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Two sent to prison in plot to blow up pharmacy
Auburn pharmacist met Maryland man through online gaming and hatched scheme to firebomb rival

Hyrum Wilson

Beyond his wife, Hyrum Wilson didn't have a buddy, a best friend, during two decades of adulthood.

Reserved and socially awkward to the point that loved ones wondered if he had autism or a similar syndrome, Wilson, 41, spent his time away fromhis pharmacy in Auburn, Nebraska, playing video games online and helping his wife care for their children, one of whom is autistic.

It was during those gaming sessions that he met who he thought was his first friend — Maryland resident William A. Burgamy IV.

As they played "War Dragons," Burgamy and Wilson got along famously and, eventually, infamously.

After meeting in fall 2017, they shared several get-rich-quick plans. One involved paying supermodel Kathy Ireland for an infomercial in which Wilson pimped his unproven scar cream. In the painfully strange video, Ireland interviewed Wilson, asking several scripted questions as cameras and crewmen rushed around her studio to make it appear bustling. Wilson enlisted Burgamy and Burgamy's mother to provide testimonials about how it purportedly made scars disappear, though neither had used the cream before they vouched for it, Wilson's attorney said.

Another scheme was far more sinister. Wilson would illegally mail painkillers to Burgamy, and Burgamy would sell them on the dark web, the Internet's shadowy cousin. Burgamy pressured Wilson to provide him with more OxyContin and more Adderall so that he could take in more money via Bitcoin. In all, Wilson provided Burgamy with 19,000 doses of painkillers.

Wilson soon worried that regulators would begin to spot the disparity between his prescriptions and the amount of painkillers he was processing. So the two hatched a plot: burn down Wilson's biggest rival pharmacy, one owned by Cody Kuszak, 36. If Cody's U-Save Pharmacy was out of the picture, they reasoned, the feds wouldn't be suspicious when Wilson tripled his painkiller processing.

Over the course of several months earlier this year, the two drew up plans and hatched escape routes, and Burgamy sent Wilson photos of a stockpile of firearms. Then the FBI spotted the dark web transactions — and began surveillance on Burgamy. It appears that the FBI got help from a third man whom Burgamy recruited to help him carry out the scheme. A federal prosecutor declined to identify the third participant, who is believed to live on the East Coast.

Wilson grew skittish with the plan, so much so that he put his pharmacy up for sale, his attorney, Joe Howard, told a judge Friday. That way, Wilson wouldn't have to go through with the plot. Asked whyWilson didn't just break off communication with Burgamy, Howard said Wilson feared that he would lose his only friend.

"He was trapped; he had to figure a way out," Howard said. "(His) conscience was torn between his loyalty to his friend and continuing with the drug shipments and firebombing plot. He did not want to cut himself off from Burgamy because Burgamy was Mr. Wilson's best and only friend in the last 20 years."

Now the friends will spend considerable time in federal prison. On Friday, in a courtroom in Alexandria, Virginia, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III sentenced Burgamy, 32, to 14 years in prison and Wilson to a little more than nine years.

Ellis, who previously gained notoriety for imposing a fouryear sentence on Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign chairman, noted that Burgamy had "an arsenal" of weapons — Wilson had none — and had some influence over Wilson.

At one point, the judge remarked that no one in court had mentioned the name of the scheme — Operation Firewood.

"You were going to reduce that place to firewood," Ellis told Burgamy.

The judge said Burgamy possessed a "cache of arms that would have overcome a large guerrilla contingency."

"Let there be no doubt that this was not just a scheme concocted in their mind," Ellis said. "Important significant steps were taken towards (enacting) that plan."

His voice breaking several times, Wilson apologized to the Auburn community, to his family and to opioid addicts everywhere.

"I have so many regrets about this," he said. "I regret ever meeting William Burgamy. I regret giving him so many chances he didn't deserve.

"I'm sorry for all the pain I've caused. I took an oath (as a pharmacist) to help people. Yet I became part of the problem I was trying to solve ... All in the pursuit of a quick buck."

The sentencing provided an abrupt ending to Wilson's brief career.

Before meeting Burgamy, Howard said, Wilson "had lived an honest, hardworking, ethical and law-abiding life ... calibrated by his Air Force father and his family's faith as Latter-Day Saints."

