Wyoming hit by nationwide bomb hoax

CHEYENNE (WNE) — At least seven Cheyenne businesses and an elementary school in Wheatland received emailed bomb threats Thursday believed to be part of a nationwide scare.

Cheyenne Police Department spokesman Officer Kevin Malatesta said he knew of seven businesses that received emails threatening to set off an explosive device unless the business transferred $20,000 worth of bitcoin to a crypto-currency account.

He said none of the businesses were evacuated, and the threats were deemed not credible.

In Wheatland, students and staff were evacuated from an elementary school in response to a threat.

According to a Wyoming Highway Patrol news release, a K9 squad trained to detect explosives was sent to the scene, and no explosives were found.

A bomb threat was also reported at Jackson’s Wort Hotel.

Malatesta said people should be wary of such threats and should not give out money in those situations.

If people see suspicious activity, such as strange people or packages in the area, they should call police, he said.

Police departments and law enforcement agencies from around the country investigated similar threats throughout the day, according to CNN.

In a statement, the FBI said it was aware of the threats.

“We remain in touch with our law enforcement partners to provide assistance,” the statement says.

“As always, we encourage the public to remain vigilant and to promptly report suspicious activity which could represent a threat to public safety.”

Oil and gas lease sale dips

CASPER (WNE) — The quarterly oil and gas leasing bonanza that’s regularly driven millions into Wyoming’s coffers since early 2017 fizzled this December when a statewide federal auction brought in just $2,000 for the state.

Oil and gas firms bid on three parcels in the statewide fourth-quarter auction, garnering $3,975. Half of that income goes to the state of Wyoming.

The unusually small sale was not a result of lagging interest from the oil and gas industry. The Bureau of Land Management was forced to delay selling 578 parcels that were proposed for lease by companies because the land is also sage grouse habitat.

Leasing is permissible in the bird’s domain and that land will be offered early next year; however, a judge recently ruled that the BLM didn’t offer the public enough time to weigh in before the December sale.

The Bureau of Land Management in Wyoming has changed its practices regarding leasing under the Trump administration. It holds statewide auctions four times per year, instead of the previous regional sales.

Staff is also pressured to complete environmental analysis on each auction faster, and the public comment period was cut to 10 days. The latter change was contested successfully as one part of a broader suit in Idaho, where environmental groups are fighting the Trump administration’s leasing practices.

The federal judge decided that the BLM had broken its own rules by restricting public comment when it comes to leasing and the grouse.

The BLM complied with the court decision by removing the land in sage grouse habitat from the December sale and opening a 30-day public comment period on the tracts offered. The public will also get 30 days to protest the BLM’s decisions.


Woman pleads guilty to kidnapping

ROCK SPRINGS (WNE) — Rock Springs resident Ahna Velasquez, 19, who pleaded not guilty in September to two felonies — conspiracy to commit kidnapping and kidnapping as well as one misdemeanor count of battery — changed her plea to guilty for a felony count of kidnapping and misdemeanor count of battery on Dec. 5.

Velasquez entered into a plea agreement with the state of Wyoming, which dismissed the first felony count of conspiracy to commit kidnapping.

Should she have been convicted of all three counts, Velasquez faced a maximum sentence of 40 years and six months in prison with a fine of $20,750.

As part of the plea agreement, the prosecution asked that she serve seven to 10 years for the kidnapping count and six months for the battery count, to run concurrently, and pay a $510 fine.

At 10:46 p.m. Aug. 18, officers from the Rock Springs Police Department responded to a call of someone screaming for help in the vicinity of the Evangelical Free Church on Firestone Road in Rock Springs. Upon arrival, they were approached by a woman with wounds consistent with a struggle who claimed to have been kidnapped, according to the case affidavit.

Velasquez told the court on Dec. 5 that she met with the woman that night, and the two fought exchanging blows and rolling on the ground.

Her husband, Jeffrey Olson, 27, of Rock Springs, allegedly put the victim in a chokehold, rendering the woman unconscious. The two then put the victim in their car and drove out of town. When asked why she drove the victim out of town, Velasquez said she intended to scare and terrorize the woman.


From Wyoming News Exchange newspapers