WISCONSIN NEWS BRIEFS: Four state residents face felony charges of timeshare fraud
Four Wisconsin residents are facing serious fraud charges, after allegedly scamming thousands of people out of two-million dollars in fees to sell timeshares.
39-year-old Mark Parks, 34-year-old Mindy Parks, 28-year-old Ashley Conant and 51-year-old Eileen Goltz were arrested earlier in the week. According to a criminal complaint, employees of the defendants would call timeshare owners and claim they have a buyer for their timeshare – but would need a closing cost fee. The fees ranged from $200 to $2,500. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports the Better Business Bureau received 107 complaints from over 30 states and Canada. Each defendant faces a maximum prison sentence of 20 years, if convicted.
Authorities in Wisconsin Dells are investigating the death of an Illinois man found in a motel pool. The body of 24-year-old Jose Manuel Robles-Orozco of Aurora, Ill., was found at around 8:00 a.m. yesterday morning. He was pronounced dead on the scene. An investigation is ongoing, but authorities believe alcohol was involved and they do not suspect foul play.
A wrongly-convicted man in Winnebago County is now free. 54-year-old Joseph Frey was convicted of sexually assaulting a University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh student at knife point in 1991. The Wisconsin Innocence Project says their investigation and retested DNA from crime scene, which matched another man. That suspect has since died, according to the Innocence Project. The co-director of the project says Frey will receive assistance to transition in Madison.
Management for Randy Travis have cancelled his September 18 and 19 shows at the Powawatomi Bingo Casino’s Norther Lights Theater. The country music superstar remains in critical condition after suffering a stroke. Travis is reportedly sedated and resting. Concert officials say anyone who bought a ticket are entitled to a full refund by calling the casino box office at 414-847-7922 or Ticketmaster at 800-745-3000.
State meteorologists says tornadoes that touched down in north-central Wisconsin were weak. The twisters touched down in Lincoln and Langlade counties on Tuesday. The National Weather Service say the EF 0 tornadoes still had enough rotation to cause damage, with winds from 65 to 85 miles-per-hour. The storms that produced the tornadoes were considered a “mini-supercell”. NWS has classified another tornado near Oconto as an EF 1. It destroyed a mobile home and damaged power lines on Tuesday night.
Preliminary hearing for a man accused of murder and dismemberment has been postponed for a third time. 26-year-old Kou Thao was to appear in Marathon County Circuit Court today, but was postponed until August 7. A request for another judge is the reason behind this delay. Thao is accused of killing 58-year-old Tong Pao Hang and dismembering his body in April. Records show Hang’s severed head was found in the trunk of a car, other body parts were located in the basement of a home where the car was found. Thao faces first-degree intentional homicide, possession of a firearm by a felon and hiding a corpse.
The Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene at the University of Madison-Wisconsin is celebrating the retirement of its director. A spokesperson for the lab says Gary Hoffman is retiring, after serving as director from 1991 to 2012. Hoffman played an integral part in the innovations of newborn screenings, which is also celebrating its 50th anniversary. Research at the lab helped develop testing for cystic fibrosis, one of the 44 disorders detected by a newborn screen. Wisconsin’s process of screening is also a model used in hospitals and clinics across the country. Dr. Robert Guthrie was the first to create a newborn screen for PKU in 1963.
The CEO of General Electric says more innovation and more job growth are needed for America to compete with the rest of the world. Jeff Immelt told the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents this morning that our economy is not growing fast enough – and it’s the nation’s biggest problem. He said things will never get better if we accept a two-percent annual growth in the country’s Gross Domestic Product. Immelt said there needs to be more venture capital, more start-up companies, and less government interference. He also told the UW Regents to consider adding more co-op programs, in which students spend two years in industry plus four years in the classroom. Immelt spoke for an hour, and he was briefly interrupted by a protestor. He also said the UW needs to establish priorities, and be more accountable to the public. In his words, “The best step you guys could take is to make sure this is the best-run university in the country, so you can go to the Legislature and Governor Walker and say, ‘My house is in order, give me more money.’” Immelt had breakfast with Walker and the Regents before the meeting. His company’s GE Health-care equipment division is one of Wisconsin’s largest employers.
