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US budget deficit shatters one-month record in June

WASHINGTON — The U.S. budget deficit widened to a record-high $864 billion last month due to the federal government’s extraordinary response to the coronavirus pandemic, the Treasury Department said Monday.

In June 2019, the budget deficit was just $8 billion.

Federal spending rose to more than $1.1 trillion in June, more than twice what the U.S. government spends in a typical month. The amount of tax revenue collected by the federal government remained largely flat, at about $240 billion, in part because the Treasury Department delayed the tax filing deadline until July 15.

The huge surge in June pushed the budget deficit for the first nine months of the fiscal year to $2.7 trillion.

June’s deficit figures highlights just how much havoc the coronavirus pandemic has wreaked on U.S. budgeting. In prior years, the federal deficit was considered large when it approached or eclipsed $1 trillion for an entire year. America spent about $2 trillion more than it took in in tax revenue from April to June alone.

Congress in March approved $2 trillion in spending that took several months to take effect as the economy contracted due to the pandemic. Those efforts included larger benefits for unemployed Americans; $1,200 stimulus payments; and small business relief. Economists say that funding was badly needed to prevent tens of millions of Americans from being hurt by the pandemic, and that more remains necessary.

“Big government deficits are the only thing keeping the U.S. economy on life support and anti-deficit rhetoric threatens to pull the plug,” said Nathan Tankus, research director of the Modern Money Network. “The alternative is mass defaults, evictions and bankruptcies which will devastate the United States.”

The big increase in the deficit from May to June is largely due to an accounting change related to the more than $500 billion in small business aid approved by Congress through the Paycheck Protection Program. Previously, Treasury did not count the PPP’s forgivable loans as spending, but that changed from April to June. Most of the PPP loans to companies are expected to be forgiven and paid off by the government.

Some budget experts believe U.S. spending will have to be cut after the economy improves. The current deficit is more than triple what was lodged over the same period last year. Before the pandemic, the previous biggest one-month deficit in the U.S. was $234 billion.

“Today’s record deficits are mainly a product of our response to the current pandemic — once the economy recovers we need to get our deficit under control,” said Marc Goldwein, senior vice president at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

Numerous White House officials and conservative Republican lawmakers have expressed frustration with the amount of spending approved by Congress and stressed caution over further efforts. As a result, the GOP opted for a “wait-and-see” approach while House Democrats approved more than $3 trillion in new spending in May. Concerns about the deficit have impacted the current round of negotiations, with some White House and GOP officials pushing for the next stimulus package to cost $1 trillion.

Discussions are expected to pick up in the coming days, as they must decide what to do with expiring emergency unemployment benefits.

Two finches fit right in within a sea of green, as spotted by Swanzey resident Summer Bentley.

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Local business owners foil scam, saving senior $19K

It started as a normal shipping transaction Friday afternoon.

A woman in her 80s came to the Shipping Shack on Emerald Street in Keene around 4:30 p.m. to overnight a package, Brenda Beaulieu, the store’s co-owner, said.

Then Beaulieu asked the woman what she was sending.

“You always have to ask what the contents of the package are. Whether they tell you or not is something different. Most of the time they just say [it’s a] gift, or whatever,” Beaulieu said. “But she actually came out and said, ‘cash.’ ”

Specifically, the woman, a Keene resident, was trying to send $19,000 in cash to someone in Milwaukee, Keene police Lt. Steven Tenney said Monday. The woman had gotten a phone call claiming her Social Security number had been stolen, and that she needed to send the money to get a new number and card.

Beaulieu became suspicious, and warned the woman that this could be a scam, but Beaulieu said she insisted on sending the package. That’s when Beaulieu alerted her husband and store co-owner, Bryant, to the situation. He took the package to the Keene Police Department, where officers confirmed that the woman had been targeted for fraud.

An officer called back the number that had initially contacted the woman. When the officer identified himself, the man on the other end of the phone, who claimed to be from the Social Security Administration, hung up and deactivated the phone number, Tenney said.

