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Archive for June, 2021

‘Tell Your Cousin Goodbye:’ Mom’s Burnt Remains Found On Road Hours After She Got In Mysterious Black Car

Investigators are looking for leads after the naked body of a young Atlanta mother was found burning under a bridge on a rural roadside late last week.

Brittany Wicklein’s scorched remains were recovered by investigators on the side of South Fulton roadway on Friday hours after she was seen getting into an unidentified black car, according to a police report obtained by Oxygen.com. She was 31.

On June 18, local firefighters responded to a grass fire on the corner of Jones Road by Georgia State Route ecco shoes 42 around 4 a.m. After extinguishing the blaze, Wicklein’s body was located with multiple gunshot wounds.

“She was shot three times,” Gary Leftwich, a spokesperson for the City of South Fulton, told Oxygen.com. “They could tell the body was female and there were no clothes on the body. The body had been burned but was definitely identifiable.”

Wicklein was last seen by an acquaintance in the area of Simpson Plaza around the 700 block of Joseph E. Boone Boulevard in Atlanta around 1 a.m., police said.

A witness told authorities he’d been walking home from a store with Wicklein when the black vehicle stopped near them. After its occupants yelled at her, Wicklein reportedly got into the car.

“Then the car sped off,” Leftwich added.

CCTV recordings show that Wicklein left in the car in question, investigators said.

Wicklein’s friend didn’t report her missing for several hours afterward. Before contacting police, he said he rang Wicklein’s cell phone and that a young-sounding male answered, according to the police report. The man then accused Wicklein of being involved in a shooting that had left bullet holes in his mother’s house, he said.

“Why did y’all tell that bi—h not to f—k with me,” she said the caller told her, according to the police report. “Tell your cousin goodbye it’s your last time talking to her.”

The individual on the phone then demanded $100,000 before terminating the call, the friend said, according to the police report. Wicklein’s remains were found the next day.

“Approximately 12 hours after police were contacted and approximately 27 hours after she was said to have entered the black vehicle, Ms. Wicklein’s body was found in the City of South Fulton,” Atlanta police said in a statement sent to Oxygen.com.

Officials said they’d discovered Wicklein’s body on Monday. A preliminary autopsy hey dude shoes hasn’t yet been completed, according to the Fulton County Medical Examiner’s Office. It’s unclear where Wicklein died and no arrests have been made.

“This is a tragic event that you don’t want to see happen,” Leftwich said. “This was a young mother who was out walking with a friend from a store and suddenly her life changed — and a short while later ended. Our thoughts go out to the family, especially her child. This is just one of those cases you never want to be involved in.”

Wicklein, who leaves behind two children, was her family’s “sole breadwinner,” according to a GoFundMe page set up after her death.

“She passed away as she was a protector and hero of her kids,” the page reads.

The campaign has already raised more than $16,000 as of Monday.

Former high school classmates of Wicklein said they were stunned to learn of her death.

“You never expect someone you went to school with to die so prematurely,” Alex Burton told WFIE. “But, here we are. And you know, the unfortunate reality is this wasn’t the first person that we went to school with that has passed on, but it never gets easier hearing that someone who you have so many memories with no longer living.”

At the time of her death, Wicklein was wanted on a trio of aggravated battery charges stemming from a June 2020 incident in Southern View, Illinois, according to separate court filings. The Atlanta Police Department declined to release additional information regarding the ongoing investigation on Monday.

D.C. restaurateur Ari Gejdenson charged with reckless endangerment to a child in Connecticut incident

Ari Gejdenson, the District of Columbia chef and entrepreneur who dissolved his restaurant group last year amid the pandemic, was charged Friday in a Connecticut state court with risk of injury to a child and reckless endangerment following an incident in which police say Gejdenson tried to harm himself and an unidentified child on the railroad tracks about 15 miles east of New Haven.

Police have released few details of the incident that took place on June 11 near the Guilford train station, where the crew on an Amtrak train apparently spotted Gejdenson and the child on the tracks and called authorities. In its report the following day, the Guilford Police Department said hey dude shoes Gejdenson was “attempting [to] harm himself and the child on the tracks and the nearby waterway.”

Gejdenson and the child apparently tried to flee the scene when officers arrived but were soon apprehended in a nearby marsh, police said. Neither Gejdenson nor the child was injured. Traffic on the Amtrak line was halted for about 50 minutes during the incident. Both adult and child were taken to a hospital for evaluation.

Gejdenson was supposed to be arraigned on June 14 but reportedly spent several days in a hospital. He was arraigned on Friday in a New Haven courthouse where he was charged with risk of injury to a child, first-degree reckless endangerment, resisting arrest, first-degree criminal trespass and attempt to commit assault in the first degree, according to court records. Gejdenson posted a $250,000 bond and was freed on house arrest, with an electronic monitoring bracelet.

The restaurateur is the son of Sam Gejdenson, a former Democratic congressman from Connecticut who spent 20 years in the U.S. House of Representatives. The elder Gejdenson still maintains a home in the New Haven area, according to public records.

“I’m not making any statements,” said Sam Gejdenson, when contacted earlier this month over the incident. “It’s a family issue.”

No one else in the Gejdenson family could be reached for comment. Ari Gejdenson’s defense attorney, William Dow, did not return a phone call for comment.

No one with the police, the prosecutor’s office or the family have released information about what might have led to the incident on the railroad tracks, though court and public documents show that Ari Gejdenson and his wife and business partner, Stacy, may have been facing more problems than the ones that surfaced in a 2018 investigation by The Washington Post. Three years ago, numerous women who worked for the couple’s Mindful Restaurant Group alleged that a former manager had sexually harassed them for years, allegations that the women said often fell on deaf ears with the owners.

