Final Confederate statue comes down in New Orleans

As many onlookers cheered Friday, a crane hoisted the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from the top of a monument in New Orleans.

It is the fourth, and final, Civil War-era landmark the city has removed since late April.

The effort to remove New Orleans’ monuments has been part of a nationwide debate over Confederate symbols, which some argue represent slavery and injustice and others say represent history and heritage.

“Na na na na, hey, hey, hey, goodbye!” some in the crowd cheered as the statue was lowered onto a flatbed trailer.

Earlier, with work underway, Mayor Mitch Landrieu explained the city’s reasons for removing the statue and other monuments at a private address.

The historical markers “celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy, ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement, ignoring the terror that it actually stood for. And after the Civil War, these monuments were part of that terrorism as much as burning a cross on someone’s lawn,” Landrieu said.

In a speech about the removal of the monuments, the mayor said they were landmarks that were not a true reflection of the city.

“To literally put the Confederacy on a pedestal in our more prominent places — in honor — is an inaccurate recitation of our full past, is an affront to our present and it is a bad prescription for our future,” said Landrieu, the city’s first white mayor since 1978, who is in his final term presiding over a city that is 60% African-American.

The monuments will be stored then relocated, city officials have said.

The column on which the statue stood will remain, and the city will add a water feature.

Monument removal began in April

Streets near the city’s Lee Circle — where the Robert E. Lee monument has stood for 133 years — were blocked off by early Friday in preparation for the dismantling that’s scheduled to begin sometime before 5 p.m. CT.

The city started removing the public landmarks in late April, after the New Orleans City Council voted in 2015 to remove the four Confederate markers. Recent court rulings cleared the way for the monuments to be removed and relocated following heated public debate and legal fights.

The issue gained momentum after the 2015 massacre of nine black parishioners in Charleston, South Carolina, by a self-described white supremacist who prosecutors said posed for photos with the Confederate battle flag.

A small crowd — including some supporting the removal and those opposing it — gathered outside the barricaded area throughout the morning. A few men had a heated exchange after someone took an American flag from a Lee monument supporter, CNN affiliate WVUE reported.

Tempers cooled when police recovered the flag and returned it. As the day went on, the crowd grew to about 100 people, the station reported.

The Lee statue, erected in 1884 in honor of the commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, is arguably the most prominent of the four because of its location at Lee Circle, a major traffic hub at the edge of the Lower Garden District and the Central Business District.

The city’s famed Uptown streetcar line wraps around the circle, and nearly all Carnival parades traverse it near the end of their route.

First removal in daylight

The statues were erected decades after the Civil War to celebrate the “lost cause of the Confederacy,” a movement recognized across the South as promoting white supremacy, according to a news release from the mayor’s office.

Friday’s removal — in daylight, with the timing announced a day beforehand — contrasts with the first three, which happened in the dark of night or early morning with little notice.

The city had kept quiet about the timing of the earlier ones, citing what it said were threats that some had made toward contractors who would do the work.

A summary of the first three:

• April 24: Contractors wearing masks and ballistic vests in light of the threats removed an obelisk commemorating the Battle of Liberty Place. The obelisk marked a deadly fight between the Crescent City White League, a group opposed to the city’s racially integrated police force, and state militia after the Civil War.

• May 11: A 6-foot statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis was removed from its pedestal as dozens of people — those opposed to the removal, as well as those backing it — looked on. The statue, which stood for 106 years, had been atop a roughly 12-foot column and depicted Davis with his right arm outstretched with palm turned upward. It towered over the street also named after him.

• Wednesday: The equestrian statue of Confederate Gen. Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard, who died in New Orleans in 1893, came down in the early morning after standing 102 years.

The statues will be put into storage while the city looks for a suitable place to display them, the mayor has said.

Private funding raised by the city will pay for the removal of the landmarks, Landrieu’s office has said.

The area that formerly housed the Jefferson Davis statue will soon feature an American flag, the city announced Thursday night.

Backlash over the removals

Backlash against removing New Orleans’ Confederate monuments has been building.

The Louisiana Legislature is considering a measure that would hinder local governments from removing war memorials, including those from the Civil War. The bill would allow local governments to take down a memorial only if voters approve the action at “an election held for that purpose.”

Efforts to remove Confederate statues are underway in other parts of the South, including in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a Robert E. Lee statue is scheduled to be removed. That sparked protests, including one Saturday in which torch-carrying demonstrators were led by white nationalist Richard Spencer. The event was criticized for evoking images of the Ku Klux Klan, and a counter-protest was held on Sunday night.

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Basquiat tops Warhol after painting sells for $111 million

A Japanese billionaire has bought a Jean-Michel Basquiat painting for $110.5 million, the highest ever price paid at auction for a work by an American artist.

It’s a spectacular increase from the last time the painting, “Untitled,” was sold — it fetched a mere $19,000 in 1984. For more than 30 years since then, the picture depicting a skull-like head has remained stashed away in a private collection.

