Author Archives: Local | KPRC

Trial dates set for ex-deputy, husband charged in John Hernandez’s death

The trial dates have been set for a former Harris County deputy and her husband who were arrested in connection with the death of John Hernandez.

Chauna Thompson, who was fired from the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, and her husband, Terry Thompson, were in court Thursday, where a judge set the trial dates – May 18, 2018, for Terry Thompson, and June 1, 2018, for Chauna Thompson.

There was a heavy presence of law enforcement at the courthouse as the Thompsons arrived. The couple ignored questions from reporters as they walked to a waiting elevator.

Family, friends and supporters of Hernandez were also present. They said they believe the trials could take up to two years to complete, and are willing to be there every step of the way.

The Thompsons were each charged with murder in connection with the May 28 confrontation with Hernandez outside of a Denny’s restaurant. Video of the incident appeared to show Terry Thompson using a chokehold and lying on top of Hernandez while Chauna Thompson held down one of Hernandez’s arms.

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Man fights to prove he’s alive after bank reports him as deceased

Jose Antonio Lopez is not only alive and well, he invited Channel 2 into his home in Cypress to prove reports of his death by a credit card company have been greatly exaggerated.

“I even asked them, Synchrony Bank. I said, ‘Do you have on record my death certificate?’ And even, ‘You don’t have a death certificate because you are talking to me on the phone. How are you going to be talking to a dead person?'” he said.

For Lopez and his family, the last 10 months have been no laughing matter.

He showed us paperwork from Synchrony Bank — from which he has several credit cards — that mistakenly reported him as deceased in January.

The mix up has caused Lopez’s credit rating to plummet because over the past several months his accounts have accumulated interest and late fees — but he couldn’t pay them because he was listed as dead.

“They have charged me interest, they have charged me late fees,” he said. “And like I say, they report on the credit bureaus charge off, which is a negative.”

Ironically, Lopez is a loan officer and understands the implications of a poor credit rating. All he’s asking for now is a clean slate.

“Is somebody there? Anybody that I can call or anything that I can do to fix this situation?” Lopez asked. “Because it’s really affecting me. Affecting me … and I don’t know what else to do.”

Channel 2 reached out to Synchrony Bank on Monday evening and are waiting for a response on Lopez’s situation.

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Scam costs Friendswood man thousands of dollars

It’s a scam that started with a simple voicemail followed by a phone call.

The scam ultimately cost a Friendswood senior citizen thousands of dollars.

The victim who was scammed said, “A little over $12,000. It even hurts me to say it.”

The caller said they were looking to refund the victim $500 from a software company that was going under that he had recently purchased a product from.

But in order to do that, they needed access to his computer.

“Of course he had a code and everything, to get in the computer I had to type in the code he gave me, my computer. Which meant he was in there,” said the scam victim.

Little did the victim know the scammers had also accessed his personal information and ultimately his bank account.

Something else the victim says he didn’t realize, the scammers moved $5,000 from his savings into his checking account claiming they had deposited.

The victim said, “I made a mistake it’s suppose to be $500, you’ve got to send me that $4,500 right away.”

The victim was then told to purchase thousands in gift cards to send the money back to them.

And it happened more than once.

“I was scared to the point I was trembling. I felt like if I don’t do what he tells me, I’m going to get wiped out,” the victim said.

When the victim finally realized it was all just a big scam, he contacted authorities and froze his bank accounts, but not before being out a lot of money.

He now has a warning for others.

“They’re very good at what they do and people need to be aware that this stuff is going on,” the victim said.

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Student sent home from school bruised, claims PE teacher slammed him onto concrete

The mother of a child with special needs alleges a PE teacher attacked her son, slamming him onto concrete, leaving bruises from his face to his hands.

“This scar that’s right here. He has scratches on his chest,” said Ashley Degrate, describing the bruises over her son, Cavontrell Smith.

Smith, 10, is enrolled in fifth grade at the Aldine Education Center at 1702 Aldine Bender Road. The center is considered an alternative school. Cavontrell is there, his mother says, because of a behavioral and emotional disorder.

“Whenever he has an outbreak from his emotions they’re supposed to be trained to deal with it in a proper manner,” Degrate said.

