WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: Eau Claire man loses thousands on bitcoin scam
EAU CLAIRE - An Eau Claire man has lost $150,000 worth of bitcoins -- a digital currency, traded in a peer-to-peer network.
Software engineer Jamie Russell tells the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram he transmitted just over 200 digital bitcoins to David Williamson of the United Kingdom -- but he never received the 190 physical bitcoins that Williamson promised him. The two met on a bitcoