Revisit some of the local stories that touched Miami and its surrounding communities this past year.
The Miami News-Record takes a look back at 2017 with a review of some of this year's most compelling news and events. Revisit some of the local stories that touched Miami and its surrounding communities this past year.
Slint Tate Drug Ring
The indictments, trials, and ongoing investigations tied to Slint Tate dominated MNR's crime reporting in 2017.
The convicted murderer who is accused of operating a methamphetamine drug ring with a contraband cell phone while incarcerated at an Oklahoma prison was federally indicted in 2017 on several drug-related and conspiracy charges.
The 22-page indictment unsealed on Sept. 21 in the Northern Division of the United States District Court, lays out a plan where Tate, 35, used a contraband cell phone to enable buying and selling methamphetamine in northeast Oklahoma and other alleged criminal activity.
Also indicted were Robin Tracy Zumwalt, also known as Robin Tate, Rachael Georgia Danley, Ashton Chase Manicom, Jeremy Dallas Mann, Matthew Stroud and Todd Allen Pryer, also known as Todd Pryor.
District Attorney Kenny Wright has referred to the group of 28 defendants, charged in Ottawa County District Court in connection with drug trafficking as the “Slint Tate Drug Ring,” saying it is responsible for moving at least 5 pounds of methamphetamine a week, with a street value approximately $250,000 to $1 million.
Of the defendants 21 individuals have received suspended sentences, are in custody of the Department of Corrections, federal custody, probation or charges were dismissed, records show.
Tate, 33, is serving a life sentence, without the possibility of parole, at Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester for killing Delaware County Sheriff’s Special Deputy Vernie Roberts on July 19, 1999, while Roberts and his wife, were transporting the then-juvenile offender to a detention facility.
Ahead of the federal indictments, recorded cell phone wiretap conversations and text messages, linking Delaware and Ottawa County attorney Winston H. Connor II with Tate’s drug ring, were released to the media on Aug. 30 by Wright.
Wright confirmed at the time Connor is under investigation in connection with Tate’s RICO [Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organization] drug ring, for his possible involvement in the destruction of evidence, an instance of assault and battery, and an alleged solicitation for murder.
On Sept. 6 Connor filed a $725,000 lawsuit against tin Delaware County District Court against Wright, alleging he was defamed by his actions.
In the suit, Connor charges Wright committed libel, libel per se and slander, in releasing copies of an audio conversation between Connor and Tate.
Connor wrote in his suit Wright “knowingly and maliciously” committed acts “of slander and libel” during his release of the wiretaps to members of the media. Connor requests the lawsuit be decided by a jury trial.
Alex Gerszewski, spokesman for the Oklahoma Attorney General’s office, said a member of the office will serve as Wright’s legal counsel in regards to the lawsuit.
Ottawa County was rocked by scandal with the arrest of Thomas C. Mathews, then vice-chairman of the Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma Business Committee, who was indicted by a federal grand jury on one felony count of attempted enticement of a minor.
In records unsealed in November, it was revealed Mathews became the focus of an undercover investigation in August 2017 and is alleged to have attempted to meet with the intention to engage in sexual activity with a 13-year-old.
Mathews, 35, of Miami, was arraigned in Tulsa in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma on Nov. 14 and subsequently released on his own recognizance after a $25,000 bond was set.
He has retained Tulsa attorney Ryan A. Ray with Norman, Wohlgemuth, Chandler, Jeter, Barnett & Ray, PC.
The Quapaw Tribe requested Mathews' resignation following the federal charges.
Timeline of events:
An online undercover investigation is launched by the Miami Police Department using the "Whisper" app.
Aug. 31, 2017
An MPD detective acting in an undercover capacity as user "Angel2022," a 13-year-old female from Miami, posts to Whisper.
Whisper user "Big T" alleged to be Thomas Mathews, 35, of Miami in court filings, makes contact with user "Angel2022" and initiates chat of a sexual nature and subsequently asks to meet.
Mathews is observed by MPD under surveillance arriving at two separate meeting locations arranged by "Big T" and "Angel2022" during their Whisper chats.
MPD approaches Mathews who denied he was in the area to meet with a 13-year-old female to engage in sex and allows an iPhone in his possession to be searched. His phone is ultimately returned, and Mathews is released from the scene.
Sept. 6, 2017
MPD detective Aaron Crockett served an Ottawa County search warrant to obtain subscriber information and IP logs for the “Big T” Whisper account.
Oct. 3, 2017
A warrant application is filed and granted to search the property at 1219 Skyline Dr in Miami, the primary residence of Mathews.
Oct. 11, 2017
The warrant for 1219 Skyline Dr in Miami is executed at 6:30 a.m. The ICE/HSI Special Agent on the case records seizure of four Apple iPhones and marijuana edibles from the property.