The Japanese buyer, e-commerce tycoon Yusaku Maezawa, said he plans to loan the painting out around the world before making it the centerpiece of his museum in his hometown of Chiba.

“I hope it brings as much joy to others as it does to me, and that this masterpiece by the 21-year-old Basquiat inspires our future generations,” he said in a statement.

The sale of the picture at Sotheby’s in New York puts it in an elite club: only 10 other works have sold for more than $100 million.

Painted by Basquiat in 1982, “Untitled” has now fetched the sixth highest price ever for a work of fine art. The Sothey’s catalogue describes it as a “raw, uncensored, and fiercely magnificent.”

The amount it sold for blew away the auction house’s pre-sale estimate of $60 million.

It also tops the $105 million paid in 2013 for Andy Warhol’s “Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster).” And it’s the first work made after 1980 to sell for more than $100 million.

Maezawa, whose wealth is estimated by Forbes at around $3.6 billion, already held the previous record for a Basquiat picture. He paid $57 million for another “Untitled” work a year ago.

The 41-year-old Japanese entrepreneur started off selling imported CDs and records. But he built his fortune on Zozotown, an online fashion shopping platform he founded in 2004.

Maezawa’s collection already includes works from Pablo Picasso, Alberto Giacometti and Jeff Koons.

Raised in Brooklyn, Basquiat was a maverick of the New York art scene in the 1980s. Of Puerto Rican and Haitian descent, he initially gained attention for his graffiti before eventually becoming one of the most celebrated artists of the time.

A prolific creative force, he drew on his racial identity and personal torments to create vibrant expressionistic works.

He died in 1988 at the age of 27 from a heroin overdose.

Sotheby’s said the untitled painting sold Thursday “offers a ferocious portrait of an artist defined by explosive talent and calamitous brilliance.”

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Driver charged with murder in Times Square crash

Richard Rojas, the man who allegedly struck a group of pedestrians with his vehicle in Manhattan’s Times Square Thursday, has been arrested and charged with murder, 20 counts of attempted murder and five counts of aggravated vehicular homicide, according to a press release from the New York City Police Department.

An 18-year-old woman was killed and at least 22 people were injured when a speeding car plowed into pedestrians, city officials said.

Developing story – more to come

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Man, 70, accuses Miami Gardens pastor of taking his dream home

Edward Fuller is one of several people who contacted Local 10 News after an investigation aired about the business practices of Miami Gardens pastor Eric Readon.

He claims the pastor has taken him for over $500,000 and tricked him into signing over his dream house.

Victims claim they loaned Readon money, handed over cash to rent homes and gave him a deposit to buy his car.

All claimed they were not repaid.

Fuller said he took  his case to Miami-Dade police but was told that, because he willfully signed papers and was not forced to, it was a civil matter.

He has yet to find an attorney to take his case.

Fuller, 70, has plans, the permits and the pictures from the home.

“I can walk through this house blindfolded and tell you exactly where everything is,” he said.

Fuller doesn’t have his dream house and claims he was blindsided by Readon.

“He sold my house,” Fuller said. “He sold my house (on) Feb.13.  He sold my house for $380,000.”

 And how much did Fuller get from that?

“Not one red cent,” he said.

The home is located in the 10900 block of Northwest 19th Avenue.

Fuller bought the property more than 30 years ago and had a plan — after a 35-year career with the U.S. Postal Service, his retirement project was to build a dream house for his family.

“This is where I wanted to spend my final days, in a sense,” Fuller said. “It was like my gift to my daughters once I was gone. It’s that simple.”

After retirement, the walls and the roof went up.

Fuller admits he ran out of money to finish.

Then, he claims, one day Readon appeared.

The pair had never met before.

“Somehow, he got the info I was having a problem getting it completed,” Fuller said. “He knew people who could get the money and we could complete this house.”

Fuller claims Readon took him to a hard money lender for a loan.

Project Youth Outreach Unlimited, a nonprofit corporation, was made the contractor on the $125,000 construction loan.

Readon is the president of that nonprofit.

And there was a catch. To get the loan Fuller had to sign 50 percent of his property over to Readon.

Since conventional lenders had turned him down, Fuller agreed and work on the house began again.

Fuller let Readon have full control over the $125,000 loan.

When the money ran out, the house was still not finished.

Fuller claims in order to get more funds using his good credit, the pastor persuaded him to  sign over the other 50 percent of the house, so Fuller’s credit would be free and clear.

That meant Project Youth Outreach Unlimited and Readon now owned the entire house.

“‘I promise you, man, you’re going to get your house back,’ This is what he told me,” Fuller said. “‘You’re gonna get your house back.’ I trusted him.”

But it never happened.

Fuller only learned Readon sold the house for $380,000 when he did a property records search.

 “I said, ‘Eric, you sold my house,’” Fuller said. “He said, ‘I got my own personal money tied up in this house and I can’t lose my money.’”

Readon canceled plans to talk on camera to Local 10 News. 

