Wednesday News: Fraud is my middle name


MCCRAE DOWLESS CASHED SSI DISABILITY CHECKS WHILE WORKING: McCrae Dowless, the Bladen County political operative at the center of the allegations of absentee-ballot fraud that brought down Republican congressional candidate Mark Harris in 2018, has been indicted on new charges. A federal grand jury accused Dowless of collecting thousands of dollars in Social Security disability payments in 2017 and 2018 even though he was working for multiple political campaigns including Harris’ bid for the 9th Congressional District, according to a newly unsealed federal indictment. Social Security disability payments are typically available only to people who can’t work because of a disability. And Dowless, the indictment said, told the government that “he remained disabled and did not receive income beyond his SSI benefits” even though in fact he was working. Ultimately, he’s accused of taking at least $14,000 in unauthorized payments.

NC LAWMAKERS TO DEDICATE $75 MILLION FOR SMALL BUSINESS BRIDGE LOANS: State lawmakers hope to pump $75 million into a short-term loan program for small businesses. The new figure was rolled out Tuesday during a House of Representatives working group meeting, and it won unanimous support. The final number, and other details, may change before final passage, but a bipartisan group of both House and Senate leaders put out a joint statement after the vote, promising "a substantial allocation." Gov. Roy Cooper offered support for the program as well Tuesday afternoon. The low-interest loans are essentially bridge funding, with no payments for six months. Golden LEAF, a Rocky Mount-based economic development foundation, rolled out a $15 million version of the program last month, and demand quickly outstripped the funds. House members had talked last week about adding $25 million to the program. By Tuesday, that had increased to $75 million.

SMITHFIELD AMONG FIVE NC FOOD PROCESSORS WHERE EMPLOYEES HAVE VIRUS: Five food processing facilities in the state are each experiencing multiple cases of COVID-19 among employees, North Carolina health officials said Tuesday. A news release from state health and agriculture officials said there are outbreaks of two or more positive cases in food processing facilities in Bladen, Chatham, Duplin, Lee and Robeson counties. The release didn't name the plants. The news release said that the plants are doing temperature checks, providing personal protective equipment and encouraging social distancing when possible. State and local health officials are also offering technical assistance and on-site visits. Teresa Duncan, the director of the Bladen County Health Department, issued a statement over the weekend saying at least one employee tested positive for COVID-19 at the Smithfield Foods pork processing plant in Tar Heel, North Carolina, according to multiple news outlets. Duncan said the employee lived in another county.

PANDEMIC RAMPS UP ANTI-SEMITISM IN THE U.S. AND ABROAD: The report, which monitors anti-Semitic incidents in calendar year 2019, recorded an 18 percent uptick in 2019. But its authors said the coronavirus pandemic is already affecting such incidents, by bringing up age-old lies and conspiracy theories about Jews as agents of infection and economic unrest. “The language and imagery used clearly identifies a revival of the medieval ‘blood libels’ when Jews were accused of spreading disease, poisoning wells or controlling economies.” In protests against coronavirus-related restrictions in the U.S., some demonstrators use anti-Semitic images as they demonstrate. On Sunday in Columbus, Ohio, for instance, several signs depicted a rat with a Star of David superimposed on the Israeli flag with the following text: “The real plague.” The Anti-Defamation League condemned the signs. “This follows the age-old antisemitic trope of blaming Jews for the spread of diseases,” the ADL said in a statement.

GEORGIA MAYORS PUSH BACK ON KEMP'S RELAXATION OF PANDEMIC RESTRICTIONS: Mr. Kemp’s decision allows for what he described as a measured return, starting on Friday with the reopening of gyms, hair and nail salons, bowling alleys and tattoo parlors. On Monday, restaurants can resume dine-in service, and movie theaters and other entertainment venues can reopen. He also lifted limitations on houses of worship. But the mayors of Atlanta and other large cities in the state expressed outrage over not having the authority to adjust the governor’s order to the needs of their residents. They vowed to urge Georgians to ignore Mr. Kemp’s directive. “I am beyond disturbed,” Savannah’s mayor, Van R. Johnson, said on CNN, of the governor’s decision. Projections show that Georgia has not seen the worst of the coronavirus, with deaths not forecast to level off until early May, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. The state has recorded about 19,000 confirmed cases of the virus, with nearly 800 deaths as of Tuesday afternoon, according to state public health data. “That could be setting us back,” Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in an interview on Tuesday, referring to Georgia and other states planning to reopen in coming days. “It certainly isn’t going to be helpful.”