Mathews was arrested and charged in Ottawa County District Court for felony charges of Possession of a Controlled Dangerous Substance/Marijuana and Child Neglect.
Nov. 2, 2017
A warrant application is granted and then executed at noon to obtain "All digital evidence associated to WID (unique Whisper ID) on the search warrant," the Whisper account identified as "Big T."
Nov. 6, 2017
Mathews is indicted by a federal grand jury on one felony count of attempted enticement of a minor in violation of 18 U.S.C. 2422(b).
Nov. 14, 2017
Mathews is arraigned in Tulsa in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma and subsequently released on his own recognizance after a $25,000 bond is set.
The federal indictment, warrants, and several other filed documents associated with the Mathews case are unsealed.
An investigation into the charge and his alleged activities are ongoing.
CITY OF MIAMI
The City of Miami has had a busy year, especially with activities aligned with implementing its multi-year "Commitment to Excellence Comprehensive Plan."
On Jan. 28, 2017 the City of Miami officially took over operations as of the Travel Information Center at the entrance of the Will Rogers Turnpike located right before the Miami exit gate on I-44.
The City of Miami’s Department of Tourism hosted an open house at the Miami Travel Information Center (TIC) on May 11. The ribbon-cutting ceremony was followed by the dedication of the Dr. Ron & Ann Gilbert Family Tourism Gallery inside the TIC featuring canvas prints of tourism attractions in the region.
Dr. Gilbert was a founding member of the Board of Directors for the Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau and contributed greatly to the tourism community in Miami.
In 2017, the City also put forth a proposition to approve a revision to the City Charter, which provides the framework for the governance of the municipality and the principals under which it must operate.
The revisions to the City Charter were approved in a Municipal Election on April 4, 2017, an overhaul that was the result of over 11 drafts and more than two years of work by the City Council with the aid of former City Attorney David Anderson and current City Attorney Ben Loring.
Changes included streamlining the current Charter from a 32-page document to a 12-page one that removed antiquated language and was designed to bring the Charter into compliance with current state and federal laws.
In alignment with the City's Comprehensive Plan, the Route 66 Landing development and infill housing projects being developed by Affordable Housing Partners, LLC of Springfield, Missouri, began taking shape.
The initiative is comprised of senior apartments and single-family homes that are modern and affordable living spaces, and a deliberate step toward revitalizing Miami's downtown. With an intergenerational mix of inhabitants having direct access to downtown activities and businesses, the developments bode well for the future of Miami's Arts & Cultural District.
Altogether, there will be about 18 single family homes built within a half-mile of downtown Miami and 24 senior living apartments inside the historic Mining and Exchange Building at the southeast corner of Main Street and 1st Street.
The single-family homes occupy infill lots once owned by the City of Miami or Ottawa County and take the place of once dilapidated structures and vacant lots.
New single-family homes on B Street NW and 1st Ave. were among the first to be occupied with tenants moving in the last weekend of April 2017.
While floor plans vary slightly depending on the location, each of the infill houses is a three bedroom, two bath residence featuring a single car garage, modern fixtures and flooring, all new kitchen appliance, spacious closets and a utility area for washer and dryer hookups.
Rent on the homes will average about $500 to $550 per month. The homes will also be available for purchase in 15 years making available a discount determined by the market rate at the time and the length of time a tenant seeking to purchase has lived in the home.
The revamping of the historic Mining and Exchange Building will offer senior living for residents over the age of 55 with income restrictions. One bedroom apartments will lease from $300 to $425, and two bedroom apartments from $325 to $450 per month.
Apartments are optimized for older adults and will include high-end finishings, modern kitchens, and washer and dryer connections. The first floor will also serve as social and activity space for residents with a club room, crafting area, computer lab, gym, and even a place to play shuffleboard. The site will also be equipped with a storm shelter.
The restoration and redevelopment of the historic Mining and Exchange Building is expected to be completed this winter.
Civic Center Renovation
Miami's City Hall has been undergoing some serious updates through 2017. The renovation work budgeted up to $2.4 million is well underway with an expected completion date of February 28, 2018.
Funding for the project comes from the City of Miami's Rainy Day Fund as approved by the Miami City Council in six annual payments of $166,610.
The project includes re-roofing remaining portions of the Miami Civic Center and Gym, upgrading electrical and HVAC systems, construction of a more open floor concept by department, and improving overall security.
As part of the project, the city council room and municipal courtrooms will be consolidated into one dual-use space. Staff and administration offices will be relocated downstairs behind security entrance doors, leaving utility offices in place but more easily accessible to the public through customer service windows.
Some staff offices for departments that have less direct public interaction such as the Facilities department will be moved upstairs.
Crossland Construction was hired to serve as Construction Manager At Risk for 6 percent of the Guaranteed Maximum Price (GMP) of the project to rehabilitate the existing building's interior to serve current needs and provide an improved, more usable work environment and office spaces for city staff.