A 1996 graduate of Papillion-La Vista High School, Wilson bounced in and out of college. On his fifth application, in 2011, he was accepted into Creighton University's College of Pharmacy. In 2015, he graduated at age 36. In 2016, he was introduced to an Auburn physician who wanted Wilson to take over a pharmacy next to the doctor's medical clinic.

Wilson did — and he, his wife and their two children moved into a stately home on a brick road a block off of Main Street.

"Wilson lived an enviable life," Howard said.

It was a lonely one, too. Even Wilson's in-laws said he was socially awkward, rarely speaking unless spoken to.

"Mr. Wilson admittedly had never had a close friend, a buddy or a confidant growing up," Howard said. "Mr. Wilson's own brother forgot to invite him to his wedding. Even in his marriage, it was sometimes difficult for Mr. Wilson to communicate well."

Then he met Burgamy online in fall 2017. After gaming for a few months, Burgamy persuaded Wilson to let him redesign the pharmacy's website.

In time, Burgamy brought up a purported private capital fund that he operated. He first got Wilson to provide $15,000 to a business that needed a loan — and paid Wilson back $18,000, a decent return.

Eventually, Wilson lent $30,000 and $50,000 to Burgamy's investment capital fund for purported investments. No returns followed those loans. Burgamy repaid little of the $30,000 and none of the $50,000.

"Asked how he dealt with this loss, Wilson explained that Burgamy was his friend, 'and that's what friends do,' " Howard said. "At the time, Wilson did not realize that Burgamy was manipulating and stealing from him. Instead, Wilson took Burgamy at his word."

A federal prosecutor called that notion "absurd," noting that Wilson was well-educated and more than capable of resisting Burgamy. Prosecutor Raj Parekh, an assistant U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia, noted that Wilson went along with almost every request Burgamy made when it came time for their plot to blow up the pharmacy.

Henoted that they talked about the plot for weeks. Wilson helped Burgamy figure out how the drugs would be organized inside Cody's U-Save Pharmacy so Burgamy could quickly steal them before setting fire to the place. He plotted out Burgamy's escape route. He told Burgamy not to worry because, in his words, local law enforcement was "lazy." Should Burgamy get trapped in Auburn after stealing painkillers and launching Molotov cocktails to set fire to the pharmacy, Wilson offered to house Burgamy and introduce him to people as an old family friend.

At one point, Wilson texted Burgamy: "Just hope that (expletive) doesn't try to bounce back too quickly. It should take a few months just to get the insurance sorted out, then another few months for repairs and rebuilding. He just needs to take the insurance payout and retire to a beach somewhere."

Parekh said the real victim here is Kuszak, who was relieved that the plot wasn't carried out. But he was also mystified that he would become a target. Kuszak has said he met Wilson a couple of times and "thought he was pretty normal."

The plot rattled Kuszak — and it continues to shadow him.

"It stings every time I introduce myself to a stranger and they follow it with, 'Hey, aren't you the pharmacist they tried blowing up?' " Kuszak said in his victim impact statement. "Why? Why me? What had I done to them? Why would someone want to do this to me and my staff?"

cooper@owh.com, 402-444-1275 twitter.com/CooperonCourts


Articles
Trump meets with Michigan officials in play for state's votes
DECISION 2020

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump sought to leverage the power of the Oval Office on Friday in an extraordinary attempt to block President-elect Joe Biden's victory, but his pleas to Michigan lawmakers to overturn the will of their constituents appeared to have left them unswayed.

Trump summoned a delegation of Republican lawmakers from Michigan, including the state's Senate majority leader and House speaker, in an apparent extension of his efforts to persuade judges and lawmakers in the state to set aside Biden's 154,000-vote margin of victory and grant him the state's electors. It came amid mounting criticism that Trump's futile efforts to subvert the results of the 2020 election could do long-lasting damage to democratic traditions.

Trump's efforts to override the public's will extend to other battleground states that Biden carried as well, amounting to an unprecedented attempt by a sitting president to maintain his grasp on power, or in failure, to delegitimize his opponent's victory in the eyes of his army of supporters.

Rick Hasen, an election law expert and professor who has been chronicling the 2020 race, wrote that there would be "rioting" in the streets if an effort was made to set aside the vote in Michigan, calling it tantamount to an attempted coup.