It was not her son that caused a problem, Degrate alleges. Rather, it was a PE teacher, who allegedly whispered obscenities into Cavontrell’s ear during the attack. Cavontrell said the attack occurred after a run-in with another student on the playground.

“Blood was coming out of my eye because he hit me multiple times and then when I put my hand here there was a big old knot,” Cavontrell said.

The alleged attack occurred Thursday. Degrate told KPRC2 the school’s principal called her to tell her about Cavontrell’s injuries, but left details short.

“He told me that my son had fractures and bruises on his face that it might look bad but it’s not as bad as it looks,” she said.

Degrate said what the principal told her on the phone could not have been further from the truth. She said she saw the extent of her son’s injuries once the school bus dropped him off at the end of the day.

“When he got off the bus — oh my god!” she said.

A spokesman for Aldine ISD released a statement to KPRC2, which read, “Aldine ISD is aware of the allegation and the incident is currently under investigation. Once the investigation is complete, the district will take appropriate action.”

While the school district would not go into further detail, Degrate said the teacher was suspended, a ruling Degrate thinks was not strong enough.

“I just want them to take action. It’s not right. Nobody’s child should have to deal with this. No parent should have to deal with this. It’s just not right,” Degrate said.

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Former HPD officer accused of tampering with evidence makes first court appearance

Julissa Diaz has gone from HPD officer to former officer after she was accused of tampering with evidence related to narcotics.

Diaz made her first court appearance early Friday morning.

A source told Channel 2 News that a SWAT team arrested the 11-year veteran, who lives in the city of South Houston, during her overnight shift Thursday morning.

Thirty-seven-year-old Diaz was no ordinary officer. According to the Houston Police Officer’s Union, she was recognized as Patrol Officer of the Month in 2015 for apprehending two major drug dealers during a routine traffic stop. Her commendation said Diaz “has always demonstrated a passion for making a difference and her dedication to duty.”

According to our source, Diaz worked the night shift at HPD’s Clear Lake Station. She was arrested by SWAT officers after a lengthy investigation by HPD’s narcotics division.

In response, Chief Art Acevedo said in a statement:

“Ms. Diaz’s betrayal of the public trust and oath of office is inconsistent with the dedication of the men and women of the Houston Police Department (HPD) and their tireless, honorable service.

“While we cannot overstate our depth of disappointment, we take solace in the fact the investigation that led to Ms. Diaz’s arrest was conducted by men and women of the HPD, the same organization and co-workers she betrayed.

“We look forward to working with the Harris County District Attorney’s office to ensure she is held to the highest level of accountability under the law. Ms. Diaz’s peace officer powers have been suspended and she has been placed on administrative leave pending the completion of an internal affairs investigation.

“I urge anyone with information regarding her criminal misconduct or misconduct by any member of the Houston Police Department to contact us.”

Diaz is being held in a Harris county jail on $100,000 bond. Charged with tampering, fabricating evidence, she is set to appear in court again on Nov. 13.

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HPD officer accused of tampering with evidence

A Houston police officer who works the night shift at the Clear Lake patrol station has found herself on the wrong side of the law.

HPD officer Julissa Guzman Diaz is behind bars in the city jail. She’s charged with tampering with evidence related to narcotics.

Sources told KPRC 2 Diaz was arrested early Thursday morning while on duty after a lengthy investigation by HPD’s narcotics division.

We are working to confirm the details and specifics of her arrest with Houston police.

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Joel Osteen impersonator breaches security at Los Angeles event

A Joel Osteen impersonator is making waves after a video he posted went viral.

The impersonator is a comedian — pretending to be Osteen at an Osteen event in Los Angeles last month — but no one is laughing after an apparent security breach at the LA Forum.

In the video, you witness comedian and Osteen-lookalike Michael Klimkowski getting free parking and breaching security measures by entering the event without getting checked.

Along the way, he poses for pictures with fans.

The incident happened in October.

We have reached out to the Forum, but so far, haven’t gotten any comment.

The real Houston pastor, and his wife, Victoria, were in California for a night of worship open to the public.

A spokesman with Lakewood Church says Osteen never met the imposter.

The spokesperson also says Osteen’s security never confronted Klimkowski — it was Forum security and the Los Angeles Police Department that handled Klimkowski.

