More than 4,000 parents who had entrusted their children to administrators at the Varnett Charter School are set to receive payments totaling more than $600,000, announced U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick along with Special Agent in Charge Perrye K. Turner of the FBI, Special Agent in Charge Neil Sanchez from the Department of Education – Office of Inspector General (ED-OIG) and Acting Special Agent in Charge Sarah Kull of IRS – Criminal Investigation (CI).

Marian Annette Cluff, 70, was the founding superintendent of The Varnett Public School, a charter school with three locations in Houston, while her husband – Alsie Cluff Jr., 69, was the facilities and operations manager. They pleaded guilty Aug. 25, 2017, to mail fraud and conspiracy to commit tax evasion charges for embezzling millions of dollars from the school.

In June 2018, U.S. District Judge Melinda Harmon sentenced Marian Cluff to 120 months imprisonment and to pay a $295,596 fine, while her husband was ordered to serve a 36-month term of imprisonment and pay a $88,678 fine. More importantly, however, was that both were also ordered to pay a total of $4,443,755.69 in restitution.

In less than a year following the sentencing hearing, the Financial Litigation Unit (FLU) of the U.S. Attorney’s Office – with the substantial assistance of the U.S. Marshal Service (USMS) – collected the total restitution ordered in the case.

In an amended order issued in March 2019, U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen ordered that $604,889.76 of that amount be distributed to the identified victim parents of the school. The U.S. District Clerk’s Office has indicated that restitution payments to the parents will be handled on an expedited basis.

At the time of the sentencing, the court heard that the couple embezzled millions of dollars in funds that were intended for the operation and function of the charter school and its programs. These included “money orders” parents had submitted to pay for school field trips and student fundraisers, such as chocolate sales, book fairs, school carnivals and other school-related activities.

The Cluffs used their positions of trust and authority and diverted and concealed money received from vendors of the school, insurance companies and federal agencies into the off-book accounts for the purpose of diverting money intended for the charter school for their own personal use and benefit. The Cluffs concealed the accounts from the charter school office manager, the school’s external accountant and their income tax preparer.

Testimony at sentencing also revealed the Cluffs conspired to commit tax evasion of approximately $1,827,477.55 in tax, interest and penalties owed to the IRS. The Cluffs did not pay income taxes on the money they received as a result of the scheme.

The Cluffs were ordered to surrender to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons in August 2018 and are currently serving their sentences.

Today’s announcement comes as National Crime Victim Rights Week (NCVRW) draws to a close. Every April, the Office for Victims of Crime leads communities throughout the country in their annual observances of NCVRW. This year’s theme – Honoring Our Past. Creating Hope for the Future – celebrated the progress made by those before us as we look to a future of crime victim services that is even more inclusive, accessible and trauma-informed.

Harris County Sheriff’s Office and Prosecutor to Announce Criminal Charges in Illegal Street Racing.

What: On March 17, 2019, a crowd of people were gathered to watch an illegal street car race on a public road in northwest Harris County, when one of the drivers struck two pedestrians causing serious injuries.

Sheriff’s Office investigators worked with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office to gather evidence, which has culminated in the filing of felony criminal charges.

The illegal street racing incident occurred at a time when race enthusiasts were gathered in the region for the legally sanctioned TX2K auto racing event in Baytown.

Who: Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, Assistant District Attorney Sean Teare, HCSO Capt. Quincy Whitaker

When: Tuesday, April 16, 2019 at 9 a.m.

Are you a “restaurant camper”? Do you go out to dinner and then spend hours sitting at the table chatting? Restaurants should never rush guests to finish their meal, but guests should be aware of the impact their stay has on the staff and other diners. The fewer tables the restaurant turns over, the less revenue the business generates. “When you receive the receipt, you should leave,” says Monica Lewis from the Monica Lewis School Of Etiquette. “You shouldn’t stay no more than 15 to 20 minutes after the receipt.” Also, it’s important to be clear at the beginning of the meal how the ticket will be split, to make things easy on the wait staff. At the very most, be prepared to leave the restaurant after an hour and a half. On average, meals should last 45 to 90 minutes. “You shouldn’t wait until the server asks you a question like, ‘Do you need anything else?’,” says Darian Lewis from the Monica Lewis School Of Etiquette. “You want to pay attention to those cues the servers are giving you.” Staying past your welcome not only hurts the restaurant financially, but the servers in particular. “It really affects the way they make their money,” says Brandi Bowie, co-owner of the Taste Bar + Kitchen with her husband Don. “They live off those tips, so you want to turn and burn those tables.” As a restaurant owner, losing wait staff can be a problem if your atmosphere is too welcoming. Guests staying too long can mean servers quit to go to other restaurants that have quicker turnover. At the end of the day, enjoy your meal and tip well, but be courteous to restaurant owners and wait staff.

