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Leading Off (9/26/14)

Wylys Must Pay More than $300M in SEC Case. In May, a jury found that brothers Sam and Charles Wyly, founders of Irving-based Michaels Stores Inc., were guilty of fraud. They were found to have hidden their holdings in offshore trusts and to have engaged in illegal trading. On Thursday, a federal judge ruled that Sam and the estate of Charles (who died in 2011) must pay $187.7 plus interest, which could bring their total obligation to between $300 million and $400 million. The Wylys had argued their total net worth is only $119 million and that any punishment greater than that amount would bankrupt them. Tough, said the judge.

Need to Borrow Millions? Gov. Perry Can Help. You don’t even need to ask. The Texas Enterprise Fund, which the governor’s office oversees, even awarded $170 million to recipients who never officially applied for it. That’s just one of a number of troubling findings in a state audit report released Thursday.

UT Dallas Repaid State $4.3 Million. The university’s calculation error related to employee benefits is similar to the same one recently discovered at UNT, which has to repay almost $76 million. Maybe the Texas Enterprise Fund can help them out?

Enterovirus-D68 Cases Confirmed in Dallas County. Ten cases of the respiratory illness have been detected in children, which has symptoms much like those of the flu or a cold. Wash your hands regularly. Hand sanitizer is powerless against it, apparently.

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Headington Companies Pursue Odd PR Strategy While Tearing Down Buildings

Tim Headington — oilman, movie financier, real estate mogul — is a very private man. He doesn’t do press — at all. Here and there, he has been written about. But to my knowledge, he has never given an interview for a magazine or newspaper profile (please correct me if I’m wrong). We’ve asked for time with him. In fact, a couple years back, we killed an innocuous story about a very small part of his empire after his people told us that the timing was bad (it was) and that a look at the bigger picture would serve Dallas better (they were right). We were told that it would be possible to get time with Headington to tell the larger story. That never happened.

His penchant for secrecy is well and fine, when it comes to most of his operations. Check out the website for Headington Companies, for example. In how little it reveals about the organization, it feels like a repudiation of our selfie society. It is brilliant. But this secrecy fails him when it comes to demolishing old buildings.

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The Dallas Morning News Is Watching You Online

An internet savvy FrontBurnervian told me about a browser add-on called Ghostery. It looks for trackers — cookies, tags, web bugs, pixels, beacons — and shows you how the sites you visit are monitoring your online behavior. The reason this FrontBurnervian told me about Ghostery was because he was aghast at what the Morning News was doing. So I installed the software and took it for a spin. Here’s what I found:

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1611 Main Street, R.I.P.

Sunday afternoon, while the Cowboys were losing to the Rams, I heard a loud bang and went to investigate. It was the sound of a wrecking ball hitting the 129-year-old building next door to ours. I walked out to Main Street and saw people standing in front of Neiman’s, their phones pointed toward 1611 Main Street. I had missed the first few swings of the crane, but I got there just in time to see the top portion of the building crumble to the ground.

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Starbucks Giving Up on Seattle’s Best Coffee Stores Here

Sixteen months after plunging into the North Texas market with 10 drive-through Seattle’s Best Coffee locations, Starbucks Corp. has decided to shutter most of the stores. Eight of the drive-throughs should be closed by next month, the company says, while two locations—in Rockwall and Fort Worth—were converted this summer to Starbucks outlets.

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Tod Robberson Puts Pressure on District Attorney To Do His Job

Editorial writer Tod Robberson has a bylined op-ed in today’s paper that you should read. Essentially it says: “What the heck, people? I did a bunch of really solid reporting on a slumlord in southern Dallas who has been breaking the law for years and bragging about it. DA Craig Watkins? U.S. Attorney Sarah Saldaña? Are you guys paying attention?”

Here’s the first story Robberson did, a serious bit of reporting into the operations of Douglas T. “Chase” Fonteno, a self-described “real estate cat burglar” who takes poor people’s houses and then resells them. I know, right? It sounds insane. It sounds like something that authorities should put a stop to. Robberson wrote a series of stories about Fonteno back in May. Then he brought his findings to the authorities. But as Mayor Mike Rawlings told Robberson, there isn’t much the city can do besides slap Fonteno on his wrist. So:

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Former Parkland CEO Ron Anderson, RIP

The longtime Parkland CEO died yesterday of cancer at age 68. Read much more on D Healthcare Daily. The hospital system’s release about the man who ran the place for almost 30 years is below:

Ron J. Anderson, MD, a national spokesperson for public health issues and a champion for the poor and medically underserved, died Sept. 11, 2014 of cancer. He was 68 years old. Services are pending.