"We should worry because this is profoundly antidemocratic and is delegitimizing the victory of Joe Biden in a free and fair election," Hasen wrote on his blog. "It is profoundly depressing we still have to discuss this. But it is extremely unlikely to lead to any different result for president."

In a statement after the White House meeting, Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey and House Speaker Lee Chatfield said allegations of fraud should be investigated but indicated they were unmoved by Trump's claims thus far. "We have not yet been made aware of any information that would change the outcome of the election in Michigan and as legislative leaders, we will follow the law and follow the normal process regarding Michigan's electors, just as we have said throughout this election," they said.

"The candidates who win the most votes win elections and Michigan's electoral votes," they added, saying they used the meeting with Trump to press him for more pandemic aid money for their state.

Trump again falsely claimed victory Friday, saying, "I won, by the way, but you know, we'll find that out." He touted his total of more than 74 million votes, though Biden received more than 80 million.

Trump's White House meeting came days after he personally called two local canvassing board officials who had refused to certify the results in Wayne County, Michigan's most populous county and one that overwhelmingly favored Biden. The two GOP officials eventually agreed to certify the results. But after Trump's call, they said they had second thoughts.

The Board of State Canvassers is set to meet Monday to certify the statewide outcome, and it is unclear whether Republican members of that panel would similarly balk.

Some Trump allies have expressed hope that state lawmakers could intervene in selecting electors as the president and his attorneys have pushed unproven allegations of fraud that have been repeatedly rejected in courtrooms across the country. It was with that in mind that Trump invited the Michigan lawmakers. He was also said to be considering extending a similar invitation to legislators from Pennsylvania.

"The president could be calling Republican legislators and others to the White House to try and squeeze them," former national security adviser John Bolton said on Twitter. "Republicans at all levels — state, county, election boards, legislatures — must resist this political pressure."

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters that the meeting with Michigan officials was "not an advocacy meeting" and insisted that Trump "routinely meets with lawmakers from across the country." But such meetings are rare, particularly as Trump has maintained a low profile since the election.

As he departed Detroit for Washington early Friday, State Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey was swarmed by activists bearing signs that said "Respect the Vote" and "Protect Democracy."

House Speaker Lee Chatfield said on Twitter on Friday afternoon, before the meeting with Trump: "No matter the party, when you have an opportunity to meet with the President of the United States, of course you take it. I won't apologize for that."

Trump's effort to set aside the Michigan vote is sure to fail. Experts on Michigan election law said the Michigan Board of State Canvassers' authority is limited in scope and its primary responsibility is to certify the results.

"Their duties are to receive the canvass and certify the canvass, that's it," said John Pirich, a former assistant attorney general who teaches at Michigan State University Law School. "They have absolutely no power to investigate allegations, theories or any half-brained kind of arguments that are being thrown around."

The Michigan Legislature would be called on to select electors if Trump succeeded in persuading the board not to certify the results.

Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer could seek a court order forcing board members to certify the election and could remove those who refused, said Steve Liedel, another election attorney. They could also face legal liability, he said.

Trump's play for Michigan was among a series of last-ditch tactics his team was using to challenge his defeat. They also have suggested in a legal challenge that Pennsylvania set aside the popular vote there and pressured county officials in Arizona to delay certifying vote tallies. There have been multiple lawsuits in battleground states that have failed to reverse any outcomes.

In two Democratic-leaning Wisconsin counties that are recounting votes, Trump's campaign sought to discard tens of thousands of absentee ballots that it alleged should not have been counted. The objections were already denied by the three-member Dane County Board of Canvassers, twice on bipartisan votes. The campaign was expected to make the same objections in Milwaukee County ahead of a court challenge once the recount concludes, perhaps as soon as Wednesday.


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Ricketts: 'We didn't do our job' on contact tracing
State has 2,600-case backlog; restrictions may tighten before Thanksgiving as hospitals near 25% threshold

LINCOLN — Gov. Pete Ricketts on Friday warned that Nebraska may hit the red zone for COVID-19 hospitalizations before Thanksgiving, triggering tighter state health restrictions.

He also acknowledged that Nebraska's contact tracing efforts had not kept up as the number of COVID-19 cases soared, allowing a backlog of cases to build up.

"The simple answer is we didn't do our job," the governor said at an afternoon press briefing. "We at the state had not been keeping up with the surge."

