Thursday, November 27, 2008

     

 

 

 

 

  Hometown heroes honored
By Pearl Cantrell
Monitor Staff Writer

GUN BARREL CITY–Every year the member of American Legion Post 310 honors everyday heroes by acknowledge an Officer of the Year with an award ceremony.
“It’s our way of saying thank you for all you do for the community,” award chairman Jerry Cannon Sr. told those gathered at the hall Saturday.
Cannon named four civil servants to receive awards for fireman, paramedic, deputy and police officer of the year.
Mabank fire chief Ricky Myrick took the honors this year. He’s been serving with the department for 31 years and as chief since1991.
A humble and quiet man, Myrick is well-loved by his fellow firefighters, who attended the event in droves.
His wife Dianna was also honored for the many family outings and meals her husband has missed because he had to answer the call.
“We have this flag poleout here and sometimes we have problems with it,” Cannon said. “Well, the Mabank fire department brings out their ladder truck and help us out about three times this year so far. They just take care of it for us,” he said.
Patrol Officer Kenny Collard was also honored. Relatively new to law enforcement, Collard has served Gun Barrel City for two years.
He changed careers after 20 years as a musician and entertainer. “I chose it to set a good example for my kids and so they would be proud to say that their dad was a policeman. And I wanted what I do to count every day,” he told The Monitor.
Lt. Botie Hillhouse was awarded the Deputy of the Year award. Hillhouse was recently promoted and reassigned to administer the new jail facility. Previously as a sergeant, he worked on narcotics investigations.
He’s been in law enforcement for 10 years and is the father of two little girls, ages 1 and 4.
“There’s nothing better. I couldn’t see myself doing anything else,” he said.
The Paramedic of the Year award went to Billy Butler. He’s served in the area for the past four years and has been at it for 10 years. He enjoys the freedom to get out and about and the variety the work offers. He also enjoys helping those who really need his help.
“I don’t like it when people call continually who don’t actually have an emergency. It’s a waste of resources,” he said.
He and his wife Farrah have twin boys, 14 months old. Farrah was also cited for the role she plays in her husband’s career serving those in need.
Post president Ann Crow read a poignant tribute to hometown heroes.
“Legion members know about the everyday heroes who now wear civilian clothes. Being a hero is much like being a patriot or an American – love for country and our fellow man lives not just in our hearts, but on our lips,” she read.
Following the short ceremony, the post auxiliary served a fried chicken luncheon with help from Pop’s Cafeteria.


Monitor Photo/Pearl Cantrell
American Legion Post 310 president Ann Crow (right) and award chairman Jerry Cannon
Sr. present the 2008 Officers of the Year – Gun Barrel City patrolman Kenny Collard (left), Henderson County Lt. Botie Hillhouse, ETMC paramedic Billy Butler and Mabank fire chief Ricky Myrick Saturday.

