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December 21, 2014

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Chrysler spins cuts, Summerlin gets magazine’s nod

The public relations staff at Chrysler tried its best to spin the news that the automaker is trimming its dealership ranks in Las Vegas and around the country.

But somehow the media missed this angle in the headline on Chrysler's press release: "Chrysler LLC Files Papers to Retain Majority of U.S. Dealer Network as Part of Company's Sales Process."

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Summerlin is rightfully proud of its environmental record and now it's receiving more recognition.

The planned community's trails system is featured in the spring issue of American Trails Magazine and a photo of some Summerlin trails is on the cover.

The report can be found here.

The group that publishes the magazine, American Trails, last year honored Summerlin and two other communities with its first American Trails Developer Awards at the 2008 National Trails Symposium in Little Rock, Ark.

There's a minor error in the magazine report. It says Summerlin's trails wind around lakes and waterways. Not so, as there are no water features in Summerlin as part of the development's environmentally friendly desert landscaping scheme.

Otherwise, the magazine report is a nice reminder to the outside world that there's more to Las Vegas than showgirls and the Strip.

The Howard Hughes Corp., developer of Summerlin, has found walking and biking trails are a key selling point for the community.

"Trails rank well ahead of parks, golf courses and other recreational facilities in terms of both use and popularity among our residents," Tom Warden, senior vice president of community and government relations at Hughes, said when the honor was announced last year. "Our last resident survey indicated that approximately 70 percent of respondents use the trails at least once every few weeks. On any given day, thousands of Summerlin residents can be seen walking, running or cycling on one of the community’s trails."

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Las Vegas real estate veteran Daniel C. Van Epp and his son, Michael R. Van Epp of Phoenix, announced the opening of their national real estate development consulting firm, The Van Epp Companies.

Dan Van Epp has held top leadership positions locally with The Howard Hughes Corp. and its parent company The Rouse Co., both later purchased by General Growth Properties; and with Newland Communities.

The Van Epp Companies provides real estate advisory services to development groups, property owners and capital institutions across the nation. Dan Van Epp said the firm works to distinguish itself through the principals’ direct involvement in the daily operations and guidance of some of the country’s most successful developments and companies.

The firm offers a range of real estate advisory services for projects in all phases of development – from initial planning to near-completion and repositioning. Services include project and portfolio evaluation and assessment; asset and portfolio management; strategic planning; organizational structure and efficiency; project finance and pro-forma modeling; builder program development; market segmentation and housing options; marketing and public relations strategies; entitlement, zoning and development agreement strategy and execution; opportunity analysis; and operational strategy and action plan development.

"Particularly in this challenging economic environment, sound real estate advice and expertise is more important than ever for those seeking to reposition, re-evaluate or re-brand existing projects," Dan Van Epp said in a statement. "Today, there are many opportunities within the real estate development industry that did not exist even just a few months ago. The development world is incredibly dynamic, and we are prepared to help guide our clients through these challenging, but potentially very rewarding times."

Clients of The Van Epp Companies include Columbus Properties and its Tradition project, a 4,800-acre town in Biloxi, Miss; and Newland Communities, the largest privately held developer of master-planned communities nationwide and project manager of Union Park in downtown Las Vegas. Other clients have included the city of Las Vegas and Marnell Corrao.

Based in Phoenix, Michael Van Epp was most recently employed at Sunbelt Holdings where he served on the operations team of Vistancia, a 7,100-acre planned community in the city of Peoria.

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An important figure at UNLV in the 1980s and 1990s has died.

American Pacific Corp., a Las Vegas-based chemical maker, said board member Norval F. Pohl, chancellor of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Ariz., passed away at his home in Phoenix on May 12. Pohl was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in April 2008. He is survived by his wife, Barbikay, two children, Prescott and Chandler and one grandson. He was 65.

"Dr. Pohl and his wife were extremely active in the Las Vegas community and he leaves behind many friends that he made during his time at UNLV and with American Pacific. He was a unique individual who provided valuable insight and guidance to our company as we expanded our business offerings over the past decade," said John Gibson, chairman and chief executive of American Pacific.

Pohl had a distinguished career at UNLV from 1986 to 1998. He was dean of the College of Business and Economics from 1986 to 1994 and vice president of Finance and Administration from 1994 to 1998.