As Local 10 reported last month, others have said they gave Readon cash deposits to rent homes and buy cars and loaned him cash.

Some did get money back, but only after we began to ask questions.

The legal trouble against this pastor is  mounting. According to court records Blackrain Capital has filed suit against Readon and his church for fraud, negligence and theft.

The suit claims Blackrain entered into a joint venture to buy houses with the pastor. Blackrain fronted Readon money to buy houses and trusted him because he was “a man of God.”

An attorney for Blackrain says Readon never repaid or split proceeds from the sale of properties and Blackrain is out over $100,000.

Court records also show Readon was ordered to take an anger management class after sending harassing and inappropriate emails in which he threatened an attorney and his staff over a custody issue concerning his son.

Court records show one of those e-mails contained a picture of a dead body.

Readon is known for showing up at tragic events around South Florida to preach about doing the right thing.

He has called the Local 10 newsroom and reporter Jeff Weinsier’s cellphone several times.

Our invitation to sit down with him one-on-one and ask about his business practices still stands.

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Teens arrested in kidnapping, killing of 6-year-old

Three Mississippi teenagers are accused of killing a 6-year-old boy after stealing the car he was left in.

The child, Kingston Frazier, was left alone in a Toyota Camry in a Kroger parking lot around 1:15 a.m. Thursday, authorities said.

The three suspects pulled into the parking lot in a separate car, the Hind’s County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement. One of them allegedly got into the Camry before both vehicles pulled away. It’s not clear whether the driver of the Camry knew the child was in the car.

When Kingston’s mother came out of the store, she alerted a nearby sheriff’s deputy that her vehicle was missing. The Mississippi Bureau of Investigation issued an Amber Alert when it became clear that a child was inside the stolen vehicle.

Kingston was found dead later Thursday morning in rural Madison County when a passerby noticed the car abandoned on the side of the road and recognized it from the Amber Alert. The boy was shot in the back of the head, Madison County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Heath Hall said.

Dwan Wakefield, D’Allen Washington and Byron McBride — all in their late teens — are being held without bond in the Madison County Detention Center, Hall said.

All three will be charged as adults with capital murder for the killing of a child during a kidnapping, District Attorney Michael Guest said in a press conference Thursday. They’re also facing auto theft charges in Hinds County, according to the Hinds County Sheriff’s Office.

Multiple state and local agencies collaborated on the investigation, including the Jackson Police Department, the Hinds County Sheriff’s Office, the Madison County Sheriff’s Office, the Mississippi Highway Patrol and the MBI. The FBI is also investigating, Hall said.

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Mnuchin punts on disclosing Trump’s business ties

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Thursday stopped short of committing to disclose a complete list of all of President Trump’s business ties. Instead, he said he would review the best way to respond to a senior Democrat’s requests for the information.

“We will review internally whether it’s appropriate for it to come from us or somewhere else, and we’re happy to be responsive to you,” Mnuchin said during a Senate Banking Committee hearing.

Mnuchin was responding to Sen. Sherrod Brown, the top Democrat on the panel, who urged the former Goldman Sachs banker to comply with a March 2 request to release a list of the president and his family’s “financial entanglements” to verify that none of those connections could raise possible conflicts with laws tied to terror financing, sanctions and national security.

“People want to know about those financial entanglements,” said Brown. “It’s not a political exercise. It’s about the national security of this country.”

Brown’s questioning comes after former FBI Director James Comey wrote a note detailing how Trump tried to end an investigation into links between his associates and the Russian government.

Treasury is responsible for making sure U.S. firms and individuals comply with sanctions, as well as anti-terrorism, bank secrecy and anti-money laundering laws and regulations.

As Treasury secretary, Mnuchin chairs the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which is responsible for vetting foreign investments in the country and how they might affect national security. Chinese investors, for example, had to clear the committee before they could buy the Chicago Stock Exchange last year.

Mnuchin said he believed he and his staff reviewed any outstanding information requests made by Brown and others on the committee. This was Mnuchin’s first appearance on Capitol Hill since being confirmed as Treasury Secretary in February.

During the hearing, a Treasury spokesman released a statement confirming the agency’s response to the Ohio senator on March 31. That letter detailed ethics requirements all federal employees and administration officials are required to comply with, but it didn’t include details of the president’s business ties, according to a copy of the letter provided by the committee.

Brown’s requests to Treasury closely follows other bids from top Democratic senators to pin down the president’s ties to Russia — and beyond.

Democratic senators Mark Warner and Ron Wyden have asked the agency to release records, which they believe could reveal a “level of financial ties” between Trump campaign officials and Russian entities. They’ve both pledged to place a “hold” on Sigal Mandelker, Trump’s nominee to oversee terrorism and finance at Treasury, until the agency provides documents to the committee.

At the hearing, Warner acknowledged that he and other senators received a part of their request Wednesday. He asked Mnuchin for his “personal commitment” to get all the facts out to the public and be responsive to congressional requests.

The Treasury secretary gave Warner his “assurance” that he would be responsive to the Virginia senator.

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