In 2019, the state of Maryland filed a tax lien against the couple for $70,355. What’s more, lenders have filed several uniform commercial code (UCC) liens against one or both of the Gejdensons and their business. The liens are common and do not, in and of themselves, ecco shoes indicate any financial trouble. They’re tools used to protect a lending institution’s assets should a borrower default on a loan, but the liens could make it difficult for the borrowers to secure further loans, financial experts say.

In October, the Gejdensons were named as defendants in a lawsuit filed by the landlord of their former Capitol Hill restaurant, Acqua Al 2. In the complaint, GB Biegalski Property claims the Gejdensons defaulted on a 10-year lease that began on Jan. 1, 2019. GB Biegalski also alleges the couple misled the company about their intentions to reopen Acqua Al 2 in July, after an early pandemic shutdown, and then spent several weeks removing property that allegedly belonged to the landlord. Once the Gejdensons allegedly removed the property, the landlord claims they permanently closed the restaurant and sought to terminate the lease.

The landlord is seeking $191,551 in unpaid rent and hundreds of thousands in damages to the property.

The Gejdensons “devastated and damaged the premises when they tore through it and ripped up every conceivable piece of property,” the complaint alleges. “They made drastic changes that were not minor, low-cost cosmetic changes. These changes decimated the premises.”

Among the exhibits attached to the lawsuit is a guaranty that Ari Gejdenson signed. It makes him personally responsible for the lease’s obligations. Sam Gejdenson is also named as a guarantor.

In their response to the lawsuit, the Gejdensons denied all the allegations and requested the judge dismiss the case. A mediation session between the parties is scheduled for Sept. 30.

Less than a month before GB Biegalski filed the complaint, Ari Gejdenson told Washington City Paper that he was dissolving his Mindful Restaurant brooks shoes Group and selling the surviving restaurants to loyal employees. Gejdenson told the paper that he would remain a silent partner and investor.

“It’s not realistic to have a restaurant group with a high level of overhead to do sales that have small margins,” Gejdenson told City Paper’s Laura Hayes.

The attorney for GB Biegalski did not return a phone and emails for comment about the dissolution of the Mindful Restaurant Group and how it could effect the lawsuit. An attorney for the Gejdensons declined to comment.

Allison Mack sentencing: What to expect as ‘Smallville’ actress faces judge in NXIVM case

Actor Allison Mack, known for her role in the TV series 'Smallville', exits with her lawyer following a hearing on charges of sex trafficking in relation to the Albany-based organization Nxivm at United States Federal Courthouse in Brooklyn, New York, U.S., May 4, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
Allison Mack, known for Smallville, will be sentenced June 30 for her role in the cult NXIVM. 

Allison Mack, who starred in TV’s Smallville for a decade, is set to be sentenced Wednesday for her role in the NXIVM sex cult.

Mack, who has been out on $5 million bail and under house arrest, will appear in person in federal court in Brooklyn at 11 a.m. ET in front of Judge Garaufis.

Mack, 38, pleaded guilty in April 2019 to racketeering and racketeering conspiracy related to skechers outlet her high-level role in Keith Raniere’s controversial, cult-like self-help group NXIVM, which claimed to provide inspirational executive coaching. Prosecutors accused her of recruiting sex slaves for Raniere via its subgroup, DOS (Dominus Obsequious Sororium), described as an all-female secret society of “masters” and “slaves” in which women were forced to be sexually subservient to Raniere.

As directed by Raniere, Mack and other high-ranking DOS masters, recruits were made to engage in sex acts with Raniere, be photographed nude, perform labor and follow an extreme diet. They were also branded like cattle with a symbol that they later learned represented Raniere’s initials — an idea Mack came up with.

According to the prosecution’s sentencing memo, Mack — who initially pleaded not guilty but flipped — “provided substantial assistance to the government,” so they are seeking a sentence “below” the standard range of 168 to 210 months (14 to 17.5 years).

Prosecutors stated that Mack provided details regarding crimes committed by Raniere and other top DOS masters. She also turned over relevant emails, documents and recordings to the government, including one recording that “served as crucial evidence” in Raniere’s trial. Raniere is serving life in prison on multiple crimes, including sex trafficking, extortion, sexual content featuring children and forced labor for running the cult.

Mack’s attorneys are requesting that she spend no time in prison as she’s already “on a promising path of rehabilitation.” They say in the three years in which she’s been under court supervision, she’s “turned completely around from depravity and trauma to peace, acceptance and remorse.” She reunited with her supportive family, is undergoing therapy and is focused on bettering her education (she earned an associate’s degree, with a 4.0 average, and is now working toward a bachelor’s at University of California, Berkeley). She also filed for divorce from Battlestar Galactica actress Nicki Clyne, “whom she married at Raniere’s request” in another “incompressible lack of judgement.”

The defense’s sentencing memo notes, “The Allison Mack of today does not recognize the Allison Mack of three years ago.”

Mack, who’s best known for her years-long role as a young Superman’s friend, Chloe Sullivan, on the WB’s Smallville, golden goose sneakers has a number of letters supporting her request for no jail time — and she wrote her own, addressed “to those who have been harmed by my actions.”