“It was lucky someone was paying attention,” Tenney said. “Often, that money just disappears.”

In this case, though, police were able to return all of the money to the woman, Tenney added.

“I’m elated that they got her her money back,” Brenda Beaulieu said. “If that [package] had gone out, and he actually received it, there’s no getting it back. She’s lost it forever. And this is a woman that’s in her 80s and is probably living off of this money for the rest of her life.”

Shipping Shack has seen scams like these before, Bryant Beaulieu said.

“This is not the first time,” he said. “My wife has intervened on several occasions and kept people from losing a lot of money.”

The Beaulieus have owned Shipping Shack for more than 11 years. The store ships through several companies, including FedEx, UPS and the U.S. Postal Service, and offers services such as mailbox rentals and package receiving.

Brenda Beaulieu said the store has prevented five or six fraud cases in the past few years.

“There’s quite a few scams out there,” she said. “I’m happy we can catch some of them, but there’s a lot more out there that we don’t know about.”

Common scams can involve unsolicited phone calls or emails from people claiming to be from the government, or a debt collection agency, demanding personal information and/or immediate payment.

Senior citizens can be particularly vulnerable to fraud, and millions of older Americans fall victim to financial scams each year, costing them more than $3 billion annually, according to the FBI.

From 2013 to 2017, U.S. financial institutions reported more than 180,000 cases of suspicious activities targeting seniors for more than $6 billion, according to a report last year from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. But these cases “likely represent a tiny fraction of actual incidents of elder financial exploitation,” that report notes.

Older people may be less likely to report fraud because they don’t know how, or are ashamed to admit they have been scammed and worried that family members will lose confidence in their ability to handle their own affairs, according to the FBI.

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a new wave of scams, according to the CFPB, with some seeking to take advantage of the federal stimulus checks that were part of an initial economic relief package. Regardless of the context of the potential fraud, though, expert advice remains the same: Never give out personal information over the phone or online.

“No one’s going to call you on the phone and tell you to send money,” Tenney said.

And, Brenda Beaulieu added, if a request from an unknown person on the phone or online seems suspicious, ask someone else about it.

“If it looks funny, ask somebody about it first,” she said. “If there’s any hint in your head, in your mind, that it doesn’t look right, ask. And never give out your personal information.”

Sentinel staff writer Mia Summerson contributed to this story.

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Police: Brattleboro shooting erupted from game of cards

BRATTLEBORO — A game of cards gone wrong appears to have led to Saturday night’s shooting that left a man injured in a Canal Street parking lot, according to court documents.

Emanuel R. Tenner III, 22, of Natchez, Miss., was arrested and charged in connection with the incident. He was arraigned via video in Windsor Criminal Division of Vermont Superior Court in White River Junction Monday afternoon on one count each of attempted second-degree murder, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and reckless endangerment of another person. He pleaded not guilty to the charges, according to the Brattleboro Reformer.

He is being held without bail at Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield, Vt.

In an affidavit written by Brattleboro police Detective Colby Kerylow, Tenner is accused of shooting Charlie Clark III, 25, in the abdomen. Clark was taken to Brattleboro Memorial Hospital and later transferred to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon.

An update on his condition wasn’t available from Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center Tuesday. In a news release Sunday morning, Brattleboro police said they didn’t have information on the condition of the person who was shot.

According to the affidavit, three Brattleboro police officers were in the parking lot of a grocery store on Canal Street for an unrelated matter Saturday when they heard gunshots nearby at about 7:50 p.m.

The officers went to the area, behind the Econo Lodge, and found a man, later identified as Clark, with a gunshot wound, the affidavit says. One of the officers put Clark in his cruiser and took him to the hospital.

Police arrested Tenner, who was shown on video surveillance running into the woods after the shooting, and recovered a silver Smith & Wesson .38 revolver, according to the affidavit.

