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Former Casper gynecologist sentenced to decades in prison for sexually assaulting patients

Paul Harnetty, a former Casper gynecologist convicted of sexually assaulting two of his patients, was sentenced Friday to 20 to 30 years in prison.

As Judge Thomas Sullins read the verdict, Harnetty’s eyes blinked a half dozen times while he remained otherwise motionless, in keeping with his demeanor for nearly all of the 90-minute hearing.

Harnetty, who was convicted in January of sexually assaulting two of his patients, declined when given the opportunity to speak before the sentence was handed down.

“No, thank you,” he said.

A total of six female patients told a jury earlier this year that Harnetty touched them during physical examinations in ways that were unusual and made them feel uncomfortable. The women said that Harnetty’s exams were different from those they had experienced by other doctors. Some women said he touched their genitals without gloves while others said he rubbed them in ways that didn’t seem to be part of a medical exam. Prosecutors won convictions on two of eight counts.

Friday, one of Harnetty’s victims gave a statement. Speaking in a rapidfire manner, the woman said she spoke on behalf of numerous other women. The assault had cost her years of her life and his actions had plagued her with anxiety, she said.

“I trusted him with not only myself but my unborn children,” the woman said. “He abused that trust.”

The second victim had wanted to speak, but was unable to afford to travel from her new home out-of-state to the proceedings, prosecutor Mike Schafer said.

A nurse that had worked with Harnetty then spoke, saying the doctor had thousands of satisfied former patients.

“I respect Paul Harnetty not only as a person but a brilliant doctor,” Cheryl Cox said. “I am proud to have been his nurse.” She asked the judge for leniency.

Harnetty’s mother, Monique Harnetty, then stepped to the podium. She told the judge about Harnetty’s four children and asked him to allow Harnetty to join her and her grandchildren in Florida. The elder Harnetty said she thought her son was innocent.

“I strongly believe in my heart of hearts that Paul did not do these things,” she said.

Prosecutor Mike Schafer then spoke, describing the assaults in detail as he referred to testimony presented at trial. He told the judge about one woman who continued to see Harnetty because she was concerned her pregnancy was high risk. It wasn’t.

“Imagine ... the power that man had over her,” Schafer said, gesturing to Harnetty with a legal pad. “Women are in the most vulnerable position of their life when they walk into that examination room.”

Schafer then read from a letter composed by the victim who could not speak at the sentencing hearing. He read a dictionary definition that describes doctors as healers.

“That man did not heal. He destroyed,” the victim wrote.

Schafer then said Harnetty had a pattern of criminal behavior that was stopped by the reports of victims.

“This community should be very proud of these women coming forward,” Schafer said.

Schafer asked Sullins for two sentences of 12 to 14 years, to run one after the other. He asked for a concurrent probationary period for a felony steroid possession conviction.

Defense Attorney Don Fuller then spoke, saying Sullins was already familiar with the case. He read from a pre-sentencing report prepared by the office of probation and parole that stated Harnetty had a low risk of re-offending and a minimal criminal history.

“Everything suggests that there’s no criminal future (for Harnetty),” Fuller said.

The defense attorney then noted that of 12 charges brought against the doctor, four were dismissed and he was acquitted on another six. Fuller declined to offer a sentencing recommendation, instead asking Sullins for mercy.

“Be fair and we’ll live by your ruling, your honor,” he said.

Harnetty then was given the opportunity to speak, which he declined.

In sentencing Harnetty to two 10- to 15-year sentences, Sullins cited the seriousness of the offenses and the impact upon victims in the case. He also ordered Harnetty to pay a $5,000 fine and sentenced him to a concurrent probation term for the steroids conviction.

The judge declined a request for Harnetty to be allowed free on bond pending appeals in the case.

Reached by phone after the hearing, Fuller said he was unsurprised by the sentence.

“He’s not known as a light sentencer,” Fuller said, in reference to Sullins.

Fuller said he understood the sentences given the nature of the convictions, but said his client remained adamant that he was innocent. Fuller said attorneys would continue to appeal for Harnetty.