Investigators have charged a local man with murder and tampering with a corpse, after he reported his wife missing from their Katy area home.

On March 19, 2019, Jay Patrick Hammersley (04/04/75), reported his wife, Mara Vestal, 29, had left and not returned to their residence in the 20200 block of Golden Mesa in the Sun Down Glen subdivision.

He told investigators Vestal had left 2 to 3 weeks earlier with her belongings.

Investigators interviewed Hammersley during the course of the investigation, and he admitted to killing his wife and disposing of her body.

He is currently being held on a $105,000 bond in the Harris County Sheriff’s Office Detention Facility.

Crime Stoppers and the Houston Police Department’s Homicide Division need the public’s assistance locating Fugitive Gabriel Rangel who is wanted for Manslaughter.

On Wednesday, March 13, 2019, at approximately 11:15 a.m., the victim was shot by Gabriel Rangel in a motel room located in the 12900 block of the Northwest Freeway in Houston, Texas. During the incident, the fugitive was playing with a handgun when he pointed the gun in the victim’s direction and shot him once. The suspect and three additional people transported the victim to a local hospital. The victim was transported in an older model tan Cadillac. The victim later died as a result of his injuries.

Fugitive Gabriel Rangel is a Hispanic male, 17 years old, with brown eyes and short black hair. Rangel may also be using the name Gabriel Calixto and is known to frequent the Spring Branch area.

Crime Stoppers may pay up to $5,000 for information leading to the charging and/or arrest of the suspects in this case. Information may be reported by calling (713) 222-TIPS (8477), submitted online at or through the Crime Stoppers mobile app. All tipsters remain anonymous.

Mayor details new option for phasing in 29% pay hike for firefighters

HOUSTON – Mayor Sylvester Turner sent a letter today to Houston firefighters’ union President Patrick “Marty” Lancton detailing a new option to minimize layoffs of firefighters and municipal workers while enacting the 29 percent pay increase that voters approved for firefighters in the November 2018 vote on Proposition B.

The mayor has said previously that immediate implementation of Prop B, which came with no funding source, would trigger hundreds of layoffs because as the city balances its annual budget, it must cut expenses to pay for the salary hike.

Mayor Turner has offered to phase in the higher pay over five years without layoffs.

His letter today offers a 3.5-year phase-in that would significantly reduce, but not eliminate, the need for layoffs.

Gator Pledge Helps UHD Students Graduate Debt Free

Program Covers Tuition, Fees for Students with Family Incomes Up to $50K

Houston [March 20, 2019] The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) has helped many Houstonians realize their dreams of earning their bachelor’s degrees. Through a number of University initiatives, students have been able to Finish UHD Strong with little or no debt.

Among UHD’s programs aimed at helping students succeed academically without financial worry is the Gator Pledge. This program helps incoming freshmen with family incomes of $50,000 or less by covering tuition and fees for up to four years.

To be eligible for the Gator Pledge, students must be:

  • First-time-in-college freshmen entering UHD for the Fall 2019 term
  • Texas residents
  • High school graduates with recommended or distinguished diplomas
  • A member of a household with an annual adjusted gross income not exceeding $50,000
  • Eligible to receive a Federal Pell Grant (with all financial aid forms and supporting documents submitted by May 1)
  • Enrolled as a first-time student at UHD with a minimum of 24 credit hours taken during a 12-month period

Students who meet this criteria can receive free tuition and fees if they meet academic and financial aid eligibility and maintain a minimum 2.5 grade point average. Tuition and fees covered by the Gator Pledge are for fall and spring semesters only, and students’ eligibility is based on Free Application of Federal Student Aid (FASFA) information.

“This institution is one that’s founded on access and success,” said Daniel Villanueva, assistant vice president for Enrollment Management at UHD. “It provides our students with greater social mobility, particularly those who come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. We’re proud to deliver such a program to them … one that funds their higher education and helps them earn their degrees.”

