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Crime and Court Roundup: Justice Department official under investigation

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Crime and Court Roundup: Justice Department official under investigation
Ellsworth Wisconsin 126 S. Chestnut St. 54011

The former head of the state Justice Department's field office in Superior is under a federal investigation for allegedly selling guns without a license. The Associated Press says Jay Smith has been under investigation for several months by the U-S Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. The A-P said fellow agent Dan Bethards of Superior told a justice official last December that Smith was making and selling .45-caliber pistols to three special state agents - and state Attorney General J-B Van Hollen had bought a similar weapon from Smith. The A-P report said Bethards and Smith have been at odds ever since Smith because the field-office leader two years ago. Bethards, who's on medical leave, also reportedly said his boss sold an assault rifle to a Sawyer County investigators - and he never had a firearms license. Matthews told the A-P he questioned the credibility of the allegations but still called the A-T-F a day later. The Justice Department said it didn't expect Smith to be charged in the matter. In late May, the agency said it was closing its Superior field office - and Smith could still work in the area for another boss from Eau Claire. Matthews denies that Bethards' allegations had anything to do with the Superior office closing.

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A judge could decide today whether to let a jury hear statements that a man made to police about the murder of his wife, who was a police officer in suburban Milwaukee. Another hearing is scheduled in the case of Iraq War veteran Ben Sebena. He has pleaded insanity to a homicide charge. Attorneys are expected to discuss a psychologist's report today, which could determine whether Sebena's current plea will stick. According to prosecutors, the 30-year-old man told police that he ambushed Jennifer Sebena while she was working the overnight shift last Christmas Eve. The 30-year-old officer was shot-to-death soon after leaving a break room at Wauwatosa's downtown fire station. Ben Sebena is currently scheduled to go on trial July eighth.

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It's been over four months since former state probation agent Kim Hoenisch of Wausau was convicted of stealing painkillers from offenders she supervised. And it could be two more months before she's sentenced. Hoenisch pleaded no contest January 29th in Marathon County to five charges of drug possession, burglary, and misconduct in public office. Her sentencing was first set for April 25th, and was later moved to July first. Now, her attorney - Harry Hertel of Eau Claire - wants it pushed back for another 4-to-5 weeks. Hertel says he's waiting for an independent pre-sentence investigation to be completed - and it's taking longer than normal because it needs to be done by an expert in his client's profession. Hertel also told W-S-A-U Radio in Wausau he disagrees with parts of the state's pre-sentence report - and he received a diagnosis this week that requires him to have a hip replacement. Judge Ann Knox-Bauer could decide at a hearing on June 17th whether the sentencing will be delayed again. Hoenisch made a plea deal with prosecutors, in which both sides would ask for an 18-month prison sentence and two years of extended supervision. Authorities said she repeatedly stole painkillers from clients at her office, and at offenders' homes where she did not have permission to enter. Back in January, Hertel said Hoenisch was fighting addictions to painkillers since the 1990's, when she had plates and screws put in her legs to help her function.

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Two Milwaukee men will each spend almost five years in prison, for stealing and damaging business rooftop equipment in order to cash in on the scrap metal. 39-year-old Gary Vanpelt and 48-year-old Kirk Johnson have pleaded guilty to numerous charges of metal thefts. Each was ordered to pay back around 80-thousand-dollars to the companies that were victimized. Both were sentenced to five years in prison - but Vanpelt got 109 days of credit for the time he spent in jail during his criminal case. Johnson was credited for serving 72 days. Milwaukee Police said both Vanpelt and Johnson were part of a large operation in which 150 businesses had rooftop metal items damaged or stolen - apparently to get the scrap metal. The losses totaled three-quarter million dollars.

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A former E-L-C-A Lutheran bishop has pleaded innocent to killing a distance runner in Sun Prairie. The pleas were entered for 59-year-old Reverend Bruce Burnside, right after he was ordered to stand trial on four Dane County four charges that include drunken homicide and hit-and-run causing death. Burnside also asked for a new judge to hear his future proceedings. Prosecutors said Burnside was rushing to a Sun Prairie church on April seventh when he left a freeway exit, knocked down a lamp-post, struck and killed 52-year-old Maureen Mengelt, struck a car down the road, and eventually stopped in a gas station where he was arrested. Authorities said his blood alcohol level was over one-and-a-half times the legal limit. Mengelt was training for a 20-mile Syttende Mai running race in Stoughton when she was killed. Burnside was in the final three months of a term as the bishop for 110-thousand E-L-C-A Lutherans in south central Wisconsin. He stepped aside from the post, and went to a treatment facility.

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Sometimes, one or two people can ruin it for everybody - and that's the case with the Milwaukee Brewers' Famous Racing Sausages. Those characters will not appear at a host of celebrations in the Milwaukee area this summer, after a brother-and-sister stole the Italian sausage Guido from a fund-raiser in Germantown in February. The costumes' owner, Klements' sausage, does not have enough overtime to pay escorts which the company is now requiring. Klements' spokeswoman Rebecca Quella tells the Journal Sentinel that the sausages have appeared at up to five events during summer weekends - but that's out now. The Brewers own similar sausage costumes which are used in the actual Sausage Races during Milwaukee home games. The team says it never lets those costumes out without a guard - and that was true before the February heist. The thieves tried staying anonymous by returning the costume to a bar. They told U-S-A Today they decided to return Guido because quote, "We have morals." They were later exposed by the tipsters in social media, and were penalized several hundred dollars.

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Two people were killed and three others were injured when four vehicles collided in Dodge County. It happened just before four yesterday afternoon south of Mayville on Highway 33 in the town of Herman. Sheriff's deputies said one of the vehicles was passing another just before the crash occurred. Investigators are still trying to determine how each unit got involved. A man who drove a pick-up truck was killed, along with a woman in an S-U-V. Officials said another woman and a boy toddler were in critical condition at last word. A man in the vehicle was also hurt, but the extent was not immediately known. Drivers of the other two units - a semi-truck and a car - were not hurt. All four people in the S-U-V were ejected. Names and ages of the victims were not immediately released. An investigation continues.

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A special prosecutor will consider possible charges against a 27-year-old woman suspected of killing a dentist in a car-bicycle crash last weekend. Krista Holler of Cadott is free after a posting a five-thousand-dollar bond that was ordered at a hearing yesterday in Chippewa County Circuit Court. District attorney Steve Gibbs said a prosecutor is being brought in from another county to avoid any conflict, because Holler has a relative in law enforcement. The special prosecutor is expected to review the case and decide on possible charges before her next scheduled court hearing on July 16th. Holler turned herself in to authorities yesterday. Sheriff's officials said she went to a tavern and then a campsite before her vehicle struck bicyclist Robert Tschabrun around 5 a-m last Saturday. Investigators said the woman called a friend to pick her up after the crash, and she did not alert authorities to the mishap. A passer-by later saw the victim's body in a ditch, with an abandoned car close by. Holler was booked on possible charges of negligent homicide and causing death while driving with a suspended license. An investigation continues.

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