He left Las Vegas in 1998 to become executive vice president and later president of the University of North Texas in Denton, Texas. He joined Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2007.

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The Latin Chamber Community Foundation will hold its 24th Annual Scholarship Luncheon at the Nevada Partners' Culinary Training Academy today. Emceed by past Latin Chamber (LCC) scholarship winner and local news anchor María Silva, the LCC and its corporate sponsor, the Coca-Cola Co., will award and recognize 82 Las Vegas student scholarship winners, their families and past Latin Chamber scholarship recipients.

"By sponsoring one of the Chamber's most important events, we believe that we are making a great investment for the future of Las Vegas and our nation," said Rudy Beserra, vice president of Latin Affairs for the Coca-Cola Co.

The Latin Chamber Community Foundation Scholarship Program has awarded more than $1.2 million in scholarships since its inception and is to be used for UNLV, the College of Southern Nevada, Nevada State College and the University of Nevada, Reno.

The Latin Chamber Community Foundation Scholarship is a matching award program that leverages matching dollars from participating Nevada System of Higher Education institutions and matches them with foundation dollars to increase program impact. The Latin Chamber Community Foundation Scholarships are awarded to students who have demonstrated academic excellence and a need for financial support.

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Read deep in this statement from the U.S. Justice Department and you'll see that an alleged Chinese espionage operation has a Las Vegas connection:

WASHINGTON -- May 13 -- A Defense Department official has been charged with conspiracy to communicate classified information to an agent of a foreign government, David Kris, Assistant Attorney General for National Security; Dana J. Boente, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; and Arthur M. Cummings, II, Executive Assistant Director of the FBI's National Security Branch, announced today.

A criminal complaint unsealed today in the Eastern District of Virginia alleges that, from approximately Nov. 2004 to Feb. 11, 2008, James Wilbur Fondren, Jr., while serving as an employee of the Defense Department, unlawfully and knowingly conspired with others to communicate classified information to another person who he had reason to believe was an agent or representative of a foreign government.

Fondren, 62, worked at the Pentagon and is the Deputy Director, Washington Liaison Office, U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM). He has been on administrative leave with pay since mid-February 2008 and has not performed any duties in or for PACOM since that time. This morning, he turned himself in to federal agents. Fondren is expected to have his initial appearance later today in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va. If convicted, he faces a maximum five years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine.

"Today's case is the result of an outstanding long-term counterespionage effort by many agents, analysts and prosecutors that has thus far yielded three convictions," said David Kris, Assistant Attorney General for National Security. "The conduct alleged in this complaint should serve as a warning to others in government who would compromise classified information and betray the trust placed in them by the American people."

"The allegations in this case are troubling - providing classified information to a foreign agent of the People's Republic of China is a real and serious threat to our national security," said Dana J. Boente, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. "The U.S. government places considerable trust in those given access to classified information, and we are committed to prosecuting those who abuse that trust."

"The complaint unsealed today alleges that Mr. Fondren conspired to steal our nation's secrets for a foreign government, placing his own interests over those of the citizens he served as a U.S. Government employee," said Executive Assistant Director Arthur M. Cummings, II, FBI National Security Branch. "These charges are the result of the investigative efforts of the FBI's Washington Field Office, with the invaluable assistance of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. Espionage is a profoundly serious crime, and the FBI will continue to work with our law enforcement and intelligence community partners to ensure the protection of our nation's most sensitive information."

According to an affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint, Fondren retired from active duty as a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Air Force in May 1996. In approximately Feb. 1998, he began providing consulting services from his Virginia home. Fondren's sole client for his business was a friend by the name of Tai Shen Kuo. Kuo was a naturalized U.S. citizen from Taiwan who lived primarily in Louisiana and maintained business interests in the United States and the People's Republic of China (PRC). Kuo also maintained an office in the PRC.

In August 2001, Fondren became a civilian employee at PACOM at the Pentagon, where he was again granted a security clearance by the government. He held a Top Secret security clearance, worked in a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, and had a classified and unclassified computer at his cubicle. Even after he began working at PACOM in 2001, Fondren continued to provide consulting services for Kuo.

Unbeknownst to Fondren, Kuo worked under the direction of a PRC government official. This PRC official provided Kuo with detailed instructions to collect certain documents and information from Fondren and other U.S. government officials, including Gregg William Bergersen, a former Weapons Policy Analyst at the Arlington, Va.-based Defense Security Cooperation Agency in the Defense Department. The PRC official paid Kuo approximately $50,000 for completing those tasks.

