Overland Park

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A Kelsey Smith Act amendment has been introduced on human trafficking legislation in the U.S. Senate.

U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., today introduced it as an amendment to the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act.

The bill provides law enforcement with tools to crack down on human trafficking, and help victims restore their lives, according to a statement from Sen. Roberts.

It strengthens law enforcement’s ability to lawfully and quickly access cell phone location information, or ”pings,” when a person is abducted and their life is threatened, according to Sen. Roberts’ office.

The amendment is named for Kelsey Smith, who was abducted in 2007 in Overland Park, Kan., and murdered. The abduction was filmed on a store security camera. Four days after her disappearance, authorities located her body when her wireless provider released the “ping” or call location information from her cell phone. The amendment is designed for faster release of this information in emergencies.

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The co-owner of an Overland Park hotel was sentenced Tuesday to 21 months in federal prison for employing undocumented workers, who were paid less than other employees, U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom said.

She also agreed to forfeit her interest in two hotels and funds derived from the crime, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.

Rhonda R. Bridge, 42, and her husband, Munir Ahmad Chaudary, 53, both of Overland Park, Kan., pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kan., to one count of conspiracy to harbor undocumented aliens for personal gain.

In their pleas, they admitted employing undocumented workers at two hotels they owned: A Clarion Hotel at 7000 W. 108th in Overland Park, and a Clarion Hotel at 11828 NW Plaza Circle in Kansas City, Mo. Chaudary and Bridge lowered their hotels’ operating costs and put themselves at a competitive advantage by not paying Social Security, Workers Compensation and unemployment insurance for the undocumented workers, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.

According to court records, the investigation began in December 2011 when the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Kansas Department of Revenue received information that the owners of the hotels were employing foreign nationals who not lawfully present in the United States.

In June 2012, an undercover agent posing as an undocumented worker got a job at the Overland Park Hotel. He was hired even though he told his employers he was not authorized to work in the United States.

In 2011 and 2012 the defendants filed false and fraudulent Quarterly Wage Reports and Unemployment Tax Returns with the Kansas Department of Labor in which they under-reported the number of employees at the Overland Park hotel, the amount of total wages paid and the amount of unemployment taxes due.

Bridge is the third person to be sentenced in the case. Judith Vanzant, a hotel manager, and Syed Naqvi, a Pakistani native who worked as a desk clerk, already were sentenced. Co-defendant Munir Ahmad Chaudary is awaiting sentencing.

Grissom commended Homeland Security Investigations, the Kansas Department of Revenue, the Overland Park Police Department, the U.S. Department of Labor and Assistant U.S. Attorney Brent Anderson for their work on the case.

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Kansas City’s Jewish community has once again been touched by tragedy – this time in the heart of Israel. Two of the victims of today’s Jerusalem synagogue attack had close ties with local Jewish day school Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy, based in Overland Park, Kan.

Rabbis Kalman Levine and Mosheh Twersky were among four religious men brutally gunned down in a Jerusalem synagogue during morning prayers. In addition, an Israeli Druze police officer died following the attack.

Rabbi Levine, who grew up in Kansas City, Mo., was a member of the first graduating class in 1976 of Kansas City’s only Jewish day school, Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy. Rabbi Twersky’s nephew, Meshulam Twersky, is currently a lower school teacher at HBHA.
“We are deeply saddened by the tragic deaths of four members of the Jewish community in Jerusalem today,” said Howard M Haas, HBHA’s head of school, during an afternoon news conference.

“We extended our deepest sympathies to the families and friends of both these men, including the lifelong friends that Rabbi Levine made during his time at HBHA.”

Earlier in the day, HBHA teachers spoke with students about the Jerusalem attack that took the men’s lives. Rabbi Meshulam Twersky has been at HBHA for three years and is a beloved teacher.

“Each of his students wrote him letters of condolence,” Haas said. “In addition, HBHA staff and faculty came together to hold a memorial service for both Rabbis Levine and Twersky.”

Rabbi Daniel Rockoff, president of the Kansas City Rabbinical Association and an HBHA teacher and close colleague of Rabbi Meshulam Twersky, spoke on behalf of the local Jewish community.

“Earlier today I had the opportunity to talk with Rabbi Twersky about the death of his uncle. Rabbi Levine and his uncle were part of a close-knit community and knew each other well,” Rabbi Rockoff said. “Both of these men personified Jewish ideals and values and were deeply committed to their families. They will be deeply missed by their spouses, children and grandchildren.”
- Story from Jane Blumenthal Martin, HBHA

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