Grand Jury indicts four in mortgage fraud scheme
Monitor Staff Reports
KAUFMAN – In a second round of indictments issued since August, a Kaufman County grand jury Friday charged four suspects with operating a criminal mortgage racket designed to defraud the government.
Kandace Marriott, 52, and Darrell Lynn Marriott, 55, of Gun Barrel City, and Karen Hayes, 57, of Mabank are all charged with engaging in organized criminal activity.
They are indicted making false statements to obtain property or credit, and securing the execution of a document by deception. The indictments reveal these three committed at least 88 separate offenses in Kaufman County.
The Marriotts’ daughter, Kally Marriott, 22, of Dallas, was also indicted on similar charges.
In February, Kandace Marriott, Darrell Marriott and Karen Hayes were also indicted in Navarro County on similar charges. The charges are first-degree felonies.
Today’s charges stem from the defendants’ involvement in a conspiracy to forge signatures and falsify home loan applications, which included creating and using numerous fraudulent documents containing statements the borrowers never made. The fraudulent documents were prepared for prospective homeowners who otherwise would not have qualified for loans backed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
The defendants have operated a Kaufman County real estate business known as Torenia Inc., which did business as Energy Homes. They continued to operate the enterprise even after the Navarro County indictments were announced last February.
The defendants closed their Navarro County business, One Way Home & Land, after litigation and investigations ensued in late 2005. As a result, they opened a Kaufman County firm under the assumed name, Torenia.
Acting on search warrants last August, the Attorney General’s investigators seized numerous assets of the defendants, including 88 plots of land being offered to prospective buyers, and shut down the defendants’ Kaufman County business.
According to state investigators, the defendants’ scheme cost the federal government and taxpayers millions of dollars.
Evidence uncovered by the state indicates that the defendants supervised the falsification of residential loan applications to ensure that the buyers’ loans would be approved by mortgage lenders.
Investigators found that the defendants repeatedly falsified supporting documents and information, including the buyers’ rent payment verification statements, proof of employment and information about Social Security Administration benefits, among other documents. Investigators believe the defendants targeted lower-income purchasers whose residential loans would be guaranteed by HUD. As a result, when unqualified buyers defaulted on their home loans, mortgage lenders did not suffer the loss. Rather, HUD as guarantor of the loans, had to cover these costs.
In the Navarro County scheme, investigators believe the defendants cost the taxpayers more than $3 million.
The Office of the Attorney General received assistance from the Kaufman County Criminal District Attorney’s Office, the FBI and HUD’s Office of Inspector General. Attorney General Abbott’s Criminal Prosecutions Division is leading the prosecution of the four defendants with the cooperation of district attorneys’ offices in Navarro, Henderson and Ellis counties.