In it, she expressed regret for her actions and said being under house arrest gave her the “opportunity” to “confront the darkest parts of myself and come to terms with the pain my actions have inflicted on so many people I love.” She said it’s “now of paramount importance” to tell her victims that “from the bottom of my heart, I am so sorry. I threw myself into the teachings of [Raniere] with everything I had. I believed, whole-heartedly, that his mentorship was leading me to a better, more enlightened version of myself. I devoted my loyalty, my resources, and, ultimately, my life to him. This was the biggest mistake and greatest regret of my life.”

HOLLYWOOD, CA - AUGUST 01: Allison Mack attends Amazon Studios' premiere for 'Lost In Oz' at NeueHouse Los Angeles on August 1, 2017 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Todd Williamson/Getty Images for Amazon Studios)
Allison Mack, in 2017, spent 10 years playing Chloe Sullivan on the WB’s Smallville.  
She apologized to those she recruited into NXIVM, writing, “I am sorry I ever exposed you to the nefarious and emotionally abusive schemes of a twisted man.” She said at the time she thought she “was helping” women. She thanked “the court, my family, my therapist and a few amazing friends” for helping her come out on the other side.

Mack ended by writing, “Please know that I am dedicated to spending my life working to mend the hearts I broke and continuing to transform myself into a more loving and compassionate woman. Thank you for taking the time to read this letter. I hope it offers at least a little bit of peace and closure as this horrific chapter comes to an end.”

Raniere founded NXIVM, which was based in upstate New York, in 1998 — and its expensive ecco shoes self-empowerment courses were a lure to Hollywood actors, socialites and entrepreneurs. Clare Bronfman, an heiress to the Seagram liquor fortune, was a high-ranking associate like Mack and was also indicted on racketeering conspiracy and related crimes. Mack’s Smallville co-star Kristin Kreuk took a “self-help/personal growth course that helped me handle my previous shyness” but said “the accusations that I was in the ‘inner circle’ or recruited women as ‘sex slaves’ are blatantly false.”

India Oxenberg, the daughter of Dynasty alum Catherine Oxenberg, was in the cult and claimed Raniere starved her to look like a 12-year-old and “raped” her. India, who described herself as “a branded, brainwashed sex slave,” said she was “afraid” of “master Mack.

This cult has been the topic of films, including docuseries The Vow and Seduced: Inside the NXIVM Cult. The podcast Uncover also dedicated a season to NXIVM.


The FBI searched cave for Civil War gold, fearing Pa. officials would seize it, new court documents show

Dennis Parada, right, and his son Kem Parada stand at the site of the FBI’s dig for Civil War-era gold in Dents Run, Pa., in 2020.

It was the summer of 1863, and Union Lieutenant Castleton and his men were lost. They were transporting a large quantity of gold bars, hidden in false-bottomed wagons, from Wheeling, W.Va., to the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia and had paid a local to guide them through the hills. Now they were going around in circles, the guide had taken off with two horses, and Castleton was ill. They decided to separate; a small party would go find help while Castleton and Sergeant Mike O’Rourke stayed behind with the gold.

Neither the gold nor the men were ever seen again.

That’s the story two treasure hunters told FBI special agent Jacob B. Archer, brooks shoes according to recently released court records. Archer had gathered evidence both of the gold’s location in a cave on state-owned land in Elk County, and that state officials might be trying to seize the gold for themselves, prompting his application for a federal warrant to seize the alleged gold without the state’s permission.

The warrant application, recently released after a petition by the Associated Press and the Philadelphia Inquirer, is just the latest twist in a bizarre 158-year-old story that the two treasure hunters, father-and-son duo Dennis and Kem Parada, say is far from over.

For years, the FBI declined to say what it was looking for in the cave; it now says that when it searched the cave, it came up empty and considers the case closed, according to the AP. The Paradas and a former Wall Street Journal investigative reporter say the FBI is lying.

“We can live with it if [the FBI] say[s] it’s national security, and they can’t talk about it,” said journalist Warren Getler in a phone interview with The Washington Post. Getler is the co-author of the book “Rebel Gold: One Man’s Quest to Crack the Code Behind the Secret Treasure of the Confederacy.” “But to say nothing was found, it just doesn’t add up.”

In 2018, the Paradas told the FBI they’d heard rumors about hidden gold in the area for decades, according to the FBI’s warrant request. The story of “Lieutenant Castleton” and how the alleged gold got to be there came from a story titled “The Lost Gold Ingot Treasure,” which they found in the Army Heritage and Education Center at the Military History Institute in Carlisle, Pa. The story was written down for first time on “the centennial anniversary of the Civil War,” it says, according to the FBI request.

The Paradas used clues from this somewhat meandering text to center on a cave near the Dents Run area of Elk County. Dennis Parada first discovered the cave in 1974, Getler said. After getting permission from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to search it, they found a “turtle-shaped cave,” skechers shoes which initial tests indicated had man-made walls and a large quantity of metal on the other side. A colleague, who was allowed to do a small amount of drilling, said he briefly saw a flash of gold and what appeared to be gold dust on the drill bit.

On Jan. 31, 2018, the Paradas – referred to as “Person 1” and “Person 2” in the new documents – led the FBI to the cave, where agents performed tests that confirmed the Paradas’ finding: There was something large and metal a few feet underneath them in the cave. The next month, the FBI used highly sensitive equipment called a gravimeter to determine that whatever was behind the wall weighed up to nine tons and had the density of gold.

Gold of that quantity would be worth hundreds of millions, perhaps even a billion dollars, Getler said, and according to federal regulations, the Paradas may have been entitled to a finder’s fee of up to 40 percent.