The Lakewood spokesman also adds that they are unsure if Osteen has ever met Klimkowski — but they have seen him in at least one book signing in Los Angeles.

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Former ‘All My Children’ star arrested in Galveston

A former star of the soap opera “All My Children” was arrested in Galveston early Sunday, according to police.

Shane McDermott was charged with public intoxication, Galveston police said, after he was running in the middle of a street and refused to cooperate with officers who stopped him.

Police said McDermott had just left one of the downtown bars after some type of altercation.

An officer asked McDermott if there was someone at his house who could come get him, otherwise they would have to arrest him, police said. McDermott replied, “Arrest me,” according to police. He paid a small fine, police said.

McDermott, who played Scott Chandler on the popular ABC daytime drama in the mid-90s, did not reply to a request for comment.

According to his real estate website, McDermott moved to Galveston in the early 2000s.

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Family’s beloved pony shot to death in Liberty County

Before the Brett family had any children, they had Chicken Nugget: A pony with dwarfism.

He stood 25 inches tall and weighed no more than 80 pounds. But for eight years, he was the perfect companion, and larger than life.

“Local celebrity, local favorite, people came and took their pictures with him,” Kylee Brett said. “And he would just hang out with us! I’m serious, he would just lay down and watch TV.”

Nobody loved Chicken Nugget more than Kylee’s 5-year-old daughter, Rylee. At 6 months old, she was already riding him at the rodeo. They did everything together.

Early Wednesday morning, authorities said someone entered the Brett family ranch in Hull, Texas, in Liberty County, and shot Chicken Nugget in the head at close range. The Brett family found him when they woke up, and buried him later that morning.

“Rest in Peace,” Kylee wrote on Facebook, “You now have your wings and are flying high. You will never be forgotten, you will forever be missed. My heart is absolutely shattered as I try to find the words. The way you were taken from us was the act of a coward.”

“On another note,” the post continued later. “Whoever stepped foot on our property and point blank shot him in the face will pay.”

The post quickly received thousands of responses, comments and shares.

“We’re going to catch him, whoever did this,” Rylee said. “And he’s going to get in big, big, big trouble.”

“He never ever had any kind of a bad day,” Kylee said. “He never had a moment to where you just had to worry about him. He just, he was there. He was our best friend. And he was just, he was special to everybody.”

The Bretts told Rylee that Chicken Nugget is now in heaven, watching over their family.

“Our hearts are broken,” Kylee said. “Very broken, and we’ll always miss him, we’ll always have that piece of our heart that’s broken. But good memories always help the heart heal a little faster.”

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22 Houston gang members indicted for multiple violent crimes, officials say

Investigators say 22 people have been indicted in an alleged street gang operation in Houston involving human smuggling, brothels and drugs.

Federal prosecutors say a 37-count indictment was returned earlier this month in Houston and partly unsealed Wednesday.

Authorities said the defendants are accused of operating several brothels in apartments throughout Houston, plus in Mexico. Prosecutors say some female immigrants were promised they could pay off the cost of smuggling them into the U.S. by working in Houston restaurants. The immigrants were instead forced into prostitution.

Those arrested during the enforcement actions on Tuesday include Houston residents Giovani Alecio aka Whiteboy, 26, Victor Javiel Gonzalez, 29, Maria Angelica Moreno-Reyna aka Patty, 51, Gabriela Gonzalez-Flores aka Gabby, 46, Eddie Torres aka Monterrey 38, Jose Luis Moreno aka Lucky, 23, Gilberto Espinoza Garcia, 49, Hector Reyna aka Pantera, 26; Jimmy Mejia Chavez, 33; and Grisel Salas aka Cris, 34, of Donna; and Jose Ruben Palomo-Martinez, 48, of Mission.

Two more defendants – Erik Ivan Alvarez-Chavez aka Casa, 39, and Denis Amaya Calballero aka Keiko, 25, both of Houston – were already in custody on related charges and are expected to make their appearances in federal court in the near future.