Adoption makes for grateful hearts
By Pearl Cantrell
Monitor Staff Writer

CEDAR CREEK LAKE– Some children are especially thankful, at Thanksgiving time.
They are the children who have come out of broken homes, foster care and have been successfully adopted into new families.
November is National Adoption Month and its theme is “Why not adopt?” (See related article in the Nov. 23 edition of The Monitor.)
There are currently 1,400 children in Texas waiting to be adopted, 40 of them in Henderson County. Every year, it is estimated that about 19,000 children nationwide age out of the foster care system without benefit of adoption into a “forever home.”
Here are the stories of three Cedar Creek Lake area families who took the foster care-adoption journey and are glad they did. (There are many others.)
Jeff and Tami Helm waited until their early 30s to marry, and they wanted to start their family right away. However after two years, they realized they would be a childless couple unless they turned to adoption.
“At first we considered adopting a child from abroad, but then we realized that there are lots of children right here in Texas who we could help,” Tami said.
The couple were hoping for a baby but was told that would take a long time. Other adoption agencies seemed primarily interested in how they qualified financially, also the fact that they had only been married for two years seemed another challenge. That’s when Tami learned about the benefits of becoming a foster care family.
“At the time, there was a one-year pilot program that didn’t have any trouble with the fact that Jeff and I had been married for just two years,” Tami retells.
During the home study portion of their qualifying as foster care parents, the social worker mentioned a sibling group that had a baby in it. “The day we qualified, we were asked to take a child from this very group,” Tami said.
He was a 6-year-old boy. “It didn’t take any time at all for us to fall in love with him,” Jeff said. The most prominent issue the 6-year-old was coping with was anger, Tami recalled. She was grateful for the parenting training she received as part of the qualification process, otherwise she wouldn’t have known how best to react to some of his odd behaviors.
“It’s good training for any parent,” she said. Four months after getting him, the Helms were offered his little brother, who was 16 months old.
“All this time, he was being cared for by another foster care family less than two miles away from us,” Jeff recounts, “and we didn’t even know it.” The family he was with also wanted to adopt, but wanted an older child to better match the age of the family’s other teenage children.
“They didn’t want to start over with a baby,” Jeff explained. The Helms were overjoyed to have him.
A minimum time frame of six months is required to judge whether the children and prospective parents are a good fit. The Helms went beyond that to join some 2,000 other adoptive parents nationwide whose adoptions were becoming finalized on Nov. 17, 2001, National Adoption Day.
“It was a Saturday, but they opened the courthouse especially for couples like us, so we could become permanent families all together,” Tami explained as she displayed a Polaroid photo of her new family beneath a festive balloon arch.
While they waited, they also fostered a little girl whose main challenge was a severe case of attention deficit and its attendant learning disabilities. “She was the cutest little thing, but we couldn’t handle her difficulties,” Tami said. Fortunately, her grandparents adopted her, meeting the goal of the foster care system to try to place children with their biological family, Tami said.
The Helms have been married for 10 years now, and their sons Mario, 14, and Alee, 9, are growing into fine young men. Mario is a voracious reader, who also enjoys participating in the music program at his church and has recently begun in a bowling league. Alee is one of the outstanding players on the area Midget Football team that went to the Super Bowl in Kaufman Saturday.
Tanyau and Barry Boatright came to the foster care system through two children attending the daycare program at Christian Life Center in Gun Barrel City. Barry is the pastor there and Tanyau oversees the daycare.
“We were seeing that one particular family was beginning to have a hard time of it. We knew that the state was getting ready to become involved,” Tanyau recounts.
“Barry and I talked about it and decided we wanted to intervene, seeing we knew the kids and the mom. The Boatrights came into foster care through the kinship program. It’s the way many children are placed with an aunt, uncle or grandparent when their parents are unable to provide a safe and secure environment.
“That’s how we initially learned of the great need for foster care,” Tanyau said.
From there, the Boatrights continued the process of getting their foster care licensing, a four to six-month process. “The day we qualified, they called us. They had two babies, who were just 10 months apart in age. We didn’t hesitate to take them in. We love children,” she said.
At the time, the Boatrights had the first two children, two of their own teenagers and took in this latest set. They kept them for eight months. “It ended in success for the family, though it nearly broke our hearts to give them up,” Tanyau said. “I remember we were all (even the kids) crying in the parking lot,” she said.
The next set of children they fostered for 15 months, while their mother got back on her feet. They are with their mother now, but the Boatrights continue their commitment to these children and their mom by helping with the kids on a weekly basis. “We’re committed to helping her,” Tanyau said.
All of these children come as is, with their issues, needs and problems, she said. But most of all they just need to be loved. “Once you start loving them, you can overcome any challenge.”
The very first pair of children the Boatrights took in were with them for 18 months before becoming available for adoption. By then the siblings had made a place for themselves in their Boatrights’ hearts and homes, so adoption seemed the next best step.