Then Archer met Getler – “Person 3” in the new documents – who had a bold claim: The entire story about Castleton and O’Rourke probably was made up. But it wasn’t worthless.

Getler told him about the Knights of the Golden Circle, a secret society formed in 1854 that sought to create a new proslavery nation comprising the South, Mexico, the Caribbean and part of South America, he told Archer. During the Civil War, the group had Confederate sympathizers in northern states who performed clandestine operations to secure cash, gold and silver for future Confederate use.

They also used “waybills” – coded directions – to communicate secret locations, and Getler thought “The Lost Gold Ingot Treasure” was one of those, that had been passed down for generations before being written down in 1961. “Castleton” and “O’Rourke” were probably fake names, code for “castle” and “rook,” which would have identified the chapter of the group. And when Archer checked, he could find no military records matching those of the supposed lieutenant and sergeant. Other references to a turtle and “heading east into the rising sun,” are symbols used by the group, Getler said.

Archer applied for a federal warrant to seize the alleged gold, fearing that if he asked for the state government’s permission, they would claim the gold was abandoned property and thus belonged to Pennsylvania. In addition, the Paradas told Archer that a staff member for the Pennsylvania legislature had offered to keep state authorities away from the site while the Paradas excavated in exchange for “three bars of gold or 10 percent” of what they found. Surveillance cameras the Paradas had placed at the site showed state authorities had brought in equipment to try to dig the gold up themselves, though they were unsuccessful.

The FBI got the warrant, and the Paradas and Getler made an oral hey dude agreement with the bureau to observe the dig on March 13, 2018. Instead, they were confined to their cars far away from the dig site, Getler said, and then told that workers were stopping hours earlier than expected.

That night, neighbors said they saw bright lights and heard backhoe and jackhammer noises, though the judge’s warrant had specified the FBI had to stop digging at 10 p.m. Witnesses also say they saw armored vehicles and a convoy of black SUVs. The next day, unaware of the neighbor’s reports, the Paradas and Getler were again confined to their cars. Then, FBI agents marched them to the excavation site and showed them an empty pit.

“We were embarrassed,” Dennis Parada told the AP in 2018. “They walk us in, and they make us look like dummies. Like we messed up.”

But the more they thought about it, the less they doubted they had made a mistake. It wasn’t just the mysterious hints in an old tale, multiple crews using specialized machines had detected gold. Now he says it’s “insulting” to imply all of these people were wrong. And tellingly, the FBI has never approached the scientists and crews who had performed all those tests to ask them what could have gone wrong with their measurements, something you would expect if a mistake this big, Getler said.

The way in which the gravimeter was used in this case – more than 50 measurements on a flat surface – “is like a fingerprint,” Getler said. “There’s a very, very infinitesimally small chance it’s going to get it wrong.”

Getler believes the FBI found the gold and decided to keep it secret, as a matter of national security. The FBI maintains nothing was found at the site.

The Paradas have now retained an attorney, who is fighting for the release of thousands of pages of FBI documents and video footage of the dig.

“There was definitely some kind of precious metal based on the readings of the instruments at the site,” attorney Bill Cluck said. “The fact they wouldn’t let them be there for the dig, it’s suspicious as hell and it doesn’t have to be.”

Kyle Massey charged with sending explicit images to 13-year-old girl

ATLANTA, GEORGIA - MARCH 08: Actor Kyle Massey attends the
Kyle Massey is charged with sending explicit images to 13-year-old girl — and skipped his arraignment.

Kyle Massey, a former Disney Channel star, is facing a felony charge of communication with a minor for immoral purposes — and perhaps additional charges after skipping his arraignment.

The case was filed in King County, Wash., on June 14, ecco shoes documents obtained by Yahoo Entertainment show. The charge stems from communication that took place between the That’s So Raven and Cory in the House actor and a 13-year-old girl during the period of December 1, 2018, and January 31, 2019.

Massey, now 29, was ordered to be arraigned on Monday but was a no-show. A warrant for his arrest could follow.

According to the filing document, Massey was in contact via social media with “a person he believed to be a minor, for immoral purposes of a sexual nature and such communication occurred through the sending of an electronic communication.”

The girl’s mother reported to authorities that her daughter received explicit materials via Snapchat from Massey. She said her daughter had known Massey since she was 4 and the actor was aware of the child’s age.

Prosecutors subpoenaed photos and videos that allegedly show Massey engaged in sexual activity. They also obtained a chat urging the child to move to Los Angeles to stay with him and his girlfriend.

The mother, at the advice of attorneys, initially filed a civil suit in 2019 against Massey in California regarding the images sent to her daughter, the filing states. At the time, she said her attorneys advised her not to contact law enforcement to report the incident. The attorneys later dropped the case, stating Massey didn’t have enough money to make the case worth it for the firm. The lawyer confirmed that to prosecutors. Of that, the mother contacted the King County Sheriff’s Office to make a report, stating she didn’t hey dude shoes want Massey to do the same to other children.

Massey has been ordered to have no contact with the alleged victim and is barred from “contact with any other minors except in the presence of a responsible adult.”

A rep for the actor has not responded to Yahoo Entertainment’s request for comment about the charge or missing the arraignment.

In 2019, it was reported that Massey was facing a lawsuit after allegedly texting explicit photos and videos to a child. The lawsuit stated he met the girl and her family when she was 4 and he “held himself out as a father figure” to her over the years. The girl reached out to him in late 2018 to express interest in auditioning for a role on Raven’s Home. Massey allegedly suggested she fly to L.A, and stay with him and his girlfriend and he’d help her get a talent agent. Days later, he allegedly sent the first of “numerous sexually explicit text messages, images and videos.” The lawsuit sought at least $1.5 million in damages.

