The walls of the former General Motors assembly plant in Janesville started to come down Monday as the property’s new owner began to demolish the defunct 4.8 million-square-foot plant.
Backhoes and other demolition vehicles worked on the west side of the massive site. Initial work included tearing down the structure near Cherry Street on the west side of the GM property.
The site’s owner, Commercial Development Company, said it has been working inside the plant for weeks, removing asbestos and other materials.
The company informed the city of Janesville it would start physical demolition of plant buildings this week, the city said Monday in a news release.
Commercial Development is starting on the west side of the plant and working east toward the front façade along South Jackson Street.
In the short term, the demolition will be mostly out of view to passersby on West Delavan Drive and South Jackson Street, the two main thoroughfares that border the property.
Gazette reporters using an aerial drone camera observed demolition vehicles near a large rail spur adjacent to the plant. It was in that area where the vehicles carried and sorted metal, rubble and other debris from the demolition.
The work rolled out amid the clattering of materials being unloaded from the buckets of the demolition vehicles.
Parts of the outer walls on the plant’s west side had some metal panels removed, revealing the building’s skeletal frame.
The neighborhood adjacent to the work was quiet. Local news outlets were among the few onlookers trying to catch glimpses of the demolition’s start.
City of Janesville Building Director Tom Clippert said Commercial Development notified the city last week it intended to start demolition.
Clippert said based on the demolition plan Commercial Development submitted, it would start “phase one” of demolition—the removal of GM buildings—in the “northwest” section of the plant. He said demolition would progress east and south across the property.
Based on Commercial Development’s plan, it could take a year to demolish and clear the plant buildings, Clippert said. The company has said the process could take up to 18 months.
Commercial Development bought the property from GM last year for $9.6 million. It plans to clear the 265-acre GM site and ready it for industrial redevelopment on multiple parcels. The company said redevelopment would key on existing rail infrastructure adjacent to the plant.
According to a recent city memo outlining potential state grant funding for demolition and cleanup at the GM site, Commercial Development estimates the demolition and clearing of the plant could cost about $10 million.
Clippert said Commercial Development’s plans indicate the company would tear down all the buildings on the property.
“At this point all I know from their demolition plan is they’ll take down everything. That could change, but it would be up to them (Commercial Development),” Clippert said.
On Monday, Commercial Development did not return messages from The Gazette asking for more information.
In March, Commercial Development spokesman John Kowalik said the company planned to start physical demolition of most of the plant in April. He said it could take about nine months for crews to work east in its demolition of the 100-year-old auto plant.
Kowalik at the time said Commercial Development was working to hire heavy equipment operators for the demolition.
The city said the main truck routes for removal of materials from the site include West Delavan Drive, South Jackson Street, Reuther Way, Beloit Avenue and Highway 11.
The city said Commercial Development estimates about 25 truckloads will leave the plant each day between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.
Meanwhile, an industrial auction company has announced an online sale of leftover equipment from the GM plant, including robots, electrical equipment, controls, pumps, motors, tanks and overhead cranes.
Indiana auction firm Professional Industrial Appraisal is running the auction through aucto.com, an online industrial equipment auction platform.
Bids for the sale opened at 10 a.m. Monday, and the auction will run for four days from April 23-26, according to a news release from Aucto.
The union representing Janesville police officers is raffling off an AR-15, a type of semi-automatic rifle that has been used in several mass shootings in recent years.
Raffling off a firearm is perfectly legal, but the move has set off negative comments that detract from the raffle’s purpose, said officer Justin Stubbendick, union spokesman.
Stubbendick said it’s unfortunate that attention has been diverted from the two beneficiaries of the raffle, a local 3-year-old, Isaac Johnson, who suffers from an aggressive childhood cancer called neuroblastoma, and a former Department of Corrections agent in Rock County, Jeremy Jorgensen, who was diagnosed in December with an aggressive brain cancer.
Also being raffled are a Glock 17 handgun, a Remington 870 shotgun, a Viktos tactical clothing kit and a $50 Sam’s Club gift card.
All the weapons are the kind that many in law enforcement use on the job, Stubbendick noted, and the raffle was publicized in law enforcement circles, although anyone can buy a $10 ticket.
Stubbendick said anyone who wins a firearm will have to undergo a background check as the weapons are on order at Top Pack Defense in Sun Prairie, which is required by law to background-check purchasers.
The union raffled off a Glock 19 handgun last year for the first time to help the family of a Janesville officer whose daughter suffered from cancer, Stubbendick said.
The current raffle was set up before the shooting at a Parkland, Florida, high school in February, when 17 died, Stubbendick said.
The union discussed after the shooting whether to pull the AR-15, he said, but the raffle had already started.
“We decided, based on the cause and things we had in place, that we were going to continue on with it,” he said.
Union officials will consider different raffle items next year because such weapons are a hot-button topic, Stubbendick said.
The AR-15-type rifles figured in more than just the Parkland shooting. They were used in the shootings in Las Vegas; San Bernardino, California; and at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, for example.
A gun-control advocate contacted by The Gazette suggested there are better ways to promote good causes.
“Just because something is legal does not mean that it’s not in some ways awful,” said David Chipman, senior policy adviser for the Giffords Law Center and a former agent for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
“I think our law enforcement understands that a background check alone does not prevent many people who could be a danger to the public from actually getting the gun, and cops know best that to be true,” he said.
The Giffords Law Center advocates for the banning of assault weapons for civilian use.
Stubbendick said the Janesville Professional Police Association takes no stand on whether the AR-15 should be banned.