Contact tracing, which Ricketts has described as the "blocking and tackling" of epidemiology, aims to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Tracers reach out to people who have tested positive for the virus, find out who they might have exposed and then contact those people to ask them to quarantine.

The governor said he learned of the problem at a press briefing last week, when he was asked about a person who had tested positive for COVID-19 but did not hear from a contact tracer for eight days.

He discovered that the state had accumulated a backlog of 2,600 cases awaiting contract tracing. In half of those cases, tracers have not even made an initial attempt to reach the person who tested positive for COVID-19.

Ashley Newmyer, chief data strategist at the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, said the state is taking several steps to address the problem and hopes to get through the backlog by the end of next week.

The first step is beefing up the number of tracers. According to HHS officials, the state had the equivalent of 637 full-time tracers working as of Nov. 5, when the backlog started. This week, the number was up to 846 full-time tracers.

It is expected to top 1,000 by next week, as state employees who had been pulled from their regular jobs to help out with tracing earlier in the year are once again being put to work as tracers. HHS is also expanding its contracts with private companies to supply contact tracing staff.

Next, Newmyer said the state is asking tracers to make two attempts to reach people, instead of five, so cases can be closed more quickly. They are also trying to speed up contact tracing calls by reducing the number of questions asked.

In addition, she said tracers will not do the final step of calling people who had close contact with an infected person. Instead, people with positive tests will be asked to notify anyone who was within 6 feet of them for 15 minutes and urge them to quarantine.

Newmyer acknowledged that it is not ideal to rely on people to make those contacts, but she said the measure is temporary.

The number of people testing positive for the coronavirus has risen dramatically in recent weeks, along with the number of people needing hospitalization. The doubling time for both new cases and hospitalizations is between two and three weeks. The state ranks fifth nationally in the number of daily new cases per capita.

As of Friday, COVID-19 patients filled almost 22% of staffed hospital beds statewide. Ricketts previously announced that state health measures would tighten when such patients occupied 25% of staffed hospital beds, or about 1,130 beds.

When the state crosses that 25% threshold, indoor gatherings will be limited to 10 people and outdoor gatherings to 25 people. Barswill have to close except for carryout service and delivery, and more elective surgeries will have to be postponed.

More from the press briefing:

Thanksgiving. With an eye to the rising numbers, Ricketts urged Nebraskans to limit the size of their Thanksgiving gatherings. Most of the recent spread of cases has been traced to informal gatherings. The governor himself is finishing a 14-day quarantine after having dinner with a person who turned out to be infected.

He said getting tested is one way to reduce the risk of holiday get-togethers, but it does not eliminate the risk. People can test negative if they are tested too soon after exposure. They can also be exposed after getting tested.

Hospital plans. Ricketts said officials from several hospitals are working out a crisis standard of care, which would guide them in deciding which patients should get priority if the hospitals become overwhelmed. He said the state has no authority to endorse a particular standard.

jeff.robb@owh.com, 402-444-1128 twitter.com/jeffreyrobb


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Two Offutt jets grounded as U.S. exits treaty
Trump's withdrawal from Open Skies pact takes effect Sunday; biden could rejoin it but faces uncertain path

The U.S. is scheduled to leave the Open Skies Treaty on Sunday, leaving two Offutt-based OC-135 aircraft and crews without a mission.

The withdrawal comes exactly six months after the Trump administration gave notice of its intent to leave the treaty, which allows the U.S., Russia and 32 other nations to conduct supervised aerial photography flights over one another's territory.

At the time, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo cited repeated Russian violations of the treaty. They include restrictions on flights near breakaway regions along the border with its neighbor, the Republic of Georgia, and limits on the lengths of flights over the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.

"Russia has consistently acted as if it were free to turn its obligations off and on at will," Pompeo said in a statement. "Its approach to Treaty implementation has fatally undermined the very intent of the Treaty as a confidence and trust-building measure."

Russia denied violating the treaty.

At the time, Joe Biden — then a candidate, now president-elect — pushed back forcefully. He pointed to widespread support for the treaty among European allies and said withdrawing from it would harm their interests while further poisoning relations with Russia.

"Instead of tearing up treaties that make us and our allies more secure, President Trump … should remain in the Open Skies Treaty and work with allies to confront and resolve problems regarding Russia's compliance," Biden said in a statement in May.