Nine others are also charged but not as yet in custody. Bianca Stephanie Reyna aka Troubles, 20, Claudia Soriano-Hernandez, 26, Juan Carlos Contreras Cervantes, 25, all from Houston; Raul Moreno Reyna aka Coney, 53, William Alberto Lopez, 27, Anadalit Duarte aka Paola, 25, and Walter Lopez, 26, all originally from Houston but believed to have fled to Mexico; and Israel Juarez Sifuentes, 43, and Melissa Dominguez aka Missy, 50, both of Donna; are considered fugitives and warrants remain outstanding for their arrests. Anyone with information about their whereabouts is asked to contact the FBI Houston field office at 713-693-5000.

All of the defendants are indicted in the criminal scheme as alleged members or affiliates of the Southwest Cholos. All are charged in varying counts to include multiple conspiracy counts; sex trafficking by force, fraud or coercion; sex trafficking of a minor by force, fraud or coercion; transportation to engage in prostitution; enticing or coercing another to travel in interstate commerce for prostitution; transportation of illegal aliens; importation of aliens for immoral purposes; possession with the intent to distribute heroin; possession with intent to distribute methamphetamines; illegal dealing of firearms; felon in possession of a firearm; illegal re-entry; false statements; and aggravated identity theft.

According to the indictment, the defendants operated several brothels in apartments throughout Houston as well as in Mexico. The primary location was the Carriage Way Apartment Complex on Dashwood in southwest Houston, which was also home to their base of operations for drug and firearms trafficking, according to the allegations.

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Execution date set for Sugar Land man on death row

An execution date has been set for a Sugar Land man on death row for arranging to have some of his family members shot and killed so he could collect a $1 million inheritance.

Bart Whitaker is set to be executed on Feb. 22, 2018.

Investigators said that on Dec. 10, 2003, Whitaker arranged to make the shooting look like he and his family members interrupted a burglary as they returned home from dinner.

A masked gunman inside the home shot and killed Whitaker’s 19-year-old brother, Kevin, in the front room of the house. Then the gunman shot and killed Whitaker’s 51-year-old mother, Tricia. The shooter also wounded Whitaker’s 54-year-old father, Kent. A bullet hit Whitaker in his arm.

The gunman and a third person in the crime are also in prison, serving sentences.

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Clara Harris granted parole for husband’s murder

Clara Harris, the woman who was convicted for running over her husband in an infamous murder in the Clear Lake area, was granted parole Friday.

Court records show Harris has not yet been scheduled for release as of Monday.

She was expected to stay in state prison through 2023.

Her parole was denied in 2016 because of the brutality of that crime.

In an interview with KPRC 2 the night of the murder, 15 years ago, she said, “It was an accident.”

The Lake Jackson dentist repeatedly drove her silver Mercedes over her husband, stopping the car on top of his body in the parking lot of the Hilton NASA Clear Lake in Nassau Bay.

Her orthodontist husband, 44-year-old Dr. David Harris, died. The crime was caught on tape.

Earlier on the day of the attack, Clara Harris hired a private investigator to trail her husband, whom she suspected of having an affair with one of his former employees.

That investigator ultimately videotaped David Harris’ dying moments after Cara Harris confronted her husband and a woman inside the hotel lobby.

The fight moved outside, where Clara Harris drove the car over David Harris three times.

She was convicted of murder and sent to prison for 20 years.

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Coast Guard searching area near Freeport after boat catches fire, sinks

The Coast Guard is searching for possible missing people after a boat caught fire and sank Monday afternoon about 3 miles south of the San Bernard River, near Freeport.

Around 2:45 p.m., flames and smoke were reported just south of the San Bernard River.

A Coast Guard helicopter found a 25-foot-long vessel burned beyond identification. The vessel sank shortly after crews arrived.

“Our No. 1 priority is the preservation of human life,” said Lt. Mike Hart, chief duty officer at Sector Houston-Galveston. “We have several assets actively searching for any possible missing persons.”

Coast Guard crews said they would continue searching throughout the night.

Anyone with information regarding the vessel fire is asked to contact Coast Guard Sector Houston-Galveston at 281-464-4853.

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Explosion at vodka distillery burns 3 in north Harris County

Three people were burned Monday in an explosion at a vodka distillery in north Harris County, authorities said.

The incident was reported about 10 a.m. at a warehouse in the 1200 block of East Richey Road.

According to fire officials at the scene, one of the victims was flown to the hospital, while the other two were driven there.

Officials are working to determine the cause of the explosion, but an investigator said it may have happened during a transfer of the flammable alcohol.

