward. And that’s a good thing.”

“This is a starting point”

While in Iowa, Bennet will meet with voters at house parties, tour a school and visit a farm. He’ll discuss his biography before he went to Washington and his record after getting there, said  Craig Hughes, Bennet’s longtime campaign manager. He also hopes to learn what voters want in their next president.

Joe Amon, The Denver PostElizabeth Keest Sedrel (center) and Lisa Lemon of Des Moines, discuss potential presidential candidates at the Scenic Route Bakery on Jan. 26, 2019, in Des Moines, Iowa.

“This is a starting point,” Hughes said. “Michael hopes to have great conversations. And it will help inform him on what a race could look like.”

Before he was appointed to his seat in 2009, Bennet served in numerous public- and private-sector roles. In the late 1980s, he was an aide to Ohio Gov. Richard Celeste. After Yale Law School he clerked for the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. Later, he worked for Anshutz Investment Co., where he helped build Regal Entertainment Group.

In 2003 he left the private sector to serve as then-Mayor John Hickenlooper’s chief of staff. Two years later he took over Denver Public Schools as superintendent until he was appointed to the Senate by then-Gov. Bill Ritter.

RELATED: John Hickenlooper says he has an answer for New Hampshire Democrats who want to beat Trump

Bennet has since won re-election twice, including a nail-biter in 2010, when Democrats across the country lost ground.

In the Senate, Bennet has never been one for the spotlight, despite being a crucial vote for President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul and working on a compromise on immigration reform. The immigration bill cleared the Senate in 2013 with 68 votes but failed to gain traction in the Republican-controlled House.

Bennet also helped pass an overhaul of the nation’s education laws, fought automatic budget cuts in 2013 and supported Obama’s Iran nuclear deal.

Each primary candidate will need to raise tens of millions of dollars, something observers believe Bennet can achieve given the national connections he established helping run the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in 2014.

“Need to move away from old men”

But one of the open questions for Bennet and Colorado’s other possible presidential candidate, former Gov. John Hickenlooper, is whether a straight, late-middle-aged white man can break out of a field that so far includes six women, three nonwhite candidates and a gay millennial.

For example, Lemon, the Iowa voter, is ready to vote for a younger candidate.

“We need to move away from old, gray-haired men — bless their hearts,” said Lemon, 56. “It’s just the same thing over and over. Same arguments. Same results.”

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Still, there’s polling to suggest that not all the party faithful are prepared to abandon white men. In fact, former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont’s Sen. Bernie Sanders are ahead of their peers in a recent MorningConsult survey of likely voters in early primary states.

Those close to Bennet and Hickenlooper suggest their temperaments would be welcomed by Democrats and disenfranchised Republican voters who cringe when they see another tweet from Trump.

“I think people are taking both of these guys very seriously,” said longtime Democratic strategist Michael Stratton. “Hickenlooper has done quite well so far. But the music and the chairs start to disappear after the Iowa caucus. One would say the field will be reduced to just a small handful by Super Tuesday” on March 3, 2020.

Unlike Hickenlooper, who has said he’ll make a final decision in February or March on whether he’ll launch a bid for the White House, Bennet does not have a timeline on making a decision.

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Denver “Bachelor” Ben Higgins just revealed his first girlfriend since split from fiancée

February 20, 2019 - 8:29am

He slid into her DMs.

Denver’s “Bachelor”-turned-restaurateur Ben Higgins finally revealed his new girlfriend on Wednesday, his first serious flame since he split from fiancée Lauren Bushnell in 2017.

The Instagram read “I’ve been selfishly keeping this girl to myself for too long! Hey friends meet @jessclarke_! I successfully slid into her Dm’s a few months ago. I took a risk and I am glad I did. She is someone special, and I look forward to where life is going to take us. Stay tuned for the journey. In addition, this picture was taken this week in Honduras. I got to spend some time with an incredible group of people from all over the USA on a @generous_coffee_ adventure. Life is good!”

According to her Instagram, the brunette lives in Nashville and went to the University of Mississippi. She is 23, according to etonline. The reveal comes a few weeks after the 29-year-old Higgins said on his podcast that he was seeing someone, and confirmed she was not from the franchise, and that he was taking things slow.

Higgins has been incredibly involved in Denver’s entertainment scene after filming his season of the ABC hit, including doing stand-up comedy, opening LoHi spot Ash’Kara and working his coffee booth at Grandoozy. He also appeared on “The Bachelor” with Colton Underwood on Monday night to give him some advice.

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