Category Archives: Texas

Dozens Indicted in College Entrance Scam, Including Celebrities and College Coaches

Federal prosecutors unveiled 40 indictments today in an extensive scheme for wealthy parents to assist getting their children into elite schools. Essentially, well-off parents were using a college preparation business, run by William”Rick” Singer, as a go between to cheat and bribe their children’s entrance into schools. Singer’s company was called Edge College & Career Network, also known as “the Key”, a for-profit prep business out of Newport Beach, California.

Rick Singer, per SacBee.com

The first step was often to have Singer cheat on the tests. It appears this would be accomplished in several steps: Singer and his cohorts, some of which are cooperating witnesses, would have the parents claim a learning difference that would allow their children more time and to take the test at a different location. Singer would use a testing location that he “controlled” to then improve the children’s performance on the test, getting higher scores and making the children more attractive to elite schools. The children would not even know about the adjusted tests, leaving them to believe they had just performed well.

There was a second approach that involved bribing the schools. In some instances, Singer’s connections would designate the students as recruits for college athletics teams to facilitate their admission. Singer also ran a charitable organization through which he would funnel the money to coaches, such as Yale women’s soccer coach Rudolph “Rudy” Meredith, who had coached there for more than 20 years. Nine coaches and sports administrators have been indicated, including those from schools such as Stanford, USC, Texas and Yale.

Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin

The operation involved more than two hundred FBI agents, multiple cooperating witnesses, and has ensnared rich and powerful people such as actresses Felicity Huffman & Lori Loughlin, as well as CEOs and prominent lawyers. Some payments were in the thousands, while others paid up to $6 million to get their children into competitive elite schools.

Murder Conviction Overturned in Texas Doctor Murder-for-Hire of Another Doctor Case

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Dr. Thomas Dixon

Prosecutors contend that Dr. Michael Dixon, a plastic surgeon from

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Dr. Joseph Sonnier

Amarillo, Texas was so envious of the new lover his ex-girlfriend had taken, also a doctor, that he hired an associate to murder him. Dixon’s relationship with the ex, Richelle Shetina, started ignominiously: she was a patient that came to Dixon’s spa for Botox treatments in 2008. They started an affair, though Dixon was married at the time, and his wife eventually found out and filed for divorce. After several months, Shetina broke off the relationship in 2010.

Shetina found new love in 2011 with another doctor, Joseph Sonnier III, a successful doctor in Lubbock, Texas. However, Dixon was never able to let go of the relationship. Shetina felt as though she was being watched at the gym, and Dr. Sonnier complained to co-workers that his beau’s ex was having trouble letting things go.

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David Shepard

Things came to a tragic conclusion in July, 2012, when Dr. Sonniers was found dead at his home, shot and stabbed. Sadly, Dr. Sonnier’s murder fell almost 2 years to the day after the murder/suicide of his ex-wife by her second husband. Suspicion for Sonnier’s brutal killing would likely have centered on Dr. Dixon pretty quickly anyway, due to the animosity he’d had toward Dr. Sonnier. But investigators got a quick break in the case, when an Amarillo man named Paul Reynolds came forward to say that his roommate had admitted to killing a man, and Reynolds had done some digging and discovered the Sonnier murder, and thought his roommate, David Shepard might be responsible.

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Dr. D. Dixon

When investigators spoke to Shepard, he admitted that he had committed the murder at the behest of his business associate, Dixon, and that Dixon had paid him three silver bars and a box of cigars for accomplishing the task. He had been hired by Dixon for weveral months to spy on Sonnier, with the intent to catch him cheating, so Dixon could expose Sonnier, but to no avail, at which point the murder plot was hatched. Investigators found that Shepard had indeed cashed some gold bars the day after the murder, and charged both he and Dixon with capital murder.

Shepard, who had admitted to being the killer, entered a plea to life in prison, and agreed to cooperate against Dr. Dixon. However, when Dixon went to trial in 2014, Shepard recanted his accusation against Dixon, and said Dixon had only hired him to track Sonnier, and that he committed the murder without Dixon’s direction. The jury hung, and a mistrial was declared. The case went back to trial in 2015, and prosecutors didn’t call Shepard the second time around. However, they called Shepard’s own daughter, Haley, to testify that she thought her father lied the first time around to protect Dixon. This time, Dixon was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

Things turned around again a couple months ago when the appellate court in Amarillo reversed Dixon’s conviction, and remanded the case for a new trial. I thought the appellate court might have an issue with Haley Shepard’s testimony, but apparently the issues that led to the appellate decision were errors by the court in not allowing people into the courtroom, and that cell phone records were obtained without a warrant, pursuant to a recent Supreme Court decision. Just recently, Dixon’s bond was reset to two million dollars, which has has posted as he awaits retrial.

On a separate note, one of Dr. Sonnier’s sons has gone on to be a successful filmmaker, the Dallas magazine did a profile touching on his family tragedies.

State is Seeking the Death Penalty Against Murdering Granny, Lois Reiss

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Lois Riess at Lee County Jail

The state has filed their notice that they intend to seek the death penalty against Lois Reiss, who allegedly befriended then killed a fellow tourist on Fort Myers Beach. Reiss was wanted in relation to the death of her husband in Minnesota (though at the time, only theft charges had been filed), and it is alleged that she targeted a woman who resembled her so she could steal her identity as she evaded authorities. She is alleged to have killed that woman, stolen her car, and was eventually captured in Texas.

