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Joe’s Italian Grill named ‘Do-Gooder’ of the Year

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                               JASON CHLAPEK I PCE From left, Livingston city manager Bill Wiggins, Tanya Dora and Nancy Windham of the Texas Forest Country Partnership, Ilir Gjoka of Joe’s Italian Grill, Polk County Judge Sydney Murphy and State Representative James White celebrate Joe’s Italian Grill receiving the 2020 “Do-Gooder” of the Year award for Polk County Tuesday morning.

Special to the Enterprise

LUFKIN - Joe’s Italian Grill of Livingston was awarded the 2020 “Do-Gooder” of the Year Award for Polk County during the 2020 Texas Forest Country Partnership (TFCP) Virtual Economic Development Summit on Wednesday, Nov. 18.

The award presentation was made on behalf of the TFCP by Robert Allen, president & CEO of the Texas Economic Development Corporation; Adriana Cruz, executive director of the Office of Economic Development & Tourism, Office of the Governor; and Bryan Daniel, chair of the Texas Workforce Commission.

Christi Sullivan, chair of the TFCP, noted Joe’s Italian Grill, owned by Ilir Gjoka, was established in 2009 and has 12 employees, who assist in giving back graciously to the community.

A few of Mr. Gjoka and his staff’s selfless acts include opening his grill to feed the homeless every Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. In addition, free meals are provided to military veterans every year on Veteran’s Day and free meals are also provided to the Polk County Special Olympics participants.

“Mr. Gjoka also makes a special effort to take care of others during distressed times. A tornado hit Polk County in April and although he was negatively impacted, he thought of others first offering free meals to displaced families and relief aid works. Thank you for your extreme acts of appreciation and kindness; this honorable award is well deserved,” Sullivan said.

“We are proud to recognize Joe’s Italian Grill for your genuine concern for the well-being of others and for your relentless hours spent making sure more families are fed. Your commitment to those in your community and to the Texas Forest Country region during the COVID-19 Pandemic is invaluable.

“Our summit is an opportunity to explore ways to improve the economy of our region and we appreciate everyone who attended virtually to help us celebrate “Do-Gooders” who go over and beyond the call of duty to serve others and be an integral part of our future”, she continued.

In addition to recognizing the counties’ “Do-Gooder” winners, Jay Shands of Angelina County received the 2020 Silver Bucket Award. The Summit’s Keynote Address was made by Governor Greg Abbott followed by a regional and state-wide in-depth discussion with Featured Presenters Robert Allen, Adriana Cruz and Bryan Daniel. Other participants included Lonnie Hunt, executive director of the Deep East Texas Council of Governments and Economic Development District; Jennifer Harris, State Program Director of Connected Nation Texas and Wynn Rosser, President and CEO of the T.L.L. Temple Foundation presented an overview and an update on Broadband in our region. Concluding the Summit was a panel discussion with the region’s State Senator and State Representatives.

A total of 12 Do-Gooder awards were presented, one for each county in the TFCP area. Either business or individuals could be nominated for the honor.

Criteria for being nominated for the award includes:

  • Has given back to a community during the COVID-19 Crisis
  • Located in Your County.
  • If nomination is a business, must be a viable on-going business for one or more years, experiencing growth or stability over its business life.
  • Employs less than 100
  • Provides critical service or product, fills a void in the business community, or has a unique approach to delivery of goods and services.
  • May have overcome diverse or extraordinary circumstances to remain in business.
  • Business/Individual is supportive of community growth sustainability.
  • Is not a governmental agency or municipality.

The TFCP, formerly known as the Pineywoods Economic Partnership (PEP) and the Deep East Texas Development Association (DETDA), was founded in 1960 as a non-profit economic development organization.  The TFCP is a regional economic development organization that is committed to coordinating economic development-related activities in Deep East Texas and further enhancing the appeal of the 12-county area that it serves.

The Texas Forest Country Partnership is committed to enriching the economic prosperity and well-being of our region through marketing, business development, and advocacy.

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Suspect behind bars after scamming $42K

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Photo Zhang 6COURTESY PHOTO Hongwen Zhang, 32, was recently indicted by a Polk County grand jury for her role in a “secret shopper” scam that swindled a Livingston woman out of nearly $10,000.

Special to the Enterprise

LIVINGSTON – A woman is behind bars after scamming a Livingston woman and other people for a grand total of $42,000.

