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Omaha center to lead $31 million USDA effort to evaluate nutrition incentive programs

Omaha’s Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition has been selected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to lead a four-year, $31 million effort to provide evaluation, technical assistance and training for 22 nutrition incentive programs across the country.

It’s the largest-ever grant for the independent, nonprofit research center, established in 1973.

The 22 incentive programs all are intended to help those who participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, increase the amount of nutritious fruits and vegetables they purchase for themselves and their families. SNAP formerly was known as food stamps.

Examples are Double Up Food Bucks programs that double the value of SNAP dollars spent on fresh produce at participating grocery stores and markets and produce prescription programs that allow health care providers and assistance agencies to give people vouchers to help them purchase healthy foods.

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Such efforts, which began as a few pilot programs about a decade ago, were made permanent — and expanded — under the 2018 farm bill. The goal of the grant will be to make sure the programs, scattered across 21 states and the District of Columbia, help people eat better and are cost-effective.

While none of the programs to be evaluated are based in Nebraska or Iowa, the two states do have their own versions. The Omaha Farmers Market, for instance, offers Double Up Food Bucks at its Old Market and Aksarben locations. And Healthy Harrison County in Iowa administers a food prescription program sponsored by CHI Health, which operates a hospital in Missouri Valley. The program also provides free transportation to farmers markets in the county.

Not only can nutrition incentive programs help low-income families, they also can benefit local economies and local farmers, said Amy Yaroch, the Gretchen Swanson Center’s executive director.

“It’s so incredibly important to have a program like this,” she said. “It’s a win across the board.”


Amy Yaroch

While the center won’t retain all of the grant funds, it will manage the award and lead efforts to evaluate and measure the incentive programs. Fair Food Network, the other lead partner, based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, will provide training and technical assistance. The two organizations will be supported by a coalition of partners and experts.

Yaroch said the center’s role is important for Nebraska and the Midwest because of the size of the grant and the importance of agriculture to the region.

The award also recognizes the center’s expertise in evaluating such programs. In 2018, the center led a study funded by Healthy Eating Research, a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The study’s findings informed the farm bill. The center has been the independent evaluator for Fair Food Network’s Michigan Double Up Food Bucks program for the past five years.

“We’ve been really building the base to get here,” Yaroch said.

The idea behind nutrition incentive programs is to give people better access to fresh fruits and vegetables rather than to restrict less healthy choices, such as pop.

Early results indicate that participants in the programs are buying and eating more fruits and vegetables. The next step, Yaroch said, will be to figure out how to measure other health outcomes across programs.

Through the grant, the partners will work with the groups running the incentive programs to help them build an approach that will work over the four years.

Said Yaroch, “What an opportunity to have an impact on a program that has been built in as a permanent part of the farm bill.”

17 rare and unusual health stories out of Omaha

Omaha can't use evidence that led to mass evacuation against Yale Park landlord, judge rules

On the eve of the City of Omaha’s criminal trial against the landlord of the Yale Park Apartments, a judge ruled that the search warrant used to inspect the complex last year was invalid, meaning that evidence of code violations gathered during the inspections cannot be used in court.

Douglas County Judge Grant Forsberg ruled in favor of landlord Kay Anderson on Monday, granting his lawyer’s motion to quash and exclude all evidence tied to the Sept. 20, 2018, inspections that resulted in a mass evacuation of the 100-unit apartment complex near 34th Avenue and Lake Street. That includes photos, notes and any testimony regarding code violations that inspectors discovered.

“This guy really got treated wrongly and contrary to the Constitution and the laws,” said Jason Bruno, Anderson’s attorney. “He got a lot of vindication.”

His trial was scheduled to start Tuesday morning and will now be delayed as the city appeals Forsberg’s ruling, according to Omaha City Prosecutor Matt Kuhse.

The ruling deals a major blow to the city’s case against Anderson. The city charged him with 94 misdemeanors for violating city building codes and not making repairs at the apartments quickly enough.

Each count carries the possibility of up to six months in jail and a $500 fine.

“We disagree with the ruling, and we’re going to appeal it,” Kuhse said Monday afternoon. “I believe we’ll prevail on appeal and we will go from there.”