GH2 Architects was also contracted for the project with compensation of 6.9 percent of the GMP, or $134,851.
The total cost of the renovation on July 18 was projected to be $2,089,219.
$293,781 is also allocated within the $2.4 million project budget for exterior paint and improvements at the Coleman Theatre, which is already underway.
For now, many city staff has been temporarily moved to office in the Civic Center's Banquet Room, where the municipal court and council meetings are held as well.
The Banquet Room will revert back to the original use intended and a caterer's kitchen will replace the outdated kitchen in the completed facility.
After a fast and furious deluge of rain swamped Miami and surrounding towns in late April and early May of 2017, flooding, although locally considered a minor event, shut down several city streets and Oklahoma highways in and out of the city, closed Miami andWyandotte schools, postponed the Miami Rodeo and negatively impacted businesses and residents throughout Ottawa County.
Total rainfall of seven inches in 10 days and 10.5 inches over 14 days brought the Neosho River to a crest high of 22.1 feet on May 3, 2017, with flood stage at 15 feet.
The average flooding here is around 23 feet to 23.5 feet, and in 1994 Miami saw flooding up to 25 feet, according to Miami's Emergency Management Director/Miami Police Chef Thomas Anderson.
Grand Lake rose to an elevation level of 753.65 feet, above the elevation target for May 4 of 742.20 feet. Throughout the event, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers directed GRDA to open spillway gates at the Pensacola Dam.
Several area businesses were affected along with homes.
Road closures in Miami included the streets of Brookside, L NW – 3rd NW to 2nd NW, 2nd Ave NW – K NW to L NW, West Central – H NW to J NW, B SW – 4th SW to 5th SW, C SW – 4th SW to 5th SW, 5th SW – A SW to C SW, Riverview Park (east and west side), East Steve Owens Boulevard – K SE to Elm, East Central – L SE to Elm, South Elm – 7th NE (McKinley) to Central, South Main / E SW – Neosho River Bridge to 20th SW.
Rodeo Miami was postponed until the weekend of July 3-4 because of Riverview Park and the Miami Fairgrounds being inundated by high water from the Neosho River because of severe weather that had rolled through the region since, April 28, 2017
The event was scheduled to take place on Friday and Saturday, May 5 and 6, 2017.
Ottawa County initially estimated at least $500,000 in damages to roads and bridges.
Notable local concerts in 2017 included Pat Benatar who took the stage March 14 along with her husband musician, producer, and songwriter Neil Giraldo; Casey Donahew, May 5; platinum-selling Brantley Gilbert, June 17; Melissa Etheridge who brought her signature sound to Miami June 23 with M.E. Live and Shinedown, which rocked out a sold-out crowd on July 12.
Miami Little Theatre
The Miami Little Theatre kicked off its 58th season in 2017 with the musical 'Oliver!' An adaptation of Charles Dickens' novel 'Oliver Twist,' on Sept. 21 at the Coleman Theatre.
MLT’s 58th season of performances includes five shows, ‘Oliver!’, and ‘A Christmas Carol’ in 2017 and continues in 2018 with ‘The Haunting of Hill House,' followed by the comedy ‘Sylvia!’ in April, and ‘The Little Mermaid, Jr.’ in June all at the Coleman.
NEO Theatre Experience
Local director, writer, and thespian Aaron Smith announced the launch of the NEO Theatre Experience at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College in September. When the curtains closed on NEO's theatre arts degree program in 2015 it was no small loss for students or the community.
Now, just under two years later, NEO's aspiring thespians have access to a structured initiative to further nurture their talents and share their art.
The creative brainchild of Smith, he said the program replaces the stand-alone shows that have been produced by the college in recent years with an official season to help preserve and expand the arts on campus.
The NEO Theatre Experience announced four shows for its 2017-2018 inaugural season - 'The Good Doctor,' 'The Meta House,' 'Crime and Punishment,' and the musical 'The Theory of Relativity.' All four productions are directed by Phillip Shamblin and Smith who also co-directed the Miami Little Theatre's 'To Kill A Mockingbird,' in 2016 at the Coleman.
Rounding out the year in local entertainment was the famous Shoji Tabuchi, the "Emperor of Branson," presenting his holiday show 'The Wonders of Christmas' to a rare sold-out audience at the Coleman Theatre Dec. 14. Bringing his signature flair to Miami, his performance was an enthusiastic production with blazing violins, stunning costumes, amazing harmonies, and world-class choreography.
We hope you have enjoyed our brief look back at some of the highlights of 2017.
From all of us at the Miami News-Record, we wish you a prosperous and informed 2018!
Dorothy Ballard is the managing news editor for the Miami News-Record. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @dm_ballard.