It is not surprising that the State is seeking the death penalty, as they had obtained an indictment for first degree murder a few weeks ago. That is a precursor for seeking the death penalty. Further, the allegations include some aggravating factors, for instance, alleging that the murder was for pecuniary gain and was done to aid the flight from another crime. CNN picked up the latest story, as ‘Losing Streak Lois’ as garnered some national attention, both for the dramatic crime, and the nickname she was given by U.S. Marshall’s for her gambling habit.

Florida Man Gets Naked and Attacks Couple with Rake

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Maurice Castaneda

Bill and Crystal Colwell were sitting at home minding their own business, when a naked man with a rake barged into their house. Crystal tossed a hatchet to her husband, but he grabbed a hammer out of his truck and “went to town” trying to fight the guy off. The guy, Maurice Castaneda, (or Castanedo) got several licks in with the rake, and Colwell suffered several lumps on the head and puncture wounds on his back and shoulder. The rake was shattered from the force of the attack.

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Maurice Castanedo, via DOC

The Colwell’s suspect the suspect was on drugs. He retrieved his shorts from a nearby swamp and took off. Authorities called out the K-9 and helicopter, and were able to locate him a few streets over. He now faces charges for Burglary, Battery and Assault. Burglary with a Battery is a PBL (punishable by life offense) in Florida. I found a similar name in the Florida prison rolls: Maurice Castanedo has been to prison a couple of times: getting out for a robbery about 2 years ago. (There is another Castaneda, but that individual looks quite different- he happens to be on the sex offender registry). The distinctive Texas tattoo on this neck makes me fairly confident

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“Castanedo” via rapsheets.org

this ‘Castaneda’ is the same as the Castanedo in the prison photos. The recent release date indicates he may be subject to being sentenced as a Prison Releasee Reoffender.

He may plead insanity, or try to use intoxication as a mitigating factor. Normally, voluntary intoxication is not a defense- but if it makes you so crazy as to eliminate intent, they might have a claim! Most likely, he’ll be back in prison for quite a while…

Lois Riess held without Bail in Fort Myers

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Lois Riess Lee County mug shot

Extradition complete, alleged killer-granny Lois Riess has arrived in Lee County, and at first appearance today, the judge determined she will be held without bail. Riess is currently facing second degree murder charges in the death of Pamela Hutchinson, who’s body was found a couple weeks ago on Fort Myers Beach. Riess allegedly killed her, stole her identity, her vehicle and cash, and used them to flee to Texas, where she was caught last week. Riess is also suspected in the death of her husband in Minnesota, though charges are still pending there.  LCSO even had her delivered to the main office so they could give her a perp walk: a rare ‘honor’ not seen since they picked up Mark Sievers.

While the current charges are for second degree murder, the State could take the case to a grand jury to indict for first degree murder, as the murder appears to be premeditated. If the charges are upped to first degree, the state could decide to seek the death penalty, in light of the aggravating factors that Mrs. Riess may have committed the offense for pecuniary gain and to aid her flight from the earlier murder she may have committed. There may be mitigating factors, such as mental health issues: Texas has indicated that she suffers dementia. Insanity could be a defense, if the mental health disorders were so severe she could not tell right from wrong, though the fact that she may have plotted a murder to abscond on a previous murder would vitiate her insanity claim. The case will be interesting from a legal standpoint.

Lee County calls ‘Dibs’ on Accused Gambling Grandma Killer

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Lois Riess, ‘Losing Streak Lois’

Lois Riess, who is accused of killing a woman who looked like her in Fort Myers as she fled from charges of murdering her husband in Minnesota, was arrested a few days ago in Texas. Minnesota authorities have indicated that they will wait for Florida to prosecute her while they are still building their murder case against her. There is a warrant for murder charges out of Lee County, while Minnesota initially only filed theft related charges, but it is expected that murder charges will be filed when the investigation is complete. It remains to be seen if Lee County will seek to indict on first degree murder charges, or leave it at second degree. She will face life in prison either way, but the State could seek the death penalty if they up it to first degree murder.

Accused Killer Grandma Lois Riess could be on her way to Florida, Soon

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Lois Riess

Lois Riess, who was arrested in Texas and facing murder charges in Fort Myers and her native Minnesota, had an extradition hearing today. She waived her right to fight extradition to either state: so whoever comes to get her first can bring her back. It is expected that Florida will collect her first: Lee County filed murder charges while the murder case from Minnesota was still under review, and she could potentially be facing first degree murder charges for the tourist she allegedly shot to steal hear identity on Fort Myers Beach.

Apparently, some authorities are calling her “Losing Streak Lois”, due to her gambling losses at casinos… but she might have been apprehended to quickly for that to stick. This silver fox was not sly enough to avoid capture. The Star Tribune has good details of the alert restaurant employees that spotted her and helped authorities capture her in Texas. Likely, the prosecutors in Lee County and in Minnesota will talk and decide who will prosecute her first, and it would not surprise me if she ends up headed to SW Florida.