“The judge is gonna do what the judge is gonna do. And we’ll take it to the Supreme Court,” Fuller said.

Schafer could not be reached for comment following the hearing.


Alan Rogers, Star-Tribune 

Taven Bryan answers questions from kids during an appearance Friday afternoon at the Boys and Girls Club in Casper. Bryan, a 2014 graduate of Natrona County High School, was recently selected by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the first round of the NFL Draft. He is the the first Wyoming high school grad in history to be selected in the first round. 


Business
AP
Trump pledges to defend gun rights

DALLAS — Months after the horror of the Parkland school shootings in Florida, President Donald Trump stood before cheering members of the National Rifle Association on Friday and implored them to elect more Republicans to Congress to defend gun rights.

Trump claimed that Democrats want to “outlaw guns” and said if the nation takes that drastic step, it might as well ban all vans and trucks because they are the new weapons for “maniac terrorists.”

“We will never give up our freedom. We will live free and we will die free,” Trump said, as he sought to rally pro-gun voters for the 2018 congressional elections. “We’ve got to do great in ‘18.”

Activists energized by shootings at schools, churches and elsewhere are also focused on those elections.

In the aftermath of the February school shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, which left 17 dead and many more wounded, Trump had temporarily strayed from gun rights dogma.

During a televised gun meeting with lawmakers in late February, he wagged his finger at a Republican senator and scolded him for being “afraid of the NRA,” declaring that he would stand up to the group and finally get results in quelling gun violence. But he later backpedaled on that tough talk.

He was clearly back in the fold at the NRA’s annual convention, pledging that Americans’ Second Amendment right to bear arms will “never ever be under siege as long as I am your president.”

Trump briefly referenced the Parkland shootings in his speech, saying that he “mourned for the victims and their families” and noting that he signed a spending bill that included provisions to strengthen the federal background check system for gun purchases as well as add money to improve school safety.

He also repeated his strong support for “letting highly trained teachers carry concealed weapons.”

Trump’s speech in Dallas was his fourth consecutive appearance at the NRA’s annual convention. His gun comments were woven into a campaign-style speech that touched on the Russia probe, the 2016 campaign, his efforts in North Korea and Iran and his fight against illegal immigration.

In strikingly personal criticism of members of Congress, he decried what he said were terribly weak immigration laws, declaring, “We have laws that were written by people that truly could not love our country.”

While the president veered wildly off topic at times — speaking about entertainer Kanye West’s recent support and former Secretary of State John Kerry’s bicycle accident three years ago — he repeatedly returned to the message of the day: his support for the Second Amendment.

Trump said some political advisers had told him attending the NRA convention might be controversial, but, “You know what I said? ‘Bye, bye, gotta get on the plane.’”

Trump has long enjoyed strong backing from the NRA, which spent about $30 million in support of his presidential campaign. He was introduced by Vice President Mike Pence, who pointed to his own support for gun rights and accused the news media of failing to tell “the whole story” that “firearms in the hands of law-abiding citizens” make communities safer.

One of the Parkland student survivors, David Hogg, criticized Trump’s appearance in advance.

“It’s kind of hypocritical of him to go there after saying so many politicians bow to the NRA and are owned by them,” Hogg said. “It proves that his heart and his wallet are in the same place.”

Back in February, Trump had praised members of the gun lobby as “great patriots” but declared “that doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything. It doesn’t make sense that I have to wait until I’m 21 to get a handgun, but I can get this weapon at 18.” He was referring to the AR-15 the Parkland shooting suspect is accused of using.

Those words rattled some Republicans in Congress and sparked hope among gun-control advocates that, unlike after previous mass shootings, tougher regulations might be enacted.

But after expressing interest in increasing the minimum age to purchase an assault weapon to 21, Trump later declared there was “not much political support” for that. He then pushed off the issue of age restrictions by assigning it to a commission.

Gabrielle Giffords, the former Arizona congresswoman who was shot outside a grocery store during a constituent gathering in 2011, said Trump had “allowed his presidency to be hijacked by gun lobbyists and campaign dollars.” She said Trump had “ignored the pleas of young people demanding safer gun laws.”