On Nov. 27, law enforcement authorities with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department arrested 32-year-old Hongwen Zhang, who was recently indicted by a Polk County grand jury for her role in a “secret shopper” scam that swindled a Livingston woman out of nearly $10,000.

According to law enforcement reports, in March of this year, the victim was contacted by the defendant, or someone conspiring with the defendant, and they convinced the victim to act as a “secret shopper,” essentially someone who would visit local businesses and report back on the nature of the customer service received, the cleanliness of the store, etc. The scammers sent the victim several money orders as payment for the victim’s secret shopper services.

It was not until the victim’s bank informed her that the money orders were fake that she realized she had been conned. But, by then, she’d already been convinced by the scammers to purchase several gift cards and provide them with the identifying information for the cards.

The scammers used this information to transfer the nearly $10,000 stored on the cards to other gift cards. After receiving a report from the victim, investigators with the Polk County Sheriff’s Department were able to identify Zhang as a suspect.

Zhang was tracked to a location in Houston, where investigators encountered her with 652 gift cards with more than $42,000 loaded onto them.

“Because of the online and electronic nature of these types of crimes, most go unsolved,” stated Tommy L. Coleman, Special Crimes Prosecutor for the Polk County District Attorney’s Office. “But for the relentless investigation of this case by Polk County Sheriff’s Department Detective David Sottosanti, this case too, might have gone unsolved.”

Zhang is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, one count of conspiracy to commit fraudulent use/possession of identifying information, one count of conspiracy to commit fraudulent use/possession of credit card information and one count of theft from an elderly person as a party. The case is being prosecuted by Coleman. If convicted, Zhang faces up to 20 years confinement in a state prison.

The investigation is still ongoing as it relates to the identification and apprehension of Zhang’s co-conspirators.

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Robert Rolin needs your votes

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Robert and the snowmanCOURTESY PHOTO Robert and the snowman

Onalaska man in final round to win custom motorcycle from television show

By Brian Besch

Over three decades ago, a motorcycle crash nearly killed Robert Rolin.

However, the Onalaska resident is now surviving several rounds of voting and close to winning a custom motorcycle from the television show Orange County Choppers.

"Paul Teutul and his son started a show called American Chopper," Rolin said of the television show's beginnings. "It was him and his son building motorcycles in their garage. They built some really nice custom bikes. They built showcase bikes. They started building for celebrities and superstars.

"I was on Facebook one day and saw this thing that said "dream chopper." It said enter a contest to win a dream chopper. It also helps the Hudson Valley SPCA in New York."

Rolin said when he signed up, there were 70,000 other people who did the same. He won the first round and the group shrunk to 9,000. He won a five more rounds and has just three more competitors in his way of the grand prize.

Also included in the grand prize is an appearance on the television show and a feature on the cover of Cycle Source Magazine.

A vote is free, but additional votes can also be purchased to accumulate more. The money donated goes to helping animals.

The competition runs until 10 p.m. Thursday evening.

Rolin says he has many groups voting for him, with numbers in the hundreds. However, the other contestants have similar backing.

"It's very humbling. I am kind of a private guy and I keep to myself. Me and my son have a company; we build houses. It is my son's company, but I work with him."

If Rolin wins, Teutul will build a custom motorcycle for him. Rolin has a history with motorcycles, some good and some nearly fatal.

FB IMGCOURTESY PHOTO Robert's red motorcycle.

"I lost my left arm in a motorcycle wreck back in '87. It was a rainy night and back then, I had about the fastest 750 made. I had a real need for speed when I was a youngster. I was just going really fast and the road that I was on was a two-lane road. One lane went up about an inch, so when you change lanes, it threw you to the left. I went too far and hit the curb and there was a fire hydrant. It hit my arm and just took it right off at the shoulder."

Rolin said the officer that responded didn't even notice his arm missing, because his leg was so badly injured. The officer was actually a high school classmate of Rolin. The officer ran across the street to a corner store and filled an ice chest with ice and poured it into Rolin's leg, likely saving that limb.

That officer is also one of the voters helping Rolin.

"I almost died and it tore my right leg up. I don't have a quadricep in my right leg. I lost five inches of my femur, but they put a steel rod in my leg and it has held my leg together. Here 33 years later, I am still getting along."

Though it was difficult to get back on a bike, he still rides today, owning a Harley-Davidson trike.

Rolin said he is a positive person, who tries to promote ability instead of disability.