Stay with KPRC 2 and Click2Houston.com for the latest on this developing story.

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Police increase reward for information in case of child’s body found on Galveston beach

The Galveston Police Department and the FBI are still searching for more information in the case of a boy’s body found on a Galveston beach.

Monday, the two entities said they have chased down hundreds of leads, but none have been useful. The reward for useful information has been raised to $10,000.

Meantime, investigators have named the little boy “Little Jacob” while they continue to search for his real identity. Investigators say this will help the departments, and the public, with the association of the case.

Police say they continue to waiting for a complete autopsy and when the autopsy is complete, the details of that report will not be made public to protect the integrity of the investigation.

The parents of the child are expected to be alive, police say.

“This is extremely unusual for any part of the country and extremely unusual for Galveston Island,” Capt. Joshua Schirard with the Galveston police said.

The Galveston community has come together to support each other in these two weeks, Schirard said.

Police have released a sketch photo of a 3- to 5-year-old boy who was found dead on a beach in Galveston in late October.

A passerby spotted the child about 5:35 p.m. while walking on the beach near 7th Street and Seawall Boulevard, authorities said.

At the time of the boy’s discovery, there were no recent missing children cases in Galveston, police said. Investigators commissioned renowned forensic sketch artist, Lois Gibson, to draw a sketch of the child for police.

“I want to reach out to that grandmother or the relative or the mommy or the daddy or some neighbor. Somebody who knows the baby,” Gibson said at the time.

Police said no one has come forward to report a missing child in the surrounding area. The medical examiner has not released a cause of death.

The area where the boy was found is not heavily trafficked, police said last month, adding that the particular area is mostly grassland.

Police describe the child as 3 feet tall with a slender build, black hair and brown eyes.

Officials said this is an extremely unusual case and the circumstances surrounding the child’s death have grown more suspicious during the investigation.

“We are throwing every resource we possibly can at assuring we identify this child,” Capt. Joshua Schirard with Galveston police said.

Investigators said they were looking into a missing person’s case in Hawkins County, Tennessee, involving a boy whose picture is similar to the composite sketch of the boy found dead in Galveston. On Monday, investigators said that the cases are not related.

The Police Department is asking anyone who may have any information concerning this case to call 409-765-3702 or Galveston County Crime Stoppers at 409-763-8477.

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Leon Jacob, man accused in murder-for-hire plot, faces new charge

Leon Jacob, the man accused in a murder-for-hire plot, is facing a new charge.

A grand jury indicted Jacob with aggravated kidnapping Friday.

According to court documents, the charge is connected to his former girlfriend, Megan Verikas.

A court date for the new charge hasn’t been set.

Jacob is already behind bars, charged with solicitation of capital murder.

Prosecutors said he and the late veterinarian Valerie McDaniel tried to hire a hitman to kill their exes.

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Harris County Precinct 4 deputy constable shot several times, officials say

A Harris County Precinct 4 deputy constable was shot several times Sunday, according to officials.

The shooting was reported about 6 p.m. at 9006 Walnut Glen Drive.

Officials said the deputy constable was rushed to Memorial Hermann Hospital for treatment.

A spokesman for the Harris County Sheriff’s Office said that the deputy constable was shot several times in the legs and is expected to survive.

Harris County deputies at the scene told KPRC 2 reporter Bill Spencer that the gunman was in custody.

The identity of the deputy constable was not immediately released.

It was not immediately clear what led up to the shooting.

Stay with KPRC 2 and Click2Houston.com for the latest on this developing story.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrecly reported that Herman told KPRC 2 that the gunman was in custody.

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How to earn quick cash by flipping items

There’s a simple way to make quick cash and we think just about anyone can do it. Have you ever heard of flipping? You buy something at a thrift store or garage sale and you resell it to make money.

Flipping is a great way to add to your income, but you have to know what to look for. It’s like a citywide scavenger hunt and the prize is quick cash in your pocket.

“I love getting out in the thrift store, trying to find the hidden treasures,” thrift shopper Jen Meneely said. “It’s kind of like gambling. I love gambling.

“It is a great way to make money, but you really have to know your product,” Pippa Williams said.

