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BRETT FRENCH, Billings Gazette 

Jackson Marvell of Provo, Utah, free climbs an ice wall along Aldrich Creek in Park County to hook up the climbing rope for fellow climbers last February. The Cody Ice Festival will not take place this year.

Wonder Bar in downtown Casper will close

The Wonder Bar, a downtown Casper institution for decades, is closing, its management company announced Friday afternoon.

In a brief statement, the C85 Group, which operates the Wonder Bar, said that Sunday will be the bar’s last day of business.

The statement indicated the restaurant’s 25 employees may have opportunities to transfer to other locations in the group of food and beverage establishments owned by C85.

Historic photos from the early days of the Wonder Bar

“The management recognizes the dedication of their staff,” it states, “and will work to place them at positions within our community.”

A C85 employee did not immediately respond to a voicemail message requesting further information about plans for the building.

Earlier in the day, two employees told the Star-Tribune the restaurant and bar will close but asked not to be identified, deferring on-record comment to the ownership group.

The Wonder Bar, which originally opened in 1934, was bought by the Cercy family in the fall of 2016. After it was gutted, remodeled and expanded, it reopened in August 2017, just before the total solar eclipse that drew large crowds to Casper.

Alan Rogers, Star-Tribune 

The bar area of the Wonder Bar sits empty on Friday in downtown Casper. The business will close Sunday.

Tony Cercy, who bought the Wonder Bar with his son, Cole, was arrested a month before the venue’s reopening and charged with performing oral sex on an unconscious 20-year-old woman. In November, he was convicted of third-degree sexual assault after a first trial resulted in a hung jury on the charge and an acquittal on two other counts. He is scheduled to be sentenced later this month.

Tony Cercy relinquished ownership of the liquor license for the Wonder Bar in February 2018, according to copies of the application and City Council meeting minutes.

Friday’s statement from C85 gave no reason for the closure. However, the business has experienced a noticeable decline in customers. Shortly after noon Friday, a reporter saw only two people in the downstairs dining area.

Housed in a 105-year-old building near the corner of Center Street and Midwest Avenue, the Wonder Bar for decades served as a popular watering hole for the city. It was known for attracting famous guests, including John Wayne, Ernest Hemingway and Dizzy Gillespie. According to local legend, patrons in the early years could ride into the bar on horseback to order drinks.

The Wonder Bar has gone through about 10 owners over the years. Pat Sweeney, now a state lawmaker, sold the business to the Cercys.

The family made major changes to the building. They opened a restaurant on the ground floor, moved the bar to the north side of the building and opened a new sports bar upstairs. The style and decor changed dramatically in the process.

The Cercy family purchased several other businesses in and around downtown about that time, including Galles Liquor, the Pump Room and a space that housed an Italian restaurant, which they turned into the Branding Iron.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to change attribution of the press release announcing the Wonder Bar's closure. The press release was unclear and a C85 employee later contacted to the Star-Tribune to offer clarification.

Six former Black 14 players return to Wyoming campus for rare appearance

LARAMIE — Fourteen black football players at the University of Wyoming had their 1969 season cut short — and the course of their lives changed — when head coach Lloyd Eaton made the controversial decision to kick them off the team.

That’s the part of the story that the members of what’s more commonly known as the Black 14 want people to remember the most. Half a century later, they’re still trying to set the record straight.

It’s part of the reason the largest known contingent of the Black 14 ever assembled on campus since the incident returned to the university this week to participate in UW’s Black History Month and Martin Luther King Jr. Days of Dialogue events. Tony Gibson, Ivie Moore, Guillermo Hysaw, John Griffin, Tony McGee and Mel Hamilton returned at the invitation of the school’s Black Student Alliance and university president Laurie Nichols.

The school’s invitation was an ironic twist considering its highest-ranked officials backed Eaton’s decision to dismiss the players after wanting to wear black armbands against BYU in protest of the Mormon church’s now-extinct policy forbidding black men in the priesthood in addition to racist treatment they say they received playing at BYU the year before.

The six former players, some of them wearing black T-shirts with all 14 members listed on the back to commemorate the 50th anniversary, gathered at the university’s law school Friday afternoon to dispel myths about what exactly happened five decades ago. A seventh, Lionel Grimes, planned to attend but a recent illness prevented him from making it to campus.

“You don’t want any BS,” said Griffin, a former receiver. “You want the truth. That’s what we’re talking about.”

The question most of them still get is why they boycotted the BYU game and then quit, neither of which, they all say, actually happened. With Wyoming off to a 4-0 start that vaulted them as high as No. 12 in the national rankings, all 14 players were prepared to play against the Cougars.

But they also wanted to wear the black armbands in protest of the Mormon Church’s policy as well as the treatment they received at BYU the year before, which McGee said included name calling, cheap shots and BYU turning on the sprinklers after the game to get the black players off the field.

“I remember the last game I played there, I went to the referee and told him what was happening,” McGee said. “He told me to shut up and play football. Our coaches never acknowledged we were being treated that way, and their coaches never acknowledged it.”

