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Casino still holding Elvis Presley items sought by estate

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Hundreds of Elvis Presley artifacts and memorabilia are still being held by a Las Vegas casino, a year after the King’s estate filed a lawsuit to get those valuables back from a short-lived exhibit.

Westgate Las Vegas Resort and Casino’s chief operating officer Mark Waltrip said Wednesday that the items — including stage outfits, jewelry and letters, among other artifacts from the career, home and wedding of Elvis — remain locked up at the casino site where the now-shuttered “Graceland Presents Elvis” attraction once stood.

The dispute stems from the 10-year leasing agreement that Westgate alleges the exhibit defaulted on when it vacated the off-Strip casino space.

A judge ruled in May 2016 that Elvis Presley Enterprises, which runs the Graceland attraction in Memphis, Tennessee, could get them back by posting a $9 million bond while the leasing issue was pending.

All parties instead agreed to take the case into arbitration. Waltrip said a judge’s decision is expected in the next month.

The Presley estate didn’t return calls and emails seeking comment.

Westgate took control of the items in February 2016 when the attraction, which included a museum exhibit, wedding chapel and theater, shut down. The operator abruptly announced it was quitting, a move the casino suggested was caused by poor attendance and poor marketing and promotional efforts.

Westgate at the time also said that the exhibit was defaulting on its lease. The casino said it spent millions of dollars outfitting the space and was holding the items to recoup money owed as part of the leasing agreement.

The estate responded by filing the lawsuit to retrieve the items that it said Westgate aggressively seized without a legitimate legal basis.

The attraction was open less than a year but had debuted with great fanfare in the same casino where Elvis performed several hundred shows, back when it was known as the Las Vegas Hilton and The International. It was billed as the largest display of Elvis memorabilia outside of his famed Graceland.

The Las Vegas attraction included a 28,000-square-foot exhibit that featured a rotating display of Elvis items, including the $1 million-a-year tablecloth contract that Elvis inked to perform at what is now the Westgate and the two-piece black tunic and single-button black suit that he wore for his first performances there. There was also an Elvis Presley wedding chapel on site, which was featured on NBC’s “Today Show” when it hosted its first ceremony with the King’s ex-wife, Priscilla Presley, as the bride’s surprise matron-of-honor.

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Follow Sally Ho at twitter.com/_sallyho and https://apnews.com/search/Sally%20Ho

Kurt Vonnegut museum wants end to dispute as funds dwindle

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library is asking a judge to quickly rule on a lawsuit stemming from its failed move, saying it could run out of money before the case is resolved.

The museum moved to a new location in Indianapolis in October but stayed only until February after finding structural defects and water damage. The museum filed a lawsuit last month, alleging fraud and breach of contract, after the building owner declined to rescind its lease.

The Indianapolis Business Journal (http://bit.ly/2oOaKU9 ) reported the museum devoted to the late novelist hopes to get an expedited hearing, noting it has already spent $300,000 to pay for rent and building improvements.

“KVML, which was founded only eight years ago, has limited funds, a very large proportion of which have been expended in reliance on defendant’s material misrepresentation about the building and which are not available now to be put to their intended use,” the museum argued in the lawsuit.

Building owner Scott Johnson said a water leak and rotting wood was discovered during preparations for the museum’s move. The owners said they began working on repairs but received a letter from the museum’s lawyer asking to be relieved of the lease.

“We tried to remediate the issue, and they said, ‘No, it’s not happening,'” Johnson said. “We’ve been there for 21 years. We want to make sure the building is in good shape. We want it to be right.”

The owners have since removed the rotted wood. They have plans to replace the failed window seals and install new drywall in preparation for finding another tenant.

Michael Bishop, an attorney for the building owner, requested an extension Monday to have more time to consider a counterclaim.

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Information from: Indianapolis Business Journal, http://www.ibj.com

Nevada woman accused of faking son’s death to raise money

RENO, Nev. (AP) — Nevada authorities say a woman faces criminal charges after she faked that her 10-year-old son had leukemia and died, helping her raise more than $2,000.

Carson City Sheriff Ken Furlong says Victoria Morrison was arrested last Friday at a motel in Nevada’s capital city.

Authorities placed the son and Morrison’s three other children in the custody of state protective services officials.

Furlong says investigators determined that Morrison lied when she said her son had leukemia so she could solicit gifts including a helicopter ride for the boy.

He says she raised the money on a GoFundMe site and later falsely claimed the boy died.

Morrison, 31, is charged with obtaining money under false pretenses and child abuse or neglect.

It was not clear Wednesday whether Morrison had a lawyer.

Haiti aims to revive military as end of UN mission looms

GRESSIER, Haiti (AP) — Their heads held high and chests puffed out, a group of nearly 100 Haitian men in camouflage fatigues do jumping jacks or march around an abandoned U.N. compound on a recent morning. But after a few drills, they seek shelter from the blazing sun in the absence of anything else to do.

As U.N. military peacekeepers prepare for a full exit from this Caribbean nation, this small engineering corps is the first wave of Haiti’s efforts to try and revive a military force some 22 years after a national army was disbanded. While Haiti is a long way off from having a real military, these initial efforts to build up a defense force at whatever level excites some and unnerves others.