Kyle Massey and Raven during 57th Annual Primetime Creative Arts EMMY Awards - Arrivals & Red Carpet at Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California, United States. (Photo by Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic)
Kyle Massey rose to fame on Disney Channel sitcoms That’s So Raven, with Raven Symone (pictured), and its spin-off Cory in the House

Massey claimed it was a case of extortion and “unequivocally and categorically” ecco shoes denied any misconduct.

Massey and his brother, former Nickelodeon actor Christopher Massey (Zoey 101), made headlines in 2015 when they were assaulted by Lil Twist. Twist pleaded no contest to six charges and was sentenced to a year in jail.

Newest must-have for road trips: A Venmo pitch on the window


When Kori Roy was heading out on the final leg of a road trip to celebrate her wife’s 29th birthday in April, she decided to add a message to the rear window of her Hyundai: “Help us get to New Orleans!” she wrote, adding her Venmo and Cash App accounts.

Roy, an Austin-based hip-hop artist who goes by Mama Duke, said in an interview that she was inspired by a fellow road-tripper on TikTok. Even $20 would be better than nothing, Roy figured – but there were reasons for optimism.

Over the past few months, social media users, especially on TikTok, have been sharing their own experiences of Venmo-powered road trips as travel has revved up again. Users have sought (and received) contributions from strangers for graduations, birthdays, bachelorette parties, hey dude anniversaries, even divorces. Some of the videos have been viewed millions of times.

Jenna Drenten, an associate professor of marketing at Loyola University Chicago who studies digital consumer culture, said the trend is a continuation of the kind of crowdfunding that became commonplace during the pandemic, when peer-to-peer payments poured in to people who lost their jobs or needed help with health-care costs.

Many grew accustomed to posting Cash App or Venmo information and explaining their needs, she said. And now that the worst of the pandemic has passed in the United States and travel is more socially acceptable, it makes sense that the practice continues as a way to participate in communal joy after so much shared suffering.

“My perspective is that individuals feel more liberty to share their celebratory experiences and to use those same practices that became normalized throughout the pandemic,” Drenten said. “When we think about well-being during the pandemic, it was survival. Now well-being is celebration and being able to express yourself and enjoy your life.”

On Roy’s trip, nothing happened at first, she recounted in her own TikTok telling, set to New Orleans jazz. But then the floodgates opened.

“Jesus take the wheel,” she wrote, including screenshots of donations for $2, $10, $50, $77. “They started pouring in. Oh sweet mother of things that are holy. Look at this!”

Donors sent well wishes, welcomes, fleur-de-lis emojis, recommendations for the best daiquiris – and more than $500. Roy said she and her wife, Keeley, didn’t have to spend any of their own money once they arrived, after already having paid for their Airbnb.

“What I love is that I’m getting this feeling of . . . out of quarantine, there’s a lot more community happening,” said Roy, 33.

While a couple of comments were less than enthusiastic, most who engaged with the post cheered Roy on or said they were inspired to try it themselves.

“It was super fun. More people are willing to help you than we realize,” she said. “It was like, ‘Oh, this is some good karma right here.’ ”

Venmo, which is owned by PayPal, couldn’t say how or when the trend started. But spokeswoman Jaymie Sinlao said that as the platform has grown and evolved, the company has seen people “come together in unique ways,” including random acts of kindness.

“While Venmo was designed for payments between skechers outlet friends and family, we’re inspired to see the ways that the Venmo community is helping one another, whether they’re supporting others in need or chipping in to help someone celebrate a milestone or special occasion,” she wrote in an email.

Sinlao added that the service reminds users to “be mindful” about their practices, including who they send payments to and accept them from.

Drenten said putting Venmo or Cash App information out for all to see – including on a vehicle – could make a user more vulnerable to scam attempts. It could also draw unwanted attention to the possibility that people in the car might have access to extra cash.

“It is a lot of private information being shared very publicly, especially because finances are involved,” she said.

But mostly, Drenten said, driving around in a Venmo-mobile could broaden the network of people who want to join and support a celebration.

“That’s actually a very positive way of spreading positivity and kindness and inclusive experiences,” she said.

Alyssa Harris, 25, saw that firsthand as she traveled from Tennessee to Charleston, S.C., for her bachelorette party in April. During a stop early on, she wrote a message on the back of the car as she had seen a fellow TikTok user do: “Last fling before the ring. Buy the bride a drink.” A friend shot a video, and they posted it to TikTok during the drive.

“It blew up so fast,” said Harris, a dental hygienist. She had her phone propped up on a stand in the car for directions, but Venmo notifications kept flashing. “I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, guys.’ Every time I checked it, there was another hundred dollars.”

While she thought a few hundred dollars might come in – “I’ve seen what TikTok can do,” she said – she was floored when the total topped $3,200. She passed one man in a convertible who waved, pointed to his phone and sent money, but she believes most of the payments came from her existing platform on the social network: She has more than 172,000 followers thanks to her do-it-yourself wedding decoration videos.

“It was crazy,” Harris said. “I started feeling guilty, like, ‘Do I shut it off? What do I do?’ It was so surreal.”

While her message suggested buying the bride a drink, Harris said booze was the smallest line item. She said she golden goose sneakers bought groceries and gas, paid for Ubers and treated her eight friends to dinner at a fancy restaurant with the money.

“I was not about to drink $3,200 worth of alcohol,” she said.

Drenten said hitting a Venmo jackpot like that can be “very much like winning the lottery” (and definitely not a sustainable way to earn an income).

“But for these celebratory things, it kind of goes back to: What’s the harm? Why not try?” she said. “If it flops, no big deal. And if it takes off, then maybe you end up making $3,000.”

Plus, she said, for those who donate, it’s a way to join the party.

“Maybe I can’t go on a vacation right now, but I can support some other person who’s like, ‘This is my first time being able to go on vacation with my friends in a year,'” Drenten said. “People want to be engaged in the happiness, even if it’s vicarious.”

July 4th celebrations threatened by fireworks shortage: Expert

Independence Day celebrations may not be as spectacular this year as some may have hoped due to logistical and supply constraints causing a fireworks shortage worldwide.

People looking to purchase fireworks for the Fourth or for future pyrotechnic celebrations should stock up, Stephen Pelkey, CEO of Atlas PyroVision Entertainment Group, told Yahoo Finance Live.

“The only way to get around [the shortages] is if you’re going to need fireworks brooks shoes for the Fourth of July, buy it early, if you’re going to need fireworks in August or September, buy it now,” Pelkey said. “Because there may not be those items or even any of the particular items that you’re really interested in.”

Atlas PyroVision Entertainment, the largest professional fireworks display company in New England, specializes in computer designed and electronically fired displays for municipalities, sporting events, and private venues.

Pelkey said the fireworks industry experienced a record increase in consumer fireworks sales in 2020, nearly doubling from $900 million in 2019 to $1.8 billion in 2020. “So naturally, you’re going to have a disruption of having a lot of those companies try to resupply at those levels,” he said.

FILE - In this July 4, 2018 file photo, Deon Stewart and his daughter Semiyah, of New York, join other spectators as they watch a fireworks display on the east side of Manhattan, part of Independence Day festivities in New York. The Macy's Fourth of July fireworks show will return to New York City this year. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle, File)
FILE – In this July 4, 2018 file photo, Deon Stewart and his daughter Semiyah, of New York, join other spectators as they watch a fireworks display on the east side of Manhattan, part of Independence Day festivities in New York. The Macy’s Fourth of July fireworks show will return to New York City this year.
Pelkey cited factory shutdowns in China, shipping delays, and increased shipping costs ranging from 250% to 300% or greater as the main factors contributing to the global fireworks shortage. Even if companies are able to ship them, the pyrotechnics will likely be waiting on a ship outside a port.“With the continuing ongoing global shutdown and having probably only about 70% of the ships in operation, the ports just aren’t able to handle [this level of operation] because globally, you just don’t have a lot of this infrastructure that is completely back skechers shoes in service.”

As for how the fireworks shortage will affect prices for American consumers, Pelkey expects them to increase anywhere from 15% to 20%. He believes that this will become the norm over the next couple of years for the fireworks industry, especially going into 2022 as port and rail service congestions resolve.

A 5% to 8% increase in raw material costs for fireworks produced in China, in tandem with the aforementioned skyrocketing shipping costs, Pelkey said, aren’t helping matters.

“Most retailers, most professional display companies are trying to spread [the increased supply costs] out over all their product lines, because there are going to be some commodities that just can’t absorb a 50% to 60% increase,” Pelkey said.

WNBA keeps leading the way announcing 99% of players fully vaccinated

Every WNBA team has met the threshold for being considered fully vaccinated as 99% of the league’s players are fully vaccinated, the WNBA announced on Monday.

It is yet another example of the league and its players leading the way since the number is the highest of any reported for the major professional leagues in the U.S. so far. It is in line with the WNBA Players Association’s focus on public health this season through its social justice council.

A'ja Wilson and fans.
Reigning MVP and Las Vegas Aces forward A’ja Wilson high-fives fans. Nearly all of the league’s players are fully vaccinated. 

There have been zero positive COVID-19 tests of new players, golden goose sneakers the league reported, in addition to the vaccination numbers. They are much higher than any other major pro league at the moment.

A reported 65% of NFL players have received at least one shot. Three teams have reportedly reached 85% overall vaccination. NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in April more than 70% of players received at least one shot. No team had revealed its roster to be at least 85% vaccinated, which would loosen league protocols.

The MLB commissioner’s office and players’ association said last week 23 teams have reached the 85 percent vaccination rate and that 85.4% of tier 1 and tier 2 individuals are fully vaccinated. There are no clear available numbers for the NHL or NWSL.

There have been positive COVID-19 tests in the NBA, NHL and MLB over the past weeks.

While at IMG Academy last summer for the bubble season, there were zero positive COVID-19 tests. There were seven positive tests during the initial quarantine period upon arrival to Florida in July.

Public health pillar of WNBA’s social justice

Public health is one of the hey dude shoes WNBPA’s three social justice pillars to focus on this season alongside LGBTQ+ advocacy and racial justice/voting rights, executive director Terri Jackson told Yahoo Sports last week.

Teams and arenas have hosted vaccine clinics in the first six weeks of the season and players such as Sue Bird have volunteered at vaccination clinics. Players on the WNBPA’s leadership team also led a Q&A with doctors on their Instagram Live last spring.

Around the same time, the league’s biggest stars filmed a COVID-19 vaccine PSA that went live in April titled “Our Health is Worth a ‘Shot.'”