Madison’s mayor wants to turn one of the city’s most famous insults into its official motto. Paul Soglin will ask the City Council on Tuesday to create what would be the first motto for Wisconsin’s capital – “77 square miles surrounded by reality.” He said it would demonstrate the city’s sense of humor – and it would highlight a vibrant mix of civic, cultural, and intellectual affairs. When the Republican Dreyfus ran for governor in 1978, the former UW-Stevens Point chancellor chided Madison’s liberal bent by calling the city “10 square miles surrounded by reality.” That number grew over the years to 23, and then 25. Soglin remembers it being 30 when he was the mayor in 1978. He chided Dreyfus for being wrong, saying Madison actually had 65 square miles. It’s now at 77, and the proposed motto would always keep the number of square miles updated as Madison grows. This would not be the city’s first quirky symbol. It named the plastic pink flamingo as Madison’s official bird in 2009.
One of the main opponents of the Gogebic Taconite iron ore mine is urging protestors to cut out the violence. Mike Wiggins heads the Bad River Indian tribe in Ashland County, which fears water pollution at its location just downstream from the mine. In a statement today, Wiggins said the tribe quote, “condemns any planned or improvised act of violence or vandalism” against the mining firm. This comes about a month after protestors vandalized company equipment and stole an employee’s cell phone at an exploratory drilling site. Gogebic Taconite responded by hiring a military-style security firm, which was temporarily removed after it was learned that the firm did not have a state license. Video of the disturbance was put on You-Tube, and several Wisconsin T-V stations showed it this week – as did the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Web site. Wiggins says the tribe remains strongly against the mine – but it will only condone non-violent civil resistance when needed.
Self-help author James Arthur Ray was released from an Arizona prison today. He completed 85-percent of a two-year sentence for causing the deaths of James Shore of Milwaukee and two others in a heated sweat-lodge ceremony in 2009. Ray did not speak to reporters as he left the state’s prison at Buckeye, near Phoenix. His brother said Ray will take some time to get re-acquainted with society – and he might return to teaching self-improvement. Friends and relatives of Shore and the other victims said there’s no way they want Ray to profit from his crimes. Ray must remain in Arizona for a few months to serve a term of community supervision. The sweat-lodge was part of a spiritual festival that Ray organized near Sedona Arizona almost four years ago. Ray was convicted on lesser charges of negligent homicide, after jurors refused to find him guilty of manslaughter.
An electric utility will install energy-efficient street lights in 20 Wisconsin communities, to see how they stack up against the more popular high-pressure sodium lights. Wisconsin Power-and-Light says it wants to compare the efficiency and value of LED street lights to the sodium bulbs. Laura Gumm of Alliant Energy – the utility’s parent firm – says LED technology has been around for a while, but until now, it’s been deemed too expensive. The LED lights still have a higher cost up-front. Still, officials say the long-range costs to a community could be favorable due to energy savings and lower maintenance. Wisconsin Power-and-Light will install up to two-thousand LED lights through 2015. The first ones are in Portage, Nekoosa, and Sheboygan.
Mercury Marine expects to complete a $20-million expansion by December at two outboard motor plants in Fond du Lac. They’ll add 38-thousand square feet of production space which will be filled with equipment over the next two years. Just like the rest of the economy, Mercury’s business is growing slowly in the wake of the Great Recession. Still, the firm says there’s a bigger demand for its more powerful recreational outboard of engines of 75-horsepower and higher. Mercury is paying the for the entire expansion itself, with no government assistance. Fond du Lac County Executive Allen Buechel says Mercury is doing better than expected, four years after the company said it would move to Oklahoma if it didn’t get union concessions and taxpayer help. The employees approved the concessions – and city, county, and state taxpayers all chipped in as Mercury decided to close its Oklahoma plant and move the business to Wisconsin. The firm now has 2,900 employees in Fond du Lac – 13-hundred more than in 2009. Mercury expects to pay off a county loan by 2021, and that’s when a county sales tax is due to end. Every 20-dollars spent in Fond du Lac County provides 10-cents toward Mercury Marine’s financing.