Building inspectors descended on Yale Park last year after receiving dozens of complaints about living conditions at the property, then home to 500 refugee tenants from Myanmar. The city inspectors found gas leaks, bedbug infestations, leaky ceilings and mold and ordered the complex shut down. All 500 tenants were displaced.

The city eventually cited Anderson with a total of 1,962 violations.

He oversees the apartments through a Utah-based limited liability company, AB Realty.

Photos: Yale Park Apartments inspection

The judge said the city never tried to obtain Anderson’s consent to inspect his property.

Nebraska law requires that warrants for property inspections “shall be issued only upon showing that consent to entry for inspection purposes has been refused. In emergency situations neither consent nor a warrant shall be required.”

After receiving the housing complaints from Yale Park residents, collected with the help of refugee advocacy group Restoring Dignity, the city asked a Douglas County judge for a warrant so inspectors could enter the property.

According to Bruno’s motion, the affidavit that the city’s chief housing inspector, Scott Lane, filed with the court indicated that the city hadn’t received Anderson’s permission to let inspectors in.

But during a deposition, Lane admitted that the city hadn’t asked Anderson, according to court documents.

Lane was asked: “At any point prior to September 20, 2018, were you refused access to inspect the Yale Park Apartments or any of the apartments by Mr. Anderson?”

Lane replied, “I was not.”

“So you were not refused?”

Lane: “Correct, because we never asked.”

In his ruling, Forsberg said that the inspection warrant was invalid and that the original affidavit contained several misstatements.

“To determine that a city could file an affidavit and application with false and unfounded allegations to gain access to a landlord’s property without the property owner having any ability to resist or challenge the allegation appears to be a de facto warrantless search,” Forsberg wrote. “Warrantless searches have been met with specific disfavor by our courts as a violation of the Fourth Amendment,” which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures.

City officials have consistently argued that the intervention at Yale Park was a humanitarian effort, spurred by concerns over dangerous and unsanitary living conditions.

Anderson, who also lived at Yale Park with his wife, said his tenants were to blame for some of the problems found.

Anderson is fixing up the property, and about 50 units are occupied once again by refugee tenants.

Several civil suits related to the apartments and the city inspections are still pending in court.

Jury finds one guilty, one not in O'Neill immigration conspiracy

LINCOLN — Tears of joy mixed with tears of sadness in a federal courtroom Monday after a split verdict in a trial stemming from an immigration raid in the O’Neill, Nebraska, area a year ago.

Mayra Jimenez, a secretary at a tomato greenhouse in O’Neill, wiped tears after a jury found her guilty of harboring illegal immigrants and conspiring to harbor illegal immigrants.

Family members of John Glidden, the manager of two hog confinement complexes, teared up in thanks after Glidden was found not guilty of three charges. He was accused of harboring and conspiring to harbor illegal immigrants, as well as conspiring to employ illegal workers.

The verdicts followed a complicated two-week trial. It was the only one to result from an August 2018 immigration raid in the O’Neill area that led to the detention of 130 workers and company managers. All other defendants pleaded guilty, and 40 of those detained were granted deferrals from deportation after providing information to federal agents.

The raid uncovered a multimillion-dollar scheme led by Juan Pablo Sanchez-Delgado and his family to provide dozens of undocumented workers for local commercial farming operations. They skimmed off part of the workers’ paychecks and didn’t pay state and federal taxes, using the money to buy an O’Neill restaurant, ranch and home, as well as four residences in Las Vegas.

The foreman of the jury of 10 men and two women said the evidence showed that Jimenez knew that one of the workers provided to the O’Neill Ventures plant was illegal and did nothing.

Meanwhile, the main evidence against Glidden was a wiretapped phone call in which he was told that one of his employees was about to obtain his papers and become “legal.” The foreman, Reed Westerhoff of Lincoln, said the jury “couldn’t take one sentence and hang an entire verdict on it.”

“The hands we raised were very heavy ... on all counts,” Westerhoff said of the jury.

Jimenez now faces up to 10 years in prison. Her sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 12 before U.S. District Judge John Gerrard.