After meeting among themselves as to how they might want to go about bringing awareness to BYU’s actions both on and off the field, all 14 players decided on the armbands and went to Eaton seeking permission to wear them.

But the group still vividly remembers Eaton stopping the entire group before any of them could ask the question and telling them they were no longer members of the football team.

“Then he told us to get into the stands at the fieldhouse, and he just began berating us,” said McGee, a defensive end who won a Super Bowl with the Washington Redskins in 1983. “Every time someone wanted to say something, he screamed at them and told them to shut up.”

Said Gibson, “We had decided before in a meeting that if he did not agree with what we wanted to do, we were just going to play the game. If he had said, ‘No way you’re wearing those arm bands,’ that’s fine.”

In initial media interviews following his decision, Eaton, who died in 2007 at the age of 88, insinuated it wasn’t one motivated by race. His reasoning was a violation of a team policy that forbid protests — one that none of the six former players on campus Friday ever recalled Eaton putting in writing or discussing before the incident.

“We hear Coach on an interview saying they refused to play in the game because they couldn’t wear the black armbands,” Hysaw said. “What? Really? What guys were those? It wasn’t us. We were given no choice.”

Said McGee, “We were kicked off for a protest that never happened. We were punished for something that never happened. We were punished for a rule we knew nothing about.”

All but four of the 14 never played college football again while many of them made it a point to stay away from the university. Moore, a defensive back, had returned to campus just once since the incident while Gibson, Hyshaw and McGee had never been back before this week.

Gibson and Hyshaw both said they swore they’d never come back, but time has a way of healing. They’ll never get an answer from Eaton himself as to why he took such swift action before hearing them out, but an invitation to be part of the Days of Dialogue conversation at a place where they used to be muted was an opportunity that couldn’t be passed up.

“I need closure,” Hyshaw said. “I still don’t have it, but it’s close.”

AP sources: Prosecutors probing Enquirer after Bezos report

NEW YORK — The National Enquirer's alleged attempt to blackmail Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos with intimate photos could get the tabloid's parent company and top editors in deep legal trouble and reopen them to prosecution for paying hush money to a Playboy model who claimed she had an affair with Donald Trump.

Federal prosecutors are looking at whether the Enquirer's feud with Bezos violated a cooperation and non-prosecution agreement that recently spared the gossip sheet from charges in the hush-money case, two people familiar with the matter told The Associated Press on Friday.

The clash between the world's richest man and America's most aggressive supermarket tabloid spilled into public view late Thursday when Bezos accused it of threatening to print photos of him and the woman with whom he was having an extramarital affair.

He said the Enquirer made two demands: Stop investigating how the publication recently obtained private messages that Bezos and his girlfriend had exchanged. And publicly declare that the Enquirer's coverage of Bezos was not politically motivated.

Enquirer owner American Media Inc. said Friday that its board of directors ordered a prompt and thorough investigation and will take "whatever appropriate action is necessary." Earlier in the day, the company said it "acted lawfully" while reporting the story and engaged in "good-faith negotiations" with Bezos.

In recent months, the Trump-friendly tabloid acknowledged secretly assisting Trump's White House campaign by paying $150,000 to Playboy centerfold Karen McDougal for the rights to her story about an alleged affair with Trump. The company then buried the story until after the 2016 election.

Trump's longtime personal attorney and fixer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty last year to charges that included helping to broker that transaction.

Federal prosecutors considered the payment an illegal corporate contribution to Trump's campaign. In September, though, AMI reached an agreement with federal authorities that spared it from prosecution.

It promised in the agreement not to break any laws. The deal also required the continuing cooperation of top AMI executives, including CEO David Pecker and Enquirer editor Dylan Howard.

Now, federal prosecutors in New York are looking at whether AMI violated those terms, the people familiar with the matter said. They were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke to AP on condition of anonymity.

A violation of the agreement could lead to criminal charges over the McDougal payments. And the resulting court proceedings could lay bare details of the gossip sheet's cozy relationship with the president.

The Enquirer and top executives could also be subject to state and federal extortion and coercion charges and prosecution under New York City's revenge porn law, passed last year, which bans even the threat of sharing intimate photographs, legal experts said.

The U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan declined to comment.

Carrie Goldberg, a Brooklyn lawyer representing revenge-porn and sex-crime victims, said Bezos' account laid out a clear case of criminal coercion.

The Enquirer has "weaponized journalism and made it into this bartering, brokering thing where it's like, 'If I can blackmail you with the threat — I'll expose this unless you've got something better,'" Goldberg said.

It is a federal crime to threaten to injure someone's reputation in exchange for money or a "thing of value," though federal courts haven't made it clear whether a public statement, like the one demanded by AMI, could be considered something of value. Bezos said the Enquirer did not demand money.

Former New York federal prosecutor Jennifer Rodgers said prosecutors are probably weighing the pros and cons of keeping the cooperation agreement in place.

The agreement secures Pecker's testimony in any future cases stemming from the hush-money payments, while winning a criminal case over the Bezos matter would be far from clear-cut, Rodgers said. The company could say it was relying on the advice of its counsel or even cite First Amendment protections, she said.