Politics
AP
Trump chides Giuliani on Stormy story

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump suggested Friday that Rudy Giuliani, the aggressive new face of his legal team, needed to “get his facts straight” about the hush money paid to porn actress Stormy Daniels just before the 2016 election. Giuliani quickly came up with a new version.

Trump chided Giuliani even as he insisted that “we’re not changing any stories” about the $130,000 settlement, which was paid to Daniels to keep her quiet about her allegations of an affair with Trump. Hours later, Giuliani backed away from his previous suggestion that the Oct. 27 settlement had been made because Trump was in the stretch run of his campaign.

“The payment was made to resolve a personal and false allegation in order to protect the president’s family,” Giuliani said in a statement released Friday. “It would have been done in any event, whether he was a candidate or not.”

A day earlier, Giuliani had said on Fox News: “Imagine if that came out on October 15, 2016, in the middle of the last debate with Hillary Clinton.”

Trump said Friday that Giuliani was “a great guy but he just started a day ago” and the former mayor of New York City was still “learning the subject matter.” Giuliani revealed this week that Trump knew about the payment to Daniels made by his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, and the president paid Cohen back.

Giuliani insisted Trump didn’t know the specifics of Cohen’s arrangement with Daniels until recently, telling “Fox & Friends” on Thursday that the president didn’t know all the details until “maybe 10 days ago.” Giuliani told The New York Times that Trump had repaid Cohen $35,000 a month “out of his personal family account” after the campaign was over. He said Cohen received $460,000 or $470,000 in all for expenses related to Trump.

Giuliani’s suggestion that the president knew anything about the payments — even as a monthly retainer — appeared to contradict Trump, who has repeatedly denied the affair and told reporters on Air Force One last month that he hadn’t known about a settlement with Daniels.

Trump’s irritation was plain Friday when reporters reminded him of his previous denial. He blasted the media for focusing on “crap” stories like the Daniels matter and the special counsel’s probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

The president claimed that “virtually everything” reported about the payments — which are the subject of swirling legal action and frenzied cable newsbreaks — has been wrong. But he declined to elaborate.

It was Trump’s own team’s missteps that yielded another day of headlines about Daniels. In his statement, Giuliani said his previous “references to timing were not describing my understanding of the president’s knowledge, but instead, my understanding of these matters.” He didn’t elaborate on that either.

Giuliani’s statement correcting himself came just a day after he said, “You won’t see daylight between me and the president.”

The about-face came amid concern in the White House that Giuliani’s comments could leave the president legally vulnerable.

While Giuliani repeated his belief that the payment did not constitute a campaign finance violation, legal experts have said the new information raises questions, including whether the money represented repayment of an undisclosed loan or could be seen as reimbursement for a campaign expenditure. Either could be legally problematic.

The episode also revived worries in Trump’s inner circle about Giuliani, who enjoys the media limelight and has a tendency to go off script. He had been widely expected to join Trump’s administration but was passed over for secretary of state, the position he badly wanted.

His whirlwind press tour this week bewildered West Wing aides, who were cut out of the decision-making process when Giuliani first revealed that Trump — who often boasts about signing his own checks — had some knowledge about the payment to Daniels.

No debt to Cohen was listed on Trump’s personal financial disclosure form, which was certified on June 16, 2017. Asked if Trump had filed a fraudulent form, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday: “I don’t know.”

Daniels, whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford, is seeking to be released from a non-disclosure deal she signed in the days before the 2016 election to keep her from talking about a 2006 sexual encounter she said she had with Trump. She has also filed defamation suits against Cohen and Trump.

Her attorney, Michael Avenatti, tweeted Friday that “Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Trump are making it up as they go along.” He added: “How stupid do they think all of us are?”

Trump is facing mounting legal threats from the Cohen-Daniels situation and the special counsel’s investigation of possible Russian coordination with the Trump presidential campaign.

Cohen is facing a criminal investigation in New York, and FBI agents raided his home and office several weeks ago seeking records about the Daniels nondisclosure agreement. Giuliani has warned Trump that he fears Cohen, the president’s longtime personal attorney, will “flip,” bending in the face of a potential prison sentence, and he has urged Trump to cut off communications with him, according to a person close to Giuliani.