Chipman credited the union for making sure the transfer of the rifle goes through a gun dealer, but he said: “In this environment, raffling off a gun that was used to kill 17 kids (and adults) in Parkland, dozens of churchgoers in Texas and even more at a concert in Las Vegas, to me, is tone deaf.”
A civilian with an AR-15 also shot and wounded the shooter in the 2017 church massacre in Sutherland Springs, Texas.
The JPPA is not the first police union to raffle off an AR-15.
The Rosendale, New York, Police Benevolent Association called off a similar raffle soon after the Parkland massacre, according to news reports.
Last fall, the police union in Melrose Park, Illinois, raffled off an AR-15, even though the village had banned possession of the gun there four years earlier, the Chicago Sun Times reported.
The local raffle drawing is set for May 12 at Sam’s Club in Janesville. Those whose names are picked can choose any of the prizes, so there is no top prize or second-place prize, Stubbendick said.
Those who don’t want to participate are not obliged to do so, Stubbendick pointed out, and those who simply want to help Isaac and Jeremy can do so without buying raffle tickets, as some have done.
Janesville Police Chief Dave Moore noted the police department has nothing to do with the raffle.
“I want to make it very clear that it is not a police department weapon,” Moore said.
Moore noted the officers have the constitutional rights to free association and free speech.
“I’m very respectful of people’s opinions,” Stubbendick said. “Some people are upset by this. It’s one of those things; there has to be a conversation about it. But this raffle is not about whether an AR-15 should be owned.”
A legal fight over what should happen to records the FBI seized from President Donald Trump’s personal attorney took a surprise twist Monday when the lawyer, Michael Cohen, was forced to reveal a secret—that he had also done legal work for Fox News host Sean Hannity.
The disclosure came as a New York judge disappointed a lawyer for Trump by letting prosecutors proceed with cataloguing evidence, including multiple electronic devices that were seized in raids, while a system is set up to ensure that records protected by attorney-client privilege aren’t disclosed to investigators.
Lawyers for Cohen and prosecutors both had reason to claim success after three hours of arguments before U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood, who said she may appoint a special master, a neutral lawyer, to help decide which materials should stay confidential.
Wood denied a request from Trump’s lawyer, Joanna Hendon, that the president and Cohen get the first crack at designating which documents should be off-limits to investigators.
Prosecutors say that material should be reviewed by a team of Justice Department lawyers independent from the investigation who could identify records that should remain confidential. That team, they said, could provide the documents to Trump and other Cohen clients for their own review.
Hannity’s name emerged after the judge pressed Cohen to divulge the names of the clients he’s worked with since the 2016 election whose privileged communications might be contained within his files.
Cohen’s legal team said he had just three clients in 2017 and 2018. One was Trump. Another was Elliott Broidy, a Trump fundraiser who resigned from the Republican National Committee on Friday after it was revealed that he paid $1.6 million to a Playboy Playmate with whom he had an extramarital affair. The Playmate became pregnant and elected to have an abortion.
Cohen’s lawyers resisted revealing the name of the third client, saying it would be embarrassing and unnecessary. Plus, the client had specifically asked for privacy and requested that they appeal any demand to divulge his name.
But Wood pressed on.
”I understand he doesn’t want his name out there, but that’s not enough under the law,” she said, after hearing legal arguments from Robert Balin, a lawyer for five news organizations including The Associated Press.
When the name was announced, there were gasps and some laughter in a courtroom packed with journalists. A few of them raced from the courtroom. Cohen’s lawyers did not detail the type of legal work he did for Hannity.
On his radio show, Hannity said Cohen was never involved in any matter between him and any third party.
“Michael never represented me in any matter,” Hannity said. “I never retained him in any traditional sense. I never received an invoice. I never paid a legal fee. I had brief discussions with him about legal questions where I wanted his input and perspective.”
Later he added on Twitter the legal advice he got from Cohen was “almost exclusively about real estate.”
Hannity, an outspoken Trump supporter, has been a fierce critic of special counsel Robert Mueller, who is looking into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Monday’s hearing began with an appearance by porn actress Stormy Daniels, who was swarmed by photographers and nearly fell as she was hustled into the courthouse, a scene that captured the sensational atmosphere around the case.
The last to enter court, she was among the first to leave. While in court, she smiled several times as she observed the proceedings from a folding chair near the back of the room. Outside afterward, she said Cohen has acted like he’s above the law and that she and her lawyer are committed to making sure everyone learns the truth.
The April 9 raid on Cohen sought information on a variety of matters, including a $130,000 payment made to Daniels, who alleges she had sex with a married Trump in 2006.
At stake is an investigation that could uncover the inner workings of Trump’s longtime fixer and image protector. People familiar with the probe told the AP that agents were seeking bank records, records on Cohen’s dealing in the taxi industry, Cohen’s communications with the Trump campaign and information on payments made in 2016 to two women who say they had affairs with Trump, former Playboy model Karen McDougal and the porn star Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford.
Lawyers for Cohen filed papers Monday saying investigators “took everything” during the raids, including more than a dozen electronic devices.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas McKay said in court that the government took images of the contents of most electronic devices, leaving them behind after the raids, and that cataloguing evidence might be delayed because some devices must be sent to an FBI laboratory to “decrypt” because they require code words.
Trump, who was in Florida on Monday, said all lawyers are now “deflated and concerned” by the FBI raid on Cohen.
”Attorney Client privilege is now a thing of the past,” he tweeted Sunday. “I have many (too many!) lawyers and they are probably wondering when their offices, and even homes, are going to be raided with everything, including their phones and computers, taken. All lawyers are deflated and concerned.”