"I hope that I can inspire one person. Just because they might have lost their leg or their arm or had some kind of disability or even people that just have low self-esteem -- you have to just get out there and try. I hope, if I win, I really want to promote that disabled people can do things. I'm just a normal guy that doesn't have a left arm. I want to get up there and show the world that we can do things. If you are disabled, don't give up. I boat, I water ski, I hunt, I fish and I build houses -- I never let it slow me down.

"It took me two years to get out of a wheelchair. Once I did, I've never looked back. I try to live life. I ended up raising five kids and having a great life. I didn't get back on a motorcycle for about 20 years. Once I did, I loved it. This (contest) has been a great experience, it has brought me back to the policeman that was on the scene and people that I remember from my high school. It has been a great experience, but I still want to win."

To help Rolin win, go to dreamchopper.com and place a vote.

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Patsy Wilson Citrus Drive

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20201208 133444COURTESY PHOTO Family honors former volunteer by providing produce to the community.

LIVINGSTON— Former Center of Hope volunteer Patsy Wilson would have been pleased to see families in need receiving bags of oranges during the holidays.

Patsy's family decided to honor her after she passed Sunday. They are providing many in the area with one of her favorite memories.

"Growing up in Tyler, her favorite thing at Christmas time was she would get an orange," Patsy’s daughter-in-law Leigh Wilson said. "It was outside the means of her family's budget, but it was always their treasure at Christmas. She loved it and would always bring Cuties over here (to Center of Hope) at Christmas time."

The family decided to buy as many of the small oranges as possible, bringing them to Center of Hope for families to enjoy. They purchased 112 bags of Cuties from Walmart and 3,024 candy canes.

"We were actually thinking that maybe we would work with the Center of Hope and start an annual citrus drive for the mission Christmas time — the Patsy Wilson Citrus Drive," Leigh said.

Patsy retired in 2003 and volunteered at Center of Hope. She was part of move to the center's current location and is remembered as a compassionate person who helped others. Always involved in the community, her focus was preventing childhood hunger and spreading joy. 

The family is asking that all expressions of sympathy for Patsy be sent to the Center of Hope to continue her legacy. They are challenging all who are able to help during the holidays.

"She had a heart for single parents struggling to feed their babies," daughter LaJuana Lattimore said of Patsy. "She made sure that every mother that needed food for her babies got it."

Patsy worked in food service in the Humble Independent School District for 37 years. She was a dietitian and constructed menus for school children.

"This is the way that we are expressing our grief for her, because this would just freak her out," Leigh said. "She would be like a kid in a candy store."

For families to receive donations by Christmas, the Center of Hope is asking that blessings of food or funds are submitted as soon as possible. The center is open Tuesdays and Thursdays 1-3:30 p.m.

Those hoping to submit produce are encouraged drop off items at 12:30 p.m. for 1 p.m. distributions. Center of Hope serves approximately 100 families on each of the two days per week.

The center is located at 600 South Washington in Livingston and may be reached at 936-327-7634.

MonCOURTESY PHOTO Patsy Wilson

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Arrests made in possible homicide

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Homicide LivingstonCOURTESY PHOTO Jameous O’Neal Smith and Mark Anthony Jacobs

Two Livingston men charged with murder

The Polk County Sheriff's Department and Texas Rangers have made two arrests in the Tuesday death of a Livingston man.

On the morning of Dec. 8, the Polk County Sherriff’s Office received an emergency call in reference to a deceased male found on Lone Wolf Road, just off of FM 1988 East in Polk County.

The victim was identified as 19-year-old Brodrick Anthony Cooper of Livingston.

Sheriff’s office investigators, along with Texas Ranger Ryan Clendennen, responded to the scene. The scene was processed and evidence was collected. Justice of the Peace Darrell Longino conducted the inquest and ordered an autopsy to be performed by the Harris County Medical Examiner’s Office.

Once investigators made a positive identification of the deceased, they were able to start tracking his whereabouts and with whom he had associated within the last 24 hours.

Investigators developed two suspects during the investigation. They were identified as 35-year-old Jameous O’Neal Smith and 18-year-old Mark Anthony Jacobs, both from Livingston.

Both Smith and Jacobs were arrested on their charges. During their arrest and search of their residences, authorities say evidence was found linking both suspects to the crime.

They were interviewed by investigators and confessed to the murder of Cooper, as well as robbing him afterward. The victim’s property was recovered during the investigation, along with the murder weapon.

Smith and Jacobs are currently in the Polk County Jail charged with capital murder.

The Polk County Sheriff’s Office and the Texas Rangers would like to send their appreciation to the large amount of information received from numerous individuals regarding the investigation.

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