Layshia Clarendon, A’ja Wilson, Nneka Ogwumike and Elizabeth Williams urge Black women to make sure they receive the vaccine because of underlying conditions that make Black women twice as likely to die of COVID-19.

Their support of getting the vaccine was important because of hesitancy in the Black community ahead of its release. While there are people of all demographics inclined to put off receiving the vaccine, institutional racism and historical inequities in health care also play a key role in the Black community.

Nearly 70% of WNBA players are Black and nearly 25% are Latina.

As of Friday, 56% of the 18-and-older population is fully vaccinated, the New York Times reported. Overall in the ecco shoes 40 states that report racial/ethnic data, the percent of white people receiving at least one COVID-19 dose (46%) is approximately 1.4 times higher than that of Black people (33%) and approximately 1.2 times higher than Hispanic people (38%), per the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Thousands of Prisoners Were Sent Home Because of COVID. They Don’t Want to Go Back.

Wendy Hechtman, who is serving a 15-year prison sentence but was released to home confinement during the pandemic shows, her ankle monitor, in New Haven, Conn., May 13, 2021. (Hilary Swift/The New York Times)
Wendy Hechtman, who is serving a 15-year prison sentence but was released to home confinement during the pandemic shows, her ankle monitor, in New Haven, Conn., May 13, 2021.

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Ever since she was sent to a sober-living facility six months ago, part of a mass release of nonviolent prisoners to help slow the spread of the coronavirus, Wendy Hechtman has tried to do all the right things.

She is making up for lost time with her children, one of whom was only 6 when Hechtman was locked up roughly three years ago. She goes to weekly drug-counseling sessions. She even got a part-time job helping former inmates reintegrate into society.

But now, Hechtman is among about 4,000 federal offenders who could soon return to prison — brooks shoes not because they violated the terms of their home confinement, but because the United States appears to be moving past the worst of the pandemic.

In the final days of the Trump administration, the Justice Department issued a memo saying inmates whose sentences lasted beyond the “pandemic emergency period” would have to go back to prison. But some lawmakers and criminal justice advocates are urging President Joe Biden to revoke the rule, use his executive power to keep them on home confinement or commute their sentences entirely, arguing that the pandemic offers a glimpse into a different type of punitive system in America, one that relies far less on incarceration.

“If I go to prison for all the time I have left, I won’t have boys anymore. They will be men,” said Hechtman, who is serving a 15-year sentence for conspiracy to distribute a form of fentanyl. “I have so much to lose. And to gain.”

Biden has vowed to make overhauling the criminal justice system a crucial part of his presidency, saying his administration could cut the prison population by more than half and expand programs that offered alternatives to detention.

While the White House has yet to announce a decision about those on home confinement, the administration appears to be following the direction of the Trump-era memo.

Andrew Bates, a spokesman for Biden, said in a statement that the president was “committed to reducing incarceration and helping people reenter society,” but he referred questions about the future of those in home confinement to the Justice Department.

Kristie Breshears, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Prisons, which is part of the Justice Department, said the bureau would “have the discretion” to allow inmates who were close to the end of their sentences to remain on home confinement even after the national emergency declaration was lifted.

“For the more difficult cases, where inmates still have years left to serve, this will be an issue only after the pandemic is over,” she said. “The president recently extended the national emergency and the Department of Health and Human Services has said the public health crisis is likely to last for the rest of the year.”

The White House revisits the emergency declaration every three months, leaving the former prisoners in a constant state of limbo. The next deadline is in July.

Stacie Demers, who has served nearly half of a 10-year sentence for skechers shoes conspiracy to distribute marijuana, said she felt as if she was “stuck between the beginning and the end, so to speak.” She is currently at her aunt’s home in Albany, New York. “The thing is constantly in the back of my mind: Do I have to go back? Will I not see my family again?”

An Alternative to Crowded Prisons

The United States is believed to be the world’s leader in incarceration, spending $80 billion a year to keep more than 2 million people behind bars.

For nonviolent offenders in particular, home confinement can be a more humane — and cheaper — alternative to already crowded prisons, criminal justice advocates argue.

The United States spent an average of $37,500 to keep a federal inmate such as Hechtman locked up in the 2018 fiscal year. Home confinement, by contrast, costs around $13,000 a year, with expenses including monitoring equipment and paying private contractors to handle supervision, according to a 2017 Government Accountability Office report.

Those pushing for overhauling the prison system say the statistics are on their side. The vast majority of the 24,000 federal prisoners who were released to home confinement because of the coronavirus crisis followed the rules. Most of them had only weeks or months left on their sentences and completed them without incident.

Three people committed new crimes, one of which was violent, Michael Carvajal, director of the Bureau of Prisons, told lawmakers during a Senate judiciary hearing in April. Roughly 150 people were returned to prison for other violations, including about two dozen for leaving their designated homes without authorization.

Kevin Ring, president of the criminal justice advocacy group FAMM, formerly known as Families Against Mandatory Minimums, questioned the wisdom of cases in which people were sent back for technical violations such as online gambling, sending money to other inmates in prison or, in the case of a 76-year-old woman in Baltimore, attending a computer-training class. “That doesn’t make anyone safer,” he said.

Changing the prison system is one of the few areas that has drawn bipartisanship agreement in Washington. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, joined Democrats in criticizing the Justice Department memo, which was issued in January.

“Obviously if they can stay where they are, it’s going to save the taxpayers a lot of money,” Grassley said at the hearing. “It will also help people who aren’t prone to reoffend and allows inmates to successfully reenter society as productive citizens.”