A native of Chickasha, OK, Dr. Anderson was President and CEO of Parkland Health & Hospital System for 29 years, a job he assumed in 1982 at the age of 35 after serving for two years as Medical Director of Parkland’s Emergency Room and Outpatient Clinic and Head of The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center’s Division of Internal Medicine. He retired in 2011. In his final years at Parkland he led the successful bond campaign that secured public financing for the new $1.3 billion Parkland hospital due to open in mid-2015.

On Sept. 10, the Parkland Board of Managers unanimously endorsed a plan led by Parkland Foundation to place a commemorative statue in the new hospital and to name Parkland’s new medical/surgical outpatient clinic after Dr. Anderson. In the 1980s, Dr. Anderson suggested setting up health clinics in Dallas’ poorest neighborhoods, convincing skeptical Board members and local officials of the need. Parkland now operates a dozen Community Oriented Primary Care clinics throughout the county, making primary and preventive health care more accessible.

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RadioShack On the Verge of Bankruptcy

Despite trying to rebrand itself as The Shack and hiring a bunch of has-beens to be in its ads and whatever else, the formerly useful electronics store now says it can’t stay afloat “beyond the very near term.” (As of August 2, it had $30.5 million in cash, or $6,800 for each of its 4,485 stores.) Yeesh. If it goes under, I don’t know where I’m going to get my, uh, hmm, my, let’s see here, my, um, uh — yeah.

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Billionaire Bites Back: Judge All But Tosses Dallas Art Collector’s Lawsuit

The tawdry tale of a multimillion dollar work of art, a widowed patroness, a powerful Mexican billionaire, and the little, red faced museum stuck in the middle of all of it took yet another turn in its four-year-long court battle. Dallas mega-collector Marguerite Hoffman’s lawyers convinced a jury late last year that debt baron David Martinez broke a confidential agreement when he sold at public auction a painting by Marc Rothko, which was sold to him by Hoffman in a hush-hush deal. Now, a judge ruled Friday that Martinez did not violate any agreement.

To recap:

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Are Your Cell Phone Calls Being Intercepted?

A corner-office-dwelling FrontBurnervian passes along this Popular Science story in which Les Goldsmith, the CEO of a company that makes a hyper-secure $3,500 mobile phone, says his team has located at least 17 phony cell towers across the United States. The accompanying map places one of those in or near Dallas.

The fake towers are known as “interceptors,” basically equipment used to (not surprisingly) intercept the calls and data coming out of passing phones. Who’s responsible for this? It’s a mystery:

What we find suspicious is that a lot of these interceptors are right on top of U.S. military bases.  So we begin to wonder – are some of them U.S. government interceptors?  Or are some of them Chinese interceptors?” says Goldsmith.  “Whose interceptor is it?  Who are they, that’s listening to calls around military bases?  Is it just the U.S. military, or are they foreign governments doing it?  The point is: we don’t really know whose they are.”

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Leading Off (8/29/14)

Judge Rules School Finance System Unconstitutional. It’s the second time in 18 months that State District Judge John Dietz of Austin has decided in favor of the 600 local school districts that sued the state. Dietz ruled that, even after increasing school funding by $3.4 billion during the most recent session, the legislature has still left education statewide underfunded. He also cited inequities in the way state funds are distributed. The state (namely attorney general and GOP gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott) will appeal.

Dallas County Not Properly Tracking HIV. A state report found 209 adult cases and 139 pediatric cases went “unreported” by the county health department from 2009 to 2012. That’s the largest number of unreported cases in Texas. Failure to follow up to collect information makes it difficult to determine whether a patient’s contacts may have also been affected and means the department can miss out on federal funding to treat patients.

Cowboys Winless in Preseason. They fell to the Denver Broncos, 27-3, last night. It’s the fifth time in franchise history the team hasn’t bothered to win any of its meaningless practice games.

Bitcoin ATMs Open in Dallas. In case you want to exchange your money that’s backed by the full faith and credit of the United States for a crypto-currency backed by the self-assurance of libertarian utopians worldwide. Right now one Bitcoin will cost you about $507.

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How an Office Romance Went Off the Rails and Brought Down the NCPA’s John Goodman

Back in June, when the National Center for Policy Analysis fired its CEO for alleged “sexual misconduct and breach of fiduciary duty,” the free-market think tank had more than a dozen directors on its board. Chief executive John C. Goodman denied the charges at the time, you might recall, and said his dismissal was based on trivialities. Today the NCPA board is down to just five directors—and insiders say the Dallas nonprofit is struggling to survive.

So, what happened to bring all this about? The apparent implosion has come as the result of an office romance between Goodman and a staffer that went way off the rails, leading to an unusual “job promotion” that backfired badly:

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