It was 50 years ago today when the nation’s first newborns were screened at birth for a host of hidden diseases. Wisconsin has been testing babies almost as long. The State Hygiene Lab in Madison tested its first newborns in 1965 for PKU – a disease that prevents the digesting of a chemical found in foods with protein. Now, the state lab can look at just five drops of a baby’s blood, and determine if the infant has one of 44 rare diseases – some of which can kill a child in a matter of days. Almost 67,000 newborns in Wisconsin were tested by the state lab last year, and defects were found 117 youngsters. The most common discovery is congenital hypothyroidism. It leaves the body without enough thyroid hormone – and if it’s not treated, it can lead to poor mental and physical growth. Meanwhile, two state lawmakers are continuing their effort to make hospitals administer the Pulse Oximetry test, to check for congenital heart defects. Assembly Republican Joel Kleefisch of Oconomowoc and Senate Republican Jerry Petrowski of Marathon say only about a quarter of hospitals offer the test now. Their bill was proposed in April. It could come up when lawmakers return to Madison this fall.
A $50,000 bond has been set for a Milwaukee woman accused of stabbing another woman to death in the armpit. 25-year-old Sheneeka Long is charged with first-degree reckless homicide in the death of 21-year-old Shirley Eskridge last Saturday. Prosecutors said Long challenged Eskridge and other neighbors to a fight, after one of them called her a derogatory term. Long allegedly pulled out a long kitchen knife during the incident, and stabbed Eskridge three times in the left armpit. Several arteries were broken, and she died at the scene. Long is due back in court July 22nd, when it will be determined if there’s enough evidence to order a trial on the charge.
A Racine woman and her live-in boyfriend are accused of locking her adult son in her basement, and forcing him to use a bucket as a toilet. 51-year-old Teri Allen and 43-year-old Sarkas Asdigian are both charged with felony counts of subjecting an at-risk individual to abuse. Teri’s son has Asperger’s syndrome, which is autism-related – plus attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. According to prosecutors, the son’s grandmother asked police to check on him June fourth – and the officer found him sleeping in a locked basement on dirty twin bed with no sheets. Prosecutors said Allen’s son was confined to the basement for two years except to wash his face-and-hands – and he was occasionally fed through a hole in the wall. Before that, authorities said the son lived in a locked upstairs bedroom. Allen is scheduled to make her initial court appearance on Wednesday. Asdigian is due in court July 24th.
The city of Milwaukee’s refusal to drop its residency mandate for public employees does not apply to school teachers. The Milwaukee Public Schools told its employees yesterday that it’s following the new state law, and all district employees are no longer required to live in the city to keep their jobs. No one knows how many school employees are thinking about moving out. Union leader Bob Peterson has not commented on the matter. The new state budget ordered communities with residency ordinances to drop them. However, they can still make police and other emergency personnel live within 15 miles of the communities they serve. Milwaukee city officials are refusing to follow the new state law, and are continuing to enforce their long-standing residency mandate. Yesterday, Milwaukee’s police union asked a judge to have the city follow the state law – and let emergency personnel live where they choose.
The federal government is giving Wisconsin $759,000 to help restore the endangered Kirtland’s warbler, the Karner blue butterfly, and related barren species. The U.S. Fish-and-Wildlife Service is providing the funds. They’ll help the state DNR buy up to 15-hundred acres in Adams County to help with the species’ restoration. The state can buy land outright, and acquire easements to help protect the habitat of the targeted species. The loss of habitat is partially blamed for the near-extinction of the Kirtland’s warbler. The total population of the bird dropped to 300 in the 1990’s. After that, breeding efforts began in Wisconsin, Upper Michigan, and Ontario Canada. Five Wisconsin counties have now confirmed the presence of the Kirtland’s warbler.