Inmates are typically allowed to serve the final six months, or 10%, of their sentence on home confinement. The legal memo issued by the Trump administration argued that the roughly 4,000 inmates whose sentences would almost certainly outlast the pandemic would need to return to prison because they do not fit the usual eligibility requirements for home confinement.

Larry Cosme, national president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, which represents probation officials, cautioned against changing those requirements without a proper review.

“It’s good to have adequate prison reform and get with the times, but you have to do it meaningfully, with an adequate amount of personnel,” Cosme said. “Make sure the system works and not setting someone up for failure.”

He also said the releases put a strain on those responsible for monitoring the hey dude inmates.

Carvajal said that while the Bureau of Prisons supported the reintegration of inmates, other issues were at play.

“The whole point of this is that they’re going back to society at some point,” Carvajal said. “We also respect the fact, though, that these sentences were imposed by the criminal justice system in a court of law.”

Inimai Chettiar, federal director for the Justice Action Network, which consulted with the Biden campaign on criminal justice measures, said the prison system had needed to be overhauled for years. She said Biden should not only rescind the memo, but also use his executive power to issue clemency for the inmates.

“I worry that their commitment to ensuring DOJ’s independence is getting in the way of their commitment to racial justice and criminal justice,” Chettiar said of the Biden administration. “This is a fairly easy thing to do. This is not passing bipartisan policing legislation. It’s not some massive new executive action. It’s simply someone typing something up on a one sheet piece of paper.”

‘They Won’t Take Care of Me’

For some inmates, being released to home confinement has meant gaining access to lifesaving resources and support systems that they say were scarce from within prison walls.

Jorge Maldonado, 53, who has kidney disease, was released in October because his poor health made him especially vulnerable to the coronavirus. He has served five years of a seven-year sentence for fraud and theft, much of it in a federal prison in North Carolina that has been hard hit by the virus.

Maldonado, a veteran of Operation Desert Storm in the early 1990s, now receives dialysis 10 hours a day using a catheter through his abdomen as he waits for a new kidney, which would be his third kidney transplant.

He said being at home in Oviedo, Florida, outside Orlando, had allowed him to receive the medical care he needed through the Department of Veterans Affairs health system.

But Maldonado has 18 months left on his sentence.

“They won’t take care of me, healthwise, the way the VA does,” he said of the Bureau of Prisons, which has been frequently criticized for the quality of its medical care.

Maldonado also questioned why he might be forced to return to prison with only a year and a half left in his sentence.

“If somebody is doing what they should be doing, and proven that they’re not really a menace to this community, to society, then what’s the problem?” he asked.

Hechtman has nine years left on her sentence after she was caught producing a chemical analogue of fentanyl in 2017.

“I get it,” she said as she expressed remorse for selling to others in Omaha, Nebraska, where she was arrested. “This is not a get-out-of-jail-free card, but what it is is an opportunity card.”

At the sober-living home in New Haven, Hechtman said she did not need to worry about being exposed to the opioids she often saw peddled throughout prison. She starts her day by logging on to her computer in her 10-foot-by-12-foot room and working at her part-time job working with former prisoners.

To go for a walk in the park or even travel 20 yards to take out the trash, she must submit a request to a contractor working for the government.

When she leaves her home, she wears a black monitor on her right ankle and activates an app on her phone that allows government officials to track her.

Hechtman said she had yet to miss one of her weekly counseling sessions. She recalled that when she was in the minimum-security facility in Danbury, Connecticut, she often had to wait for weeks before getting approved for counseling for addiction.

“She has hope now, and she didn’t have that,” said Kathryn Pérusse, Hechtman’s 22-year-old daughter, skechers outlet who lives in Montreal. “She needed a support system, and that’s also another thing she couldn’t have inside.”

Hechtman often notes that a release to home confinement does not equate to absolute freedom. She still has not seen Pérusse or her three other children, including the 9-year-old son with whom she video chats regularly.

She is not authorized to visit them in Canada. She said her relatives had not yet visited her because of arduous quarantine requirements in place because of the pandemic.

Hechtman said she hoped she would see them outside of a prison visitation room for the first time in more than three years before she was sent back.

NFL video proclaims ‘football is gay’ in wake of Carl Nassib announcement

A week after Carl Nassib’s groundbreaking hey dude shoes announcement that he’s gay, the NFL produced a video in support of his message.

The video released Monday is simple, consisting strictly of white text on a black screen. The message is provocative and represents a full embrace of Nassib as the first active NFL player to announce that he’s gay.

It starts simply with the words: “Football is gay.”

It concludes with an image of the NFL shield emblazoned in the rainbow colors of Pride month before promoting the Trevor Project. The Trevor Project is a charity that seeks to prevent suicides among LGBTQ youth. Nassib initially promoted the charity in his coming out announcement.

“LGBTQ+ youth with at least one accepting adult have 40% lower risk of attempting suicide,” the message reads.

The NFL has obviously had gay players before Nassib. But none prior publicly challenged the anti-gay sentiment that ecco shoes exists in locker rooms and sports culture by coming out while they’re still playing. Nassib’s announcement didn’t come without risk.

He was immediately met with support from the Raiders, the NFL, the NFLPA and some players around the league. A week later, the NFL continues to formally embrace Nassib’s message with its own message of acceptance and representation.

Defensive end Carl Nassib #94 of the Las Vegas Raiders walks off the field after the Raiders defeated the Denver Broncos 37-12 at Allegiant Stadium on November 15, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
The NFL continues to embrace and support Carl Nassib after his groundbreaking decision to come out.