Williams and Meneely met at a thrift shop and hit it off. They started shopping together right away and then created the website and blog Too Cheap Blondes. They don’t typically “flip” items, but they certainly know what to look for.

“There are people out there who do this to supplement their income. There are others that do it full time and make a lot of money doing it,” Williams said.

Good items to flip include furniture, artwork, books and kitchen items. The Too Cheap Blondes” think the easiest item to flip is clothing.

Clothing

“Do your research, know exactly what brands sell really well and you can flip quick,” Meneely said.

Williams recently found a Tommy Hilfiger jacket from the 1990s with a huge flag on the front.

“These are so hot right now,” she said. “The thing that makes this so valuable is it has the big logo flag. I found this for $2 at a Family Thrift Store and this is going to sell anywhere from $300 to $400 on Ebay.”

Other popular resale brands include Kate Spade, Tory Burch, Burberry and Levis jean jackets and vests.

How do you know if the item will make money? Go to Ebay and type in the name of the item. Filter the “sold” items and you will see how much they are actually being sold for. That will help you decide if it would be worth it to try to resell the item you find.

Furniture

“Thrift stores are a treasure trove for highquality, vintage, solid wood furniture,” Meneely said.

As you probably know, companies just don’t make furniture the way they used to. There is always solid wood furniture at thrift stores and often it’s something you can buy and resell for a profit.

“The average price on, say, a solid wood buffet is about $120 to $150, which might seem like a lot,”
Meneely said. “Some of these don’t even need to be updated. Just, you happen to be the one to find it. You can sell this easily for $400 to $500.”

Chairs with fabric that can be easily recovered are also great items to flip. People who recover and upholster furniture frequently look to buy vintage furniture to fix up and sell. You can often grab a chair for $20 to $40 and sell it for an easy $100.

Artwork

You’ll find artwork in just about any thrift store. Look for original works of art. Shopping local is prime for finding artists specific to the area where you live, and you can sell the art online to someone in a different area of the country.

“This is an artist out of Santa Fe who is famous for her watercolors,” Meneely said. “I think these have a value of around $300 and they are here at the Salvation Army for $2.99.”

Meneely and Williams recently paid $10 for an original piece from a Houston artist worth $2,500. They listed it on a Facebook trading group and sold it the same day for $100. They said that while they knew it was worth a lot more, they were just happy to get a quick buck instead of sitting on it and waiting for a higher bidder.

Kitchen items

Plenty of people have a nostalgic memory of a kitchen gadget or item that was at their grandmother’s house. Because of that, vintage kitchen items often sell for a great price.

For example, KPRC Channel 2 News found Starbucks mugs for $2, and they are selling for $30 on Ebay.

Pewter items often resell well, too. A $3 pair of pewter bunny salad servers from Mexico are listed for $40 online.

“It’s the thrill of the hunt,” Williams said.

Selling

For smaller items, you can easily ship, Ebay is your best bet, because you are selling to a wider audience. You end up paying about 20 percent
in fees.

For larger items, such as furniture, try neighborhood Facebook selling groups or Craigslist. Take precautions when meeting people you are working with through the sites. The Houston Police Department has a safe zone system set up for people who are meeting to exchange items sold online. They encourage people to use parking lots of police stations around town. Officers are not allowed to help out with the transaction.

You can check here for a safe zone location near you.

25+ places to sell your items

eBay
Real reel
Poshmark
Tradesy
Craigslist
Amazon
Etsy – vintage only, i.e., old lunchbox
Shopify
Offerup – App
Listia – App, various items
Depop – Clothing
Gone – Electronic trading app
Vinted – Clothing
Chairish – Furniture, art
Decluttr – Electronics, game consoles, books, DVDs, refurbishables
Close5 – Antiques, home goods, automobiles
Trove – Furniture, decor
Hoobly – Specializes in dog trading
5miles – Various items
Carousell – has a smaller grouping option on the website

Physical locations for “flipping”

Once upon a Child – Plato’s Closet for children
Buffalo exchange – Physical location
Plato’s closet – Physical location

Old-fashioned yard sale – Yard sale apps available or self-advertise with personal social media platform:

http://www.yardsalehelper.com/
http://yardsailr.com/
http://yardsales.com/

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24 Texas Dairy Queens closing after franchise company files for bankruptcy

A Dairy Queen franchise company with 70 locations across Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma has filed for bankruptcy.