Until this year, the Gator Pledge had served students with families earning $45,000 or less. By increasing the annual income requirements to $50,000, more students will be eligible for this program, Villanueva noted.

The Gator Pledge complements UHD’s status as the most affordable university in Houston and one of the most affordable in Texas. Additionally, the University is among the institutions with the lowest net price tuition in the nation according to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Education’s College Affordability and Transparency rankings.

“Expanding the Gator Pledge broadens students’ access to higher education opportunities,” Villanueva said. “This will offer more students an opportunity to engage with UHD and have all of their tuition costs covered.”

For additional details, visit the Gator Pledge website or contact UHD’s Office of Scholarships & Financial Aid at or call 713-221-5880.

Multiple people were killed in a shooting attackon the southern island of New Zealand on Friday when a gunman opened fire inside two mosques.

The gunman, who was dressed in tactical gear, appeared to livestream video of the shooting on social media, according to New Zealand police, documenting his trip from his vehicle and into the worship center in central Christchurch, New Zealand, where he opened fire indiscriminately.

“This is one of New Zealand’s darkest days,” Prime Minister Jacinda Arden said in a press conference Friday afternoon.
Four people, three men and one woman, were taken into custody in the hours following the attack, but police have not released their identities.

New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush said there were “significant” fatalities reported, but he declined to offer a specific rwason.

A witness says many people have been killed in a mass shooting at a mosque in the New Zealand city of Christchurch….

The shooter also opened fire in the surrounding area outside of the mosques. Police said they recovered improvised explosive devices attached to vehicles in the area, but they were rendered safe.

“A serious and evolving situation is occurring in Christchurch with an active shooter. Police are responding with its full capability to manage the situation, but the risk environment remains extremely high,” New Zealand Police tweeted. “Police recommend that residents across Christchurch remain off the streets and indoors until further notice.”

A former border patrol agent from Texas will spend more than nine years behind bars for accepting bribes to help a drug trafficking organization, the Justice Department announced Friday.

Robert Hall, 45, pleaded guilty to one count of bribery in September, according to court documents unsealed Friday. U.S. District Judge Ewing Werlein Jr. of the Southern District of Texas sentenced Hall to 114 months in prison, along with three years of supervised release. He also was instructed to pay a fine of $20,000.

Hall worked with multiple people between 2004 and 2014 to aid trafficking of illegal drugs like marijuana from Mexico into the United States, plea documents claim. Hall gave an individual associated with a drug trafficking organization the locations of U.S. Customs and Border Protection sensor locations, locations of unpatrolled roads by the U.S.-Mexico border, and information about border patrol agents working in a specific location. He also gave the drug trafficking group keys to Customs and Border Protection locks on various ranch fences.

HOUSTON (March 11, 2019) – The Ensemble Theatre gets lifted with laughter in playwright Joyce Sylvester’s church comedy, Freeda Peoples, directed by Eileen J. Morris; Opening Night and Media Reception, Thursday, January 24, 2019, 6:30 p.m. 3535 Main Street, Houston, Texas 77002.

Sylvester is the award-winning playwright, director, and actress who bought Houston audiences Women In the Pit, her play that led to a command performance during The Ensemble Theatre’s 2014-2015 season. Freeda Peoples won her the Audelco Award for Best Director in 2004.

“I like the subtle details in Joyce’s characters,” says Morris. “This play has a beautiful combination of day-to-day life truths, and explores the human condition of people working in service to the church.”

The Bible says all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, there is a none righteous not even one (Romans 3:32). Therefore, the church is the perfect place for spiritual growth. Freeda Peoples deals with the relationships between the deacons, trustees, and the new pastor and how no one is who they really seem to be. This comedy/drama will have you rolling in the aisles.

Featured Cast members include: (REVEREND SCOTT) Jason Carmichael, (REBA SCOTT) Delali Potakey, (ELDER JONES) Roc Living, (DEACON BEASLEY) Byron Jacquet, (DEACON LEWIS) Shane Warren Jones, (SISTER ANN) Joyce Anastasia Murray, (FREEDA PEOPLES) Callina Situka.

Previews: March 16, 17, and 20, 2019
Show Runs: March 21 – April 14, 2019

Performance Days and Times: Thursdays: 7:30 p.m; Fridays: 8:00 p.m; Saturdays: 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m; and Sundays: 3:00 p.m.

Tickets Available Online: For Information Call: 713-520-0055

Ticket Prices: $23- $50