One of the original defendants in the trial, Atkinson businessman John Good, was dismissed from the case by Gerrard. One charge against Good was dropped, and a mistrial was declared on two other charges. Those charges could be refiled.

The trial involved three different conspiracies involving Sanchez-Delgado. In an apparent first for such a case, Immigration and Customs Enforcement used wiretaps to listen in on hundreds of calls made by Sanchez-Delgado to local firms that were seeking workers and to local workers seeking jobs.

Glidden’s attorney, Carlos Monzon of Lincoln, said there was no evidence that Glidden knew the workers being supplied by Sanchez-Delgado were illegal. The hog farms signed a contract for the workers before Glidden was hired to manage the farrowing facilities in Long Pine and Ainsworth.

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“That contractor (Sanchez-Delgado) fooled everybody,” Monzon said.

Jimenez’s attorney, Candice Wooster of Lincoln, declined to comment on the jury’s verdict, which was read Monday afternoon, but said it had not yet been decided if she will appeal. The jury received the case Friday afternoon, then resumed deliberations Monday morning.

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment, noting that several of those detained, including Sanchez-Delgado, await sentencing.

The lead prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Lesley Woods, argued during the trial that it should have been obvious to Jimenez and Glidden that they were being provided undocumented workers.

She said Sanchez-Delgado exploited the workers, paying them substandard wages and forcing them to work excessive overtime. In some of the phone calls, he was heard assuring employers that he would urge his workers to work more overtime.

Notable crime news of 2019

special report
45-foot-tall 'Big Blue' makes the cut as this season's Christmas tree at the Durham Museum

“Big Blue,” a 45-foot-tall blue spruce, was getting too big for its owners in northwest Omaha. But they wanted the tree to go out in style.

“We thought that if he goes out being the Christmas tree for Omaha, it doesn’t get much better than that,” said John Flores, who, with wife Dianna, donated the tree to the Durham Museum.

The couple, who live near 142nd Street and Hillsborough Drive, first offered the tree to the museum three years ago. It wasn’t quite big enough at the time, said museum spokeswoman Jessica Brummer, so the tree went on a waiting list.

“Big Blue” met the museum’s requirements this year, so after a crew took down the symmetrical tree Monday morning, it was loaded onto a flatbed and taken to the Durham Museum, at 801 S. 10th St., where it will be decorated for a lighting ceremony the day after Thanksgiving. Staff from Mangelsen’s will trim the tree with about 12,000 lights and hundreds of huge ornaments.

Big Blue was planted in 1993 and already was impressive when the Flores family moved into the home in 2000.

The blue spruce leaves behind yard mates “Red,” an autumn blaze maple that stands near the driveway, and “Seymour,” a sycamore tree in the front yard.


Union Pacific workers get ready to cut down a tree Monday in the yard of John and Dianna Flores, at 14210 Hillsborough Drive.

The plan was to replace “Big Blue” with a smaller tree so the Flores’ grandkids down the street could help with the Christmas decorations. Unfortunately, that batch of grandchildren and their parents moved to Baltimore last year. The Flores’ two other children also live out of town.

The couple intend to find another tree at a tree farm and have it transplanted.

The tradition of a tree at the Durham goes back to the 1930s and the museum’s days as a train station. Union Pacific employees would cut down large evergreens in the Pacific Northwest and send them to Omaha’s Union Station, where they would be decorated and displayed for travelers.

The station closed in 1971. The Western Heritage Museum — now known as the Durham Museum — opened there in 1975, and the tree tradition resumed.

As always, several neighbors and retired U.P. workers gathered Monday for the tree cutting. The retired workers, including Dave Weigelt of Magnolia, Iowa, and Peter Gantnier of Ames, Nebraska, recalled past adventures when they were the guys doing the tree cutting, which was handled Monday by Keegan Smutz.

“Our kids couldn’t be here, but the camaraderie of the neighbors and those retired gentlemen was great,” John Flores said. “This whole process made us feel like we have family here anyway.”

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{strong style=”font-size: 1.17em;”}Photos: The Durham Museum Christmas tree{/strong}

Photos: The Durham Museum's 2019 Christmas tree