Kerylow wrote that he was contacted at home at about 8 p.m. Saturday and asked to respond to the incident. Kerylow interviewed Clark at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital, and Clark said Tenner had shot him, according to the affidavit. Clark said there had been a disagreement over money while a group of people were playing cards, and a physical altercation had ensued between two of the men, Kerylow wrote. Clark said “both of them” ran for a gun and he tried to break them up, the affidavit states.

The other man, identified as Sededrick T. Flowers, 29, said Tenner is “kin” to him, and that he and Tenner, along with Clark and two other men who were there, work on the bridge on Interstate 91 in Rockingham, Vt., the affidavit states.

Tenner told Kerylow he and Clark — who he said is his cousin — had driven to the Econo Lodge from their motel in Putney, Vt., where they had joined others in playing cards and placing bets, the affidavit states.

Although the affidavit doesn’t specify where Clark and Flowers live, Kerylow wrote that two vehicles with Mississippi registrations were damaged by the gunfire — one registered to Clark and the other to Flowers, according to the affidavit.

Flowers said the group was playing cards and placing bets when another man put down a $20 bill, and Flowers put down a $5 bill, Kerylow wrote. One of the game’s participants, Leroy Myles Jr., 23, said they’d been playing poker, the affidavit states.

Flowers said Tenner claimed the $5 was his, and he and Tenner got into an altercation over it, according to the affidavit. Flowers said he then heard Tenner tell Clark to go unlock the car, and, assuming Tenner was going to get a gun, went to his room and closed the door, Kerylow wrote. Flowers said he grabbed his own gun, but didn’t have a clip in it, and after Tenner stopped knocking on the door and window to the room, Flowers decided to go outside, according to the affidavit.

Outside, Flowers said, he and Tenner got into a “little tussle,” and when he started to walk away, Tenner began shooting at him, Kerylow wrote.

Tenner confirmed there was a disagreement between him and Flowers over money — and that Flowers had gone to his room — but offered a different version of the events that followed, the affidavit states.

Needing to retrieve his cellphone from Flowers’ room, Tenner said he knocked on the door, and Flowers was holding a handgun, according to Kerylow. Tenner said Flowers attempted to “pistol-whip” him, but he blocked the strike, the detective wrote.

Tenner told Kerylow that Flowers then grabbed him by the front of the shirt and pointed the gun at his face, according to the affidavit. Tenner said he had his gun in his left pocket, and shot at Flowers five times in self-defense, did not mean to shoot Clark, and ran from the scene because he was scared, Kerylow wrote.

But according to the affidavit, Tenner’s statement is inconsistent with self-defense based on video surveillance from the scene showing both him and the group walking away from each other before Tenner turns and fires a gun approximately five times.

Split Court's late-night ruling allows first federal execution in 17 years

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration on Tuesday morning carried out the first federal execution since 2003, following a series of court battles and a Supreme Court order, released shortly after 2 a.m., clearing the way for the lethal injection to take place.

Federal officials executed Daniel Lewis Lee, who was convicted in 1999 of killing a family of three, at a penitentiary in Indiana. Lee was pronounced dead Tuesday morning at 8:07 a.m.

“I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life but I’m not a murderer,” Lee said when asked if he wanted to make a final statement. “You’re killing an innocent man.”

While the death penalty has been in nationwide decline for years, with executions and death sentences both down significantly, the Justice Department has publicly pushed against that trend for nearly a year. The department has argued in court and in public statements that it needed to carry out lawful sentences, citing the gravity of the crimes involved.

Last year, the department laid out a new lethal injection protocol — using one drug, pentobarbital — and said it would begin carrying out executions, leading to extended legal challenges. Attorney General William Barr had said recently that officials “owe it to the victims of these horrific crimes, and to the families left behind.”

On Monday, Lee’s execution — originally scheduled for 4 p.m. that afternoon — was left on hold following a judge’s order that he and other death-row inmates could pursue their court case arguing that the new lethal-injection protocol is unconstitutional.

An appeals court said late Monday it would not let the executions take place as planned, but a divided Supreme Court weighed in overnight saying they could proceed.