Energy
Environmentalists beat the drum for coal bonding rules under review by Wyoming regulators

Environmental advocates petitioned state regulators to end self-bonding in Wyoming this week, a bid that follows pushback from Wyoming’s coal industry on recently proposed rule changes.

Self-bonding allows companies to avoid the expense of traditional insurance to cover mine cleanup costs in favor of regulatory review of their financial statements. It’s been an option in Wyoming for three decades, when financial assurance rules were last significantly changed.

However, financial markets have evolved over the years and state regulators are going through the process of amending their rules to catch up. Industry critiques have stalled the movement of proposed changes, but regulators say they are continuing to work behind closed doors.

***

The practice of self-bonding came under fire from environmentalists in recent years given the weakness of the coal market and a slate of bankruptcies at Wyoming’s largest coal firms. Federal regulators released a policy advisory to states that control their coal regulations, like Wyoming, to avoid self-bonding given the increased risk of companies stumbling into insolvency. More recently, the Government Accountability Office released a report discouraging the practice.

Amid the rising tide of federal support, environmental groups are urging the state to act via a formal rule-making process.

“We have reached a point of energy transformation in our country, with coal usage on the decline and increasing usage of natural gas and renewable energy,” Stacy Page, a member of the Powder River Basin Resource Council and former regulator, said in a statement. “The state has a responsibility to ensure reclamation happens and not at the expense of adjacent landowners or taxpayers.”

***

During the controversy over self-bonding, Wyoming regulators were steadfast in their desire to keep the practice in their portfolio. The Department of Environmental Quality released an early draft of financial assurance rules late last year that allowed for self-bonding, but would also make it impossible for coal companies like Peabody Energy and Arch Coal to self-bond their Wyoming assets in the current climate.

Industry argued that this new bar to qualify for self-bonds was absurdly high, particularly taking issue with a requirement for strong credit ratings from financial firms in order to qualify.

The claim appears to have resonated. The Land Quality Advisory Board, which includes board member Phil Dinsmoor from Peabody Energy, remanded the proposed rules to the department for further review after a March hearing in Gillette.

Any environmental rule changes proposed by the Department of Environmental Quality in Wyoming must move through citizen advisory boards before they come before for the Environmental Quality Council, another citizen board with representatives from industry, landowners and environmental advocates.

It is unclear when the proposed rules will make it back before the board and what changes, if any, will be made to the proposals. Public comment on the issue has closed.

***

In light of the uncertainty over the proposed rule changes, the Powder River Basin Resource Council, a Sheridan-based citizens’ group, petitioned for formal rule-making Tuesday with the Department of Environmental Quality. The group asked state regulators to end self-bonding altogether.

Jill Morrison, an organizer for the council, said the filing was meant to bolster the Department of Environmental Quality’s proposed rules, which the group approves of, and to again lay out the risks associated with self-bonding.

Department spokesman Keith Guille said his agency will respond to the Powder River Basin Resource Council’s unsolicited petition. But, the department is continuing with its current rule-making process, which will come back before the Land Quality Advisory Board at some point, he said.

***

Though self-bonding continues in Wyoming, the large sums of unsecured reclamation obligations at large coal mines — which troubled environmental groups during the downturn — have been replaced.

Coal companies like Peabody and Arch replaced their self-bonds as part of their emergence from bankruptcy. One of the other large coal firms in the Powder River Basin, Cloud Peak Energy, replaced its self-bonds voluntarily.

Peabody’s leadership has stated its desire to potentially use self-bonds in the future. Western Fuels, an electricity cooperative that operates the Dry Fork mine, said the proposed rule changes don’t account for businesses like theirs where insolvency is extremely unlikely.

The companies, along with the Wyoming Mining Association, criticized the department’s proposed rules as unnecessarily prohibitive.

“We understand that there are some changes on the way for self-bonding rules,” said Travis Deti, executive director of the Wyoming Mining Association, in a March interview. “As times change and economic conditions change, we simply believe operators should have (a self-bonding) option.”