The Bezos camp has suggested the Enquirer's coverage of his affair was driven by dirty politics. Trump himself has criticized Bezos on Twitter over his ownership of The Washington Post and Amazon.

Bezos' extramarital affair became public when the Enquirer ran a Jan. 9 story about him and Lauren Sanchez, a former TV anchor who is also married. Bezos then hired private investigators to find out how the tabloid got texts and photos the two exchanged.

Bezos detailed his blackmail allegations in an extraordinary blog post. The intimate photos at issue include a "below the belt selfie" of Bezos and several revealing photos of Sanchez, according to emails Bezos released of his exchanges with AMI.

"Of course I don't want personal photos published, but I also won't participate in their well-known practice of blackmail, political favors, political attacks, and corruption," Bezos said in explaining his decision to go public. "I prefer to stand up, roll this log over, and see what crawls out."

Group accuses Wyoming lawmaker of comparing homosexuality to bestiality, pedophilia in meeting with LGBTQ youth

The civil rights group Wyoming Equality accused Wyoming Sen. Lynn Hutchings of comparing homosexuality to bestiality and pedophilia in a meeting last week with LGBTQ youth, according to an informal complaint made public by the organization.

The advocacy group posted the complaint Friday afternoon on its website. It also posted a link to the complaint on its Facebook page.

“It is our understanding that while the state legislature’s anti-harassment policy mentions no protected classes, including sexual orientation and gender identity, Senator Hutchings’ behavior was unacceptable and inexcusable,” the complaint reads. “Fourteen- and fifteen-year old high school students wishing to engage with the legislative process should not have been confronted with the comments made by Senator Hutchings.”

Hutchings did not respond to email and phone requests seeking comment Friday.

On Feb. 1, the Cheyenne-based organization hosted Gay-Straight Alliance Civics Day at the Capitol, giving members of LGBTQ activist clubs across the state an opportunity to “learn about state government and civic engagement,” according to a Wyoming Equality announcement Friday. At this year’s event, Hutchings met with 10 members of the Cheyenne Central High School Gay Straight Alliance, who had requested to speak to her about House Bill 230, known as the “Enhancing Quality Employment Law,” according to Wyoming Equality.

The bill, which died in the House on Monday night, would have granted workplace protections to members of the LGBTQ community.

The students wanted Hutchings, their district representative, to support the bill, according to the complaint letter.

According to the complaint, she responded by saying: “If my sexual orientation was to have sex with all of the men in there and I had sex with all of the women in there and then they brought their children and I had sex with all of them and then brought their dogs in and I had sex with them, should I be protected for my sexual orientation?”

Hutchings’ behavior was “unacceptable and inexcusable,” the complaint says. The conversation was not recorded, according to Wyoming Equality spokesperson Shayna Lonoaea-Alexander.

Cheyenne Mayor Marian Orr tweeted Friday night, "Shame on you, Sen Hutchings. We deserve better. Our youth deserve better. Bestiality is equivalent to being gay? Really?"

After Hutchings allegedly made the comments, she rebuffed the students’ attempts to clarify the meaning of the bill, the complaint alleges. Hutchings “motioned to fist bump the students and embraced one of them” after the discussion, the letter says.

Some of the members of the club identify as LGBTQ, according to Wyoming Equality. All other discussions with legislators that day were “civil and respectful no matter where the legislators stood on bills and issues,” the complaint states.

The letter was addressed to Senate President Drew Perkins, R-Casper, and Sens. Dan Dockstader, R-Afton, and Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie. Dockstader said in an email late Friday that he had not "seen the formal complaint, (but) will take a look at this when back in Cheyenne on Monday." Neither Perkins nor Rothfuss responded to messages seeking comment Friday.

Lonoaea-Alexander said Saturday that Perkins had told the group early in the week he was planning to meet with Hutchings to discuss the Feb. 1 meeting and Wyoming Equality's complaint. The group has not heard back from Senate leadership as of Saturday, Lonoaea-Alexander said.

The group had been hoping to wait for that response before publishing a public statement about the meeting with Hutchings, Lonoaea-Alexander said. However, a TV news report midweek on the meeting led to the group putting out a press release Friday. The announcement said Hutchings was aware of the complaint as of Friday.

“This incident is not unique,” the announcement says. “We hear stories like this across Wyoming all time. The difference is this happened at the state legislature where every Wyomingite should be welcomed and given the respect and dignity we all deserve.”

Hutchings has made comments critical of homosexuality before. When the Legislature debated domestic partnership legislation in 2013, Hutchings said being gay was harmful to the mind, spirit and body and noted the number of cases of AIDS.

In December, lawmakers rolled back anti-discrimination protections governing the Legislature months after instituting rules to punish the use of discriminatory language against members of the LGBTQ community. The rules affected legislator conduct.

Wyoming Equality was also disappointed by HB230 not receiving a vote Monday.

"We’ve been working on nondiscrimination for a long time now," Lonoaea-Alexander said. "And we’re still committed to moving forward. If anything, this fires us up to keep on going, knowing that we can’t always rely on our legislators to do the right thing but we can rely on the community for support and to do the right thing."

Rep. Lynn Hutchings