In an unsigned order, the court said the inmates face “an exceedingly high bar” to prove the execution protocol is unconstitutional and said they had “not made the showing required to justify last-minute intervention” by a federal judge. The order also noted that using the drug pentobarbital for executions was upheld by the high court last year, has withstood numerous appellate challenges and has been used more than 100 times “without incident.”

The court’s four liberal justices wrote two dissents. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan, said the court was “hastily” ending the inmates’ challenges and said that as a result, there would “be no meaningful judicial review of the grave, fact-heavy challenges” they brought. Justice Stephen Breyer, joined by Ginsburg, reiterated his view that the court should examine whether the death penalty itself is unconstitutional.

Lee had challenged his execution on his own and along with other death-row inmates. Relatives of victims in his case had also fought against his execution, asking that it be called off entirely or at least postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, saying they would have to put their lives at risk to witness his death.

Lee and another man were convicted of murdering three people, including an 8-year-old, Sarah Powell, and Nancy Mueller, her mother.

He and this other man, Chevie Kehoe, were part of a group intending to create a white supremacist community in the Pacific Northwest, and they traveled to Arkansas in 1996, where they robbed and murdered William Mueller, a firearms dealer, court records show. They also killed his wife and their daughter, placing plastic bags over their heads and throwing them into a bayou, the records show.

Three of their relatives opposed the execution, which was first scheduled to take place last year before being delayed several months by other court challenges. They say it was unfair Lee was given a death sentence while Kehoe, who officials described as the ringleader in the killings, was sentenced instead to life in prison, a position echoed later by the judge and lead prosecutor from the trial.

In a court case filed last week, the three relatives — Earlene Peterson, Nancy Mueller’s mother; Kimma Gurel, Mueller’s sister; and Monica Veillette, her niece — had asked that the execution be postponed. While they did not support the execution, the relatives said, they still felt obligated to attend.

But all three said they have existing health issues, so they faced “grave risk” if they traveled during the pandemic and went to a federal prison. They asked that it be postponed so they did not have to choose between staying home or possibly risking infection.

“No other family should have to make this decision ... the families of victims should not be put in a position where they have to risk their lives or give up their right” as a witness, Veillette said in an interview. “That is not how we should be treating the families of victims in this country.”

Lee’s execution had been put on hold and then cleared to proceed multiple times in recent days. A federal judge in Indiana last week blocked it from proceeding due to the relatives’ court challenge, while an appeals court panel on Sunday evening said it could take place.

The relatives ultimately decided not to travel to Indiana because they had determined the health risks were too great. The appeals court’s ruling also came too late for them to travel as planned, they said.

Then on Monday morning, a federal judge blocked the government from executing Lee or two other men scheduled to face lethal injection this week. Wesley Purkey, who was convicted in 2003 of raping and murdering Jennifer Long, a teenage girl, and Dustin Lee Honken, who was convicted in 2004 of killing five people, including two young girls.

Purkey’s execution is scheduled for Wednesday, though another court has temporarily stayed it on other grounds, while Honken’s is scheduled for Friday. The Justice Department is also asking the Supreme Court to let Purkey’s execution proceed, but the court has not ruled on that yet.

In a separate case, spiritual advisers for Purkey and Honken are seeking to have their executions delayed and arguing they face health risks if they minister during the pandemic.

U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan of the District of Columbia wrote in an order Monday that she was blocking all of their executions, and another set for August, because it was necessary to let the inmates’ legal challenges to the government’s lethal-injection protocol play out in court. They had argued the lethal-injection method was unconstitutional, saying it amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.

The Justice Department quickly appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and the Supreme Court. Late Monday night, hours after Lee’s execution was originally scheduled, the D.C. Circuit appeals court declined to let the lethal injections proceed and said the inmates’ challenges could move forward.

In its early morning orders on Tuesday, the Supreme Court also rejected a case brought to them by the relatives of victims in Lee’s case, seeking to have his execution postponed due to their coronavirus-related fears. The court denied that without comment.