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MINNESOTA NEWS ROUNDUP: DNR officer charged over gas purchases on state card

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WILLMAR, Minn. -- A 47-year-old Sunburg man has been charged with felony theft related to gasoline purchases on his state-issued fleet card while working as a state conservation officer.

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James Clifford Steffen is accused of charging more gas on his fleet card than was used in the state-owned boat, all-terrain vehicle and snowmobile he used for his work with the Department of Natural Resources.

Steffen's first appearance on two felony charges of theft of public funds, plus a misdemeanor theft count, is Aug. 14 in Kandiyohi County District Court.

According to the complaint opened Wednesday in District Court, the investigation was conducted by the Wright County Sheriff's Office and found that about 435 gallons of fuel was charged to the account but not used for state purposes. A total dollar amount was not assigned.

An investigation by the DNR began when a citizen reported suspicious purchases of gasoline by Steffen at a Sunburg gas station, including when Steffen filled his state-owned work truck and numerous portable gas cans in his state-owned boat.

The DNR found that the purchases were made by using a "9999" code, which is supposed to be fuel for other equipment, such as boats, ATVs and snowmobiles. A Wright County officer found 13 unusual purchases using the code between July 18, 2010, and April 2012.

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Amy Senser's lawyer is asking the Minnesota Supreme Court to consider her case, a month after the Minnesota Court of Appeals upheld the convictions. The wife of former Minnesota Viking Joe Senser was sent to prison last year for killing Anousone Phanthavong  on an I-94 exit ramp. She claimed she didn't realize she had hit a person, and believed she struck a traffic barrel. The appeals court ruled there was enough evidence to uphold her conviction. Senser's lawyer argues that a note from the jury, stating that they believed that she though she hit a car or a barrel, should have been read in the courtroom when the verdict was announced. He also says the jury should have been allowed to hear evidence that Phanthavong tested positive for cocaine. 

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HINCKLEY, Minn. -- Federal, state and local law enforcement joined forces in raiding a marijuana field near Hinckley early Wednesday morning and seizing more than 5,500 marijuana plants with a street value of more than $4,125,000, the Drug Enforcement Administration said.

Law officers executed a federal search warrant on the parcel of land in Pine County.

“The focus of today’s effort was to locate, document and destroy these plants before they could be harvested and enter the illicit drug market,” B. Todd Jones, U.S. district attorney for the District of Minnesota, said in a statement.

Jones and Jack Riley, special agent-in-charge of the five-state Drug Enforcement Administration, announced the operation.

“Dismantling criminal organizations, like the one responsible for this marijuana, is a priority for the DEA,” Riley said.

Other law enforcement agencies taking part in the raid were the East Central Drug and Violent Offender Task Force, the sheriff’s offices of Pine, Chisago and Isanti counties, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, Minnesota State Patrol, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Minnesota Army National Guard, U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

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DULUTH -- A Duluth woman has had her child foster care license revoked because a child allegedly was sexually abused while in her care.

Barbara Ellen Randolph received the revocation order from the Minnesota Department of Human Services. Under Minnesota law, she has the right to appeal the revocation.

A man who identified himself as her grandson answered a call to Randolph’s home and said she didn’t want to comment.

A Department of Human Services spokeswoman said Randolph has 10 days remaining to appeal and is allowed to continue operating as a foster home in the interim.

Michael James Randolph, 28, faces a felony charge of criminal sexual conduct for allegedly engaging in sexual conduct with a foster child younger than 13 in Barbara Randolph’s home, according to a criminal complaint filed April 4. Duluth police said Michael James Randolph is Barbara Randolph’s son.

The complaint said the sexual conduct occurred last summer and was first reported to Duluth police March 5 after the alleged victim, a girl, confided to a therapist assigned to work with foster children.

Michael James Randolph’s case is scheduled for a jury trial Aug. 27. He’s represented by public defender Jeremy Downs, who couldn’t be reached for a comment Wednesday.

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MOORHEAD, Minn. -- The Minnesota Court of Appeals has upheld the conviction of a woman found guilty of setting multiple fires at her and her husband’s rural Barnesville farmstead in 2011.

Tara Andvik is serving a nine-year, five-month prison sentence after a jury found her guilty of three counts of first-degree arson in May 2012 in Clay County District Court.

Andvik was suspected of setting the fires herself and trying to frame an ex-lover for the fires, which destroyed the farmstead’s house and barn. In her appeal, she challenged whether there was sufficient evidence to support the jury’s verdict and asked for a new trial on the basis of ineffective legal counsel.

In an unpublished opinion filed Monday, the Court of Appeals affirmed Andvik’s conviction.

“The evidence presented at trial does not support any reasonable theory as to anybody other than appellant setting the fires. We will not reverse a conviction based on mere conjecture,” the opinion stated. “Therefore, we conclude that the circumstantial evidence is sufficient to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that appellant is guilty of three counts of first-degree arson.”

The Court of Appeals also found that Andvik’s defense counsel effectively represented her during trial.

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A skunk that repeatedly bit a five-month-old baby boy in the face Tuesday afternoon while he was sitting outside in a bouncy seat at a Little Falls daycare has tested positive for rabies. Sheriff Michel Wetzel says it was fortunate that the homeowner was able to shoot the animal so it could be taken in for testing, and it's very unusual for a skunk to approach people in the middle of the day and bite them. The child suffered a number of small puncture wounds to his face and was treated for exposure to rabies. The sheriff calls it a "rare, crazy and unfortunate" incident and says there's no reason to suspect neglect on the part of the daycare provider. 

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Jason Schulte
Jason Schulte is a reporter for the New Richmond News since February 2015. Prior to that he spent eight years at the Pierce County Herald in Ellsworth. His duties with the News will include covering news out of Hammond and Roberts along with action from St. Croix County court system. He lives in Roberts with his wife and two daughters. 
(715) 243-7767 x243
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