In considering making them their own, the Boatrights reasoned that just as with their own kids they would “do all they could do to invest education and love and upbringing into them and the rest is up to them.”
“We love them to death. The whole family does,” Tanyau said. And though they are bi-racial children, they blend right in.
“I used to think they stuck out in the community, like when we go to Wal-Mart and other places, but that doesn’t seem to be the case,” Tanyau observes.
“Fostering children is a very hard job, lots of responsibilities, but you can be a parent who works and does foster care. And you are just going to fall in love with these kids,” she said.
The Zitkos agree.
They had recently become empty nesters and that felt a little odd for them, so they got involved in a juvenile prison ministry with Reaching America’s Youth. Listening to their stories was a blessing to Greg and Robin. At the same time, they had become friends with a family at their church that had 10 girls, all foster kids. “We were at their house at least once a month and were impressed by them,” Robin said.
“That’s what encouraged us to see what we could do to help some of these,” Robin said.
At the time, the couple lived in a small two-bedroom mobile home. Greg, a building contractor from Chicago, started adding on to the home. Before they received their first foster child in 2001 he had added a bedroom and a kitchen. The materials were castoff from remodels in affluent neighborhoods, he said.
Their first placement was a teenage girl, who had been staying with the neighbors for a couple of months before being added to the foster care system. And shortly afterwards, Greg’s son from a previous marriage called saying he wanted to live with his dad, so he moved here. Kyle was 12 at the time.
The two children looked very much alike and most people at their church accepted them as brother and sister, including a caseworker, who also attended church there. She asked them if they would be willing to take in an 8-year-old boy, which they did.
Through monthly visits, the Zitkos became acquainted with Chris’ two sisters and offered the sibling group an entire Saturday to be together at their home once a month. Previously, they had met for an hour or so in Tyler.
Four months later, they were approached about taking in first his 11-year-old sister and three months later, the eldest of the three siblings – a 13-year-old girl.
In less than a year, the Zitkos went from no kids to five kids, and Greg just kept building on to the house.
In 2003, Kyle’s 19-year-old sister missed her brother so much that she relocated from Chicago to Texas. “Lindsay was a great help with the kids,” Robin said. She helped out while attending college, she said.
The Ziko house built a reputation for usually having at least one adult at home after school and the place the neighborhood kids went to when they were in trouble, scared or needed some advice.
“We usually have a bunch of kids around the house,” Robin said.
Greg embraced his love of the outdoors and learned taxidermy from a man in Athens and slowly transitioned out of construction and into his own TKO taxidermy business. “His hunting kept the freezer full of meat,” Robin said. “Kids eat a lot.”
In 2004, the three foster kids became adoptable. “Greg and I were fearful that they could be separated and adopted out. (All three are blond with blue eyes, a desirable trait by many seeking to adopt.) Other ‘what ifs’ plagued their minds until they asked one more ‘what if.’
What if, they adopted them? “‘If you don’t, I will,’ Lindsay said, who was then just finishing college,” Robin recounted.
Keeping the siblings together was a focus for Robin who didn’t grew up with her own sister and was the reason Lindsay had moved to be with her brother.
They were introduced to a lawyer in Tyler who negotiated a very favorable adoption agreement, which retained the children’s foster care rights to a free state college education, medical insurance and half the child support the Zitkos had been receiving for their care until age 18. The latter was given because they were a sibling group, Robin explained.
“We told her (the lawyer) we didn’t want to go broke because we love children,” Robin recounted. The last thing they asked for was that the state pay all legal fees ($4,000) for the adoption, and this was granted.
Although it seemed a foregone conclusion, Robin said the entire extended family, including her parents in California and Greg’s family in Illinois, were consulted about the adoption to ensure everyone would accept and love the three new additions.
“It was really a prayerful thing that we did. We felt driven to do it. We don’t really understand it,” Robin said.
It’s obvious that the Zitkos are a happy family. Lindsay has since married and moved away with a family started of her own.
Sadly, Kyle was recently killed in an automobile accident soon after launching himself in a new job. He had graduated from Mabank High School and finished college. It seemed his adulthood had just begun.
This has been very hard on all the family members, but they seem to draw strength from one another.
The Zitkos currently have two more foster children, also a sibling group in the foster care system for many years, which they would love to adopt. However, that doesn’t seem possible, because their parents are unwilling to relinquish their rights and unable to take them back, Robin said. “We treat them as one of ours, nevertheless.”
There are as many different stories of love and care, fostering and adoption as there are hearts open and able to meet the needs of these most vulnerable citizens.
“Though they (foster kids) could come with issues, they are well-suited to living in a family atmosphere,” Greg said. “We encourage others to do foster care. You receive so much more (love and purposeful living) than you could ever give.
“My kids are my legacy and every one of them is going to be a world-changer, because we teach them to stand up for what they believe in,” Greg said with pride.
To learn about becoming a foster care family, go to www.dfps.state.tx.us. To view some of the 1,400 children in Texas waiting to be adopted, go to www.adoptchildren.org.

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