Now, with Biden set to assume the presidency in January, the U.S. is on the verge of leaving a pact that he wants to continue. It's not clear when or how that could happen.

Would Biden need to resubmit the treaty for ratification by two thirds of the Senate? Would the planes and their equipment need to be certified again?

"If the Biden administration wanted to rejoin the treaty, he could do it, but it would be cumbersome," said Peter Jones, a former Canadian diplomat who helped negotiate the treaty in the 1990s.

Peter Brookes, a senior research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said he's against a last-minute reprieve.

"We haven't seen enough change in Russian behavior," said Brookes, a senior Defense Department official under President George W. Bush. "If there's a Biden administration in January, they can look at this and decide whether they agree or disagree with the Trump administration's decision."

The uncertainty has left those charged with carrying out the treaty in limbo.

"We don't know how this is going to go, either," said Lt. Col. Andrew Maus, commander of the Offutt-based 45th Reconnaissance Squadron, which operates the treaty's two photo reconnaissance jets. "We have our duty to train the crews and maintain the aircraft. We're doing that."

Maus said the squadron flew 19 treaty missions in 2019 and was scheduled to fly 11 in 2020. But the combination of the COVID-19 pandemic and the U.S. withdrawal have kept flights grounded this year.

President George H.W. Bush negotiated the treaty after the Cold War, reviving an idea first raised by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in the 1950s. It was signed in 1992.

Two WC-135 radiation detection aircraft were converted with the installation of aerial cameras, called sensors, built to uniform standards. Since the first flights in 2002, more than 1,500 missions have been flown.

The treaty enjoyed a low profile and bipartisan support until about three years ago, when a small group of hard-line Republicans used Russian violations as a cudgel to kill it.

Treaty supporters felt that the violations were side issues, resolvable through the Open Skies dispute resolution framework.

The effort to end the treaty "was a very small conspiracy, and a very well-placed one," said Michael Krepon, co-founder of the Stimson Center, a nonpartisan Washington think tank focused on international peace and security issues.

The arguments found a receptive audience in President Donald Trump, who has expressed skepticism of international treaties that he believes limit American action.

Nebraska's all-Republican congressional delegation conducted a rearguard action to save the treaty.

Sen. Deb Fischer and Reps. Don Bacon and Jeff Fortenberry secured partial funding for the purchase of two new planes to replace the 60-year-old OC-135s, which are prone to dangerous and inconvenient breakdowns at Russian airfields.

And in the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, they inserted a provision requiring the Trump administration to give Congress advance notice of intent to pull out of the treaty and meet other conditions as well.

Last week, Jones published an article proposing that the treaty members freeze the clock on the treaty from Saturday until the new administration takes office.

It's a tactic that's sometimes used by legislators or diplomats running up against a deadline.

"It's a fiction, and everybody knows that, but it's a fiction that everyone agrees to," he said.

Jones said his article has prompted some discussion among members of the Vienna-based international committee that oversees the treaty, but so far, they haven't moved to implement it.

Krepon thinks that Biden's best route is to have State Department lawyers review Trump's withdrawal. If they found that it was done improperly — if, for example, his administration didn't follow the law in notifying Congress — then they could nullify the withdrawal.

Brookes believes that Trump's State Department made a convincing case for leaving. He said Russia had added new provocations in 2019 by refusing to allow a U.S.-Canadian treaty flight over one of its military exercises and by directing U.S. aircraft to use an airfield in Crimea, which Russia occupied and annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

"You contrive to let the Russians get away with violating the treaties, and they get away with it. You create a moral hazard," Brookes said.

But Krepon believes that the U.S. withdrawal plays into Russia's hands by pulling the U.S. apart from NATO allies that don't have spy satellites and rely on the photo imagery for intelligence on Russian activities.

"Trump's withdrawal was a gift to Putin," he said.

Fischer has supported U.S. participation in the treaty, but she sees it now as very nearly a dead issue. Although the end of the treaty means the loss of two aircraft for Offutt's 55th Wing, she's excited about the base being a finalist for the new headquarters of the U.S. Space Command and about the addition of a third aircraft capable of monitoring atmospheric radiation.

"I guess I'm looking ahead," she said. "We have millions of dollars in new construction. We're getting a new runway. It was a fight. The fight has turned."