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August 21, 2019 - 12:00 am

NICHOLAS SPARKS-LAWSUIT

Jury to weigh ex-school head's lawsuit against writer Sparks

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A jury will decide whether the former head of a private Christian school that novelist Nicholas Sparks founded in his North Carolina hometown was unjustly fired, then defamed when the author said the educator suffered from mental illness.

Attorneys are expected to summarize their evidence Wednesday before jurors begin deliberating whether Saul Hillel Benjamin resigned or was pushed out. Jurors also will decide whether Sparks, his foundation and Epiphany School of Global Studies owe Benjamin money.

Sparks and the school are based in New Bern, about 120 miles (195 kilometers) east of Raleigh, where the federal trial is being held.

Sparks says Benjamin lied about his experience and job performance and also caused a series of campus conflicts that justified his firing. Sparks says Benjamin accepted $150,000 to resign instead.

STATE BUDGET-TEACHERS

Seeking to end NC budget impasse, Cooper talks to teachers

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper says Republican lawmakers need to meet with him to end a budget stalemate and give North Carolina public school teachers and staff better raises than what the GOP offered in the spending bill he vetoed.

Cooper met with some teachers, a principal and other education workers during a roundtable discussion at the Executive Mansion on Tuesday. It was the latest event Cooper has held to try to persuade GOP lawmakers to negotiate a final two-year budget. Several previous roundtables have emphasized Cooper's support for expanding Medicaid, which Republican legislative leaders oppose.

Cooper talked up his salary offer, which would more than double the average 3.8% raises for teachers that the GOP proposal included. Cooper is unhappy Republican leaders haven't made a counteroffer to his July proposal.

NORTH CAROLINA-DISPUTED ELECTION

Dem House candidate joins GOP rival in helping super PACs

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The Democrat in the last undecided U.S. House race publicly decries dark money in politics but is joining his Republican rival in making it easier for untraceable political spending groups to help out.

A four-minute silent video of North Carolina's Dan McCready was uploaded to YouTube last week. That's seen as inviting super PACs to use the footage in 9th Congressional District ads even though they can't legally coordinate with McCready's campaign.

His GOP opponent, state Sen. Dan Bishop, posted silent video in May.

Super PACs can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money.

McCready has said dark money has no place in U.S. politics and vowed to reject donations from corporate sources. McCready's campaign noted he's pledged to reduce big-money influence if elected.

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This story has been corrected to delete reference that Super PACs are not required to disclose donors.

TELEMARKETING SCHEME

Telemarketer sentenced in sweepstakes scheme

ASHEVILLE, N.C. (AP) — A telemarketer has been sentenced to more than five years in prison for his role in a $10 million telemarketing scheme.

U.S. District Judge Max Cogburn, of the western district of North Carolina, sentenced Carlin Woods, of Merrillville, Indiana, to 63 months in prison and three years of supervised release.

Prosecutors say the scheme defrauded primarily elderly victims in the United States from call centers in Costa Rica.

Woods pleaded guilty in May 2017 to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, one court of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.

In a plea agreement, Woods admitted to working with co-conspirators who falsely posed as employees of U.S. government agencies. They contacted victims to tell them they had won a substantial "sweepstakes" prize.

DUKE ENERGY-GRID COSTS

Duke Energy push to set NC prices for multiple years stalls

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The country's largest electric company faces a setback as it pushes North Carolina for the chance to line up profitable infrastructure projects years into the future and bypass lengthy regulatory battles.

The state House amended legislation Tuesday that represents one of Duke Energy Corp.'s chief goals this year. The bill allowing multi-year rates now says the issue should be studied until next spring.

The idea of multi-year rate-setting comes after state utilities regulators last year wouldn't approve a $13 billion, 10-year Duke Energy proposal on electricity grip updates with profit margins tacked on. The Charlotte-based company also projects charging consumers up to $10 billion for coal-ash cleanup lasting a decade or more.

The bill now returns to the Senate, which can agree with the changes or force further negotiations.

EMU ON THE LOOSE

County locates emu on the loose, creates plan to capture him

HILLSBOROUGH, N.C. (AP) — Officials in North Carolina have tracked down an emu who's been on the loose for several weeks, but he hasn't been captured.

The Orange County Government posted a photo of Eno the Emu with a bowl of food and a bucket of water on its social media pages Monday.

The update says Orange County Animal Services is leaving the items for the emu. Officials say it'll make Eno more comfortable so it will be easier to capture him.

News outlets report Eno has been on the run since June. He was once spotted jumping on the hood of a car before running away. It's unclear where he escaped from. The update didn't say where he was located.

Animal services spokesperson Tenille Fox says owning emus is legal in Orange County.

CONFEDERATE MONUMENT REMOVAL

Daughters of Confederacy asked to remove N Carolina monument

PITTSBORO, N.C. (AP) — Commissioners in North Carolina say the United Daughters of the Confederacy must soon come up with a plan for removing a Confederate monument from a county courthouse's grounds.

The News & Observer reports Chatham County commissioners voted 4-1 Monday to ask the chapter to bring a removal plan by Oct. 1. If the deadline isn't met, the county said it would declare the monument public trespass and take steps to remove it. Monument supporters shouted that the board members were "traitors."

The county's efforts could be complicated by a state law that largely restricts removal of such monuments on public land.

The monument was placed at the Pittsboro courthouse in 1907. Commissioner Karen Howard says nobody has suggested destroying it, but she proposed moving it and forming a reconciliation panel.

NORTH CAROLINA DORM KILLING-THE LATEST

The Latest: False confession expert testifies at hearing

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — An expert in false confessions says police used a man's mental illness against him and pretended to be his friend in order to get him to confess to a murder in a North Carolina dormitory.

Allison Redlich of George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, testified Tuesday in the innocence hearing of 66-year-old James Blackmon.

He's serving a life sentence for second-degree murder in the fatal stabbing of Helena Payton in 1979 at what's now St. Augustine's University in Raleigh.

Blackmon entered the courtroom in a wheelchair and dressed in orange-and-white striped jail clothes. His case is before a three-judge panel that must decide unanimously on Blackmon's innocence in order for him to be released.

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