The company, Vasari LLC, has about 900 employees, according to the court filing.

So far, 29 Dairy Queen locations have closed, including 24 in Texas, three in Oklahoma and two in New Mexico.

The closest Texas location run by the company is in Conroe on 1612 North Frazier Street.

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Hurricane Harvey flood looters exposed

During the worst times of Hurricane Harvey, when families were at risk and homes and businesses were being destroyed, there were vultures preying on people. We are talking about looters, the people arrested for stealing from homes and businesses during the disaster.

“I hope karma gets them,” homeowner Elizabeth Burnham said.

The Villages of Bear Creek on the Westside near bloated Addicks Reservoir was a neighborhood devastated by flood waters and worse.

“There was also five feet of sewage on everything,” Burnham said.

Burnham salvaged what she could on her front lawn only to have it disappear piece by piece. She even had signs up asking people not to take items from her yard.

“I don’t know how people can do that, and I don’t know how they can sleep at night,” she said.

“Like it or not, there are evil people out there that are aware this is easy pickings,” said Andy Kahan, the city of Houston’s crime victim advocate.

Kahan’s home also flooded, and he witnessed looting as he was boarding a rescue boat.

“We need to do something,” he said. “We need to let the world and the public know who these quote ‘looters’ are and who got arrested.”

That’s what we did. KPRC Channel 2 News has spent weeks combing through documents and looking into the arrests made during the hurricane. Kahan has taken a special interest in the cases.

[Scroll to bottom to see interactive map of many looting locations and mugshots]

“There are multiple convictions — people are on bond, one particular person was paroled December 2016 after doing half of his 20-year sentence,” Kahan said.

In Northeast Houston on Lockwood near Cavalcade on Aug. 29 it was an absolute free-for-all at a hair shop. Dozens of people can be seen on store surveillance video walking through knee-deep water and taking whatever they wanted. The video shows a black Tahoe so loaded up with items that the people who did the stealing couldn’t even fit inside. More people were later seen coming up on a boat to burglarize the business.

“Me count (sic) about how many people come in,” said the store owner, who did not want to be identified. “Me count (sic) about 300 people — 300!”

Of those 300 people, KPRC found two men who have so far been charged: Patrick Davenport, 31, and Alex Townsel, 23. Hundreds of others may never be brought to justice.

“The offenses that occurred during that time period by and large have been investigated, and we’re proceeding on them,” said David Mitcham, from the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. “There may be some outlier cases in the coming weeks and months.”

In some cases, the suspected looters almost seemed as if they were asking to get caught.

“Basically, I was checking the shop to see how bad it was getting,” said Derrick Martin with Gardner & Martin Inc. “I happened to notice somebody had a flash light in the corner looking around; I knew that wasn’t right.”

Martin knows a red flag when he sees one. His family-owned flag company in Pasadena got flooded, then looted. He watched it unfold on his phone and called the Pasadena Police Department. Officers arrested Drake Boren, 20, at the scene of the crime.

“Everyone is in panic, you know? It’s survival mode and someone takes advantage of that. That’s not right,” Martin said.

Harris County prosecutors requested a higher bond for Boren and dozens of other suspected looters.

“We find it intolerable and we are taking a hard line,” Mitcham said.

Enhancement charge for looting

In Texas, there is no criminal charge called looting. Instead, when burglaries, thefts, robberies and assaults happen in declared disaster areas the penalties can be stiffer. It’s called an enhancement charge.

“If it’s a burglary of a habitation for instance, and it was charged as a second, it could be enhanced up to a first degree,” Mitcham said.

Two to 20-year sentences are replaced with five to 99-year sentences. The Harris County District Attorney’s office said hundreds of suspected criminals — not all looters — initially appear to be eligible for Harvey-related penalty enhancement.

“These individuals need to go to prison,” Kahan said. “There’s no if, ands or buts — send a message loud and clear.”

KPRC will continue to follow these cases through the courts to see what convictions are eventually handed down.

You can look at the names and faces of many of the suspected looters who were arrested by clicking on the flood looters slideshow.

We’ve also made an interactive map that shows many of the looting locations along with mug shots and names of the people arrested at each location.

 

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