Kuo introduced the PRC official to Fondren in approximately March 1999, describing him to Fondren as a political researcher and consultant to the PRC government. Fondren maintained periodic email correspondence with the PRC official until at least March 2001. While Fondren was aware of Kuo's relationship with the PRC official, he was not aware of the PRC official's precise status with the PRC government nor of his coded requests to Kuo to obtain information from Fondren.

According to the affidavit, the PRC official instructed Kuo to mislead Fondren into believing that he was providing information to Kuo for Taiwan military officials. Nevertheless, Fondren was aware that Kuo was providing Fondren's information to an agent of a foreign government, the affidavit alleges.

According to the affidavit, between Nov. 2004 and Feb. 11, 2008, Fondren provided Kuo with certain Defense Department documents and other information, some of which Fondren obtained from classified online systems available to him by virtue of his employment at the Pentagon. Fondren incorporated Defense Department information, including classified information, into "opinion papers" that he sold to Kuo for between $350 and $800 apiece through Fondren's home-based consulting business. Eight of the "papers" Fondren sold to Kuo contained classified information. Fondren also provided Kuo with sensitive, but unclassified Defense Department publications.

According to the affidavit, Fondren allegedly provided Kuo with a variety of sensitive data, including classified information from a State Department cable, classified information about a PRC military official's U.S. visit, classified information about a joint U.S.-PRC naval exercise, and classified information regarding U.S.-PRC military meetings. In one instance, Fondren provided Kuo with a draft Defense Department report on the PRC military and stated to Kuo: "This is the report I didn't want you to talk about over the phone....Let people find out I did that, it will cost me my job."

On Feb. 11, 2008, Kuo and former Defense Department employee, Gregg William Bergersen, were arrested on espionage charges. On the day of his arrest, Kuo was staying as a guest in Fondren's Virginia home and had among his possessions a draft, unclassified copy of a Defense Department document entitled "The National Military Strategy of the United States of America 2008." Fondren was interviewed by the FBI and later admitted that he gave the draft National Military Strategy report to Kuo.

On March 31, 2008, Bergersen pleaded guilty in the Eastern District of Virginia to conspiracy to disclose U.S. national defense information to persons not entitled to receive it. Bergersen admitted that, between March 2007 and February 2008, he provided national defense information to Kuo, much of it pertaining to U.S. military sales to Taiwan and classified as Secret. Bergersen was later sentenced to 57 months in prison.

On May 13, 2008, Kuo pleaded guilty in the Eastern District of Virginia to conspiracy to deliver national defense information to a foreign government, namely the PRC. Kuo admitted that he had cultivated a friendship with Bergersen, bestowing on him gifts, cash payments, dinners, and money for gambling trips to Las Vegas. Kuo admitted that he had obtained national defense information from Bergersen and that he had sent it on to the PRC government official. Kuo was later sentenced to 188 months in prison.

On May 28, 2008, Yu Xin Kang, an accomplice of Kuo from New Orleans who was arrested on the same day as Kuo and Bergersen, pleaded guilty in the Eastern District of Virginia to aiding and abetting an unregistered agent of the PRC. Kang admitted that she assisted Kuo by periodically serving as a conduit for the delivery of information from Kuo to the PRC government official. Kang was later sentenced to 18 months in prison.

This investigation was conducted by the FBI's Washington Field Office. The Air Force Office of Special Investigations (OSI) provided substantial assistance and cooperation throughout the course of the investigation. The prosecution is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Neil Hammerstrom, from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, and Trial Attorney Ryan Fayhee from the Counterespionage Section of the Justice Department's National Security Division.

The public is reminded that criminal complaints are only charges and not evidence of guilt. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

UPDATE:

BEIJING, May 14 -- Xinhua News Agency -- Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said Thursday claims that a Chinese agent had been involved in espionage by a U.S. defence official were "totally made up."

The remark came a day after U.S. officials said a senior Pentagon employee had been charged with conspiracy to pass classified information to an agent of China.

"We urge the United States to abandon its Cold War mindset, stop its groundless accusations against China and do more to improve mutual trust and friendship between both peoples," Ma said at a regular press briefing in Beijing.

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