“We’re proud Haitians and we want to make the nation stronger,” said Lt. Ted Tesnor Wolsby, a base commander in the brigade that has received months of military training in Ecuador but has only intermittent duties fixing irrigation ditches or roads back in Haiti for salaries starting at $318 a month.

While it’s easy to find citizens who strongly support reconstituting a Haitian army, particularly jobless young people, the idea alarms those who vividly remember times darkened by military coups and oppression.

“It’s not a good idea, that’s for sure,” said Bobby Duval, a former soccer star who was arrested by the army in 1976 and starved and tortured while locked up for 17 months for speaking out against human rights abuses under Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier’s government.

Haitian leaders insist that a functioning defense force is urgently needed following a phased drawdown of all the remaining 2,370 U.N. military peacekeepers. The U.N. Security Council last week authorized an Oct. 15 wrap-up of a 13-year stabilization mission here, leaving behind a smaller peacekeeping operation for an initial period of six months comprising 1,275 police who will continue training Haitian law enforcers.

“We want a new armed force, an armed force oriented toward development. This is what we need,” said Defense Minister Herve Denis, adding that the government is “very concerned” about a possible security vacuum after U.N. troops depart.

Attitudes about a possible military revival are as complicated as the history of Haiti, which only saw its first freely elected leader with Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1990, and he was ousted by a military coup just eight months later.

For much of Haiti’s history, the army was used to crack down on political dissent for a parade of dictators or destabilize governments. When U.S. Marines occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934, they abolished the existing military and created a national guard, which eventually became the budget-draining Forces Armees d’Haiti.

During the 29-year family dynasty founded by Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier, the army was largely shunted aside in favor of the Tonton Macoutes, the regime’s dreaded private militia. But when his son, Jean-Claude, was ousted and fled to France in 1986, a repressive army high command of Duvalier appointees remained largely intact. After Aristide was ousted in a 1991 military coup, soldiers and paramilitary forces killed some 4,000 people over the next three years.

Haiti’s current leaders are pitching new kinds of military duties: defending democracy, providing immediate assistance after natural disasters, and fighting smuggling of drugs and other contraband.

Reviving a national army has been a goal of the Tet Kale party since it gained power in 2011. From his start as a candidate in 2010 elections, Michel Martelly pledged to restore the armed forces, pitching a force of 3,500 troops. Shortly before his term as Haiti’s president expired in February 2016, Martelly quietly issued a decree to reconstitute an army in the absence of a functioning Parliament.

Now, officials with President Jovenel Moise’s government are pushing to have 500 troops next year. But they are providing only the broadest outlines of future plans to have armed troops monitoring coastlines and manning the border with the Dominican Republic.

Robert Fatton, a Haitian-born politics professor at the University of Virginia and the author of “The Roots of Haitian Despotism,” said it would be difficult to imagine a military force that wouldn’t quickly become politicized.

“There’s the possibility that it becomes a weapon in the hands of whoever is the president or the prime minister. And there’s a danger, obviously, that it might follow in the path of the previous military,” Fatton said.

While many Haitians support a military rebirth regardless of questions about how the country will pay for it, it’s hard to find any enthusiasm for the idea by international donors who have poured billions into bolstering the Haitian National Police, which has grown to over 14,000 trained members.

“Our efforts have focused on supporting a civilian police force that is focused on what Haiti needs, which is law enforcement,” said Kenneth Merten, the U.S. State Department’s special coordinator for Haiti, while emphasizing that the Caribbean country is a sovereign nation that can make its own decisions about what forces it wants in the territory.

The U.N. envoy for Haiti, Sandra Honore, told reporters Monday that the U.N. “is not in a position to support or to contribute to this plan of the government of Haiti.”

But Senate President Youri Latortue, once an army lieutenant, says Haiti plans to engage in bilateral talks to try and convince troop-contributing countries to leave behind “equipment and helicopters so we can continue to reinforce this military after the U.N. departs.”

Without disclosing any specifics, Haitian officials hint about upcoming support from some U.N. troop-contributing nations. But it’s far from clear if anything significant will actually pan out.

Getting a professional and equipped military off the ground will require sustained international support, a fact well understood by authorities in the donor-dependent country.

“That is my call to the international community: Don’t let us do the army alone,” Denis said.

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David McFadden on Twitter: www.twitter.com/dmcfadd

Ex-President George H.W. Bush remains in Houston hospital

HOUSTON (AP) — A spokesman for former President George H.W. Bush says the nation’s 41st president remains under observation at a Houston hospital after recovering from “a mild case of pneumonia.”

Family spokesman Jim McGrath said Wednesday that the 92-year-old Bush “continues to gain strength … had a good night’s rest, and his spirits are high.”

McGrath disclosed Tuesday that Bush was brought to Houston Methodist Hospital last Friday for treatment of a persistent cough. He said doctors diagnosed that as pneumonia but that the illness has been treated and resolved.

McGrath says Bush won’t be discharged Wednesday, but that he is looking forward to going home.

Bush, who served as president from 1989 to 1993, spent 16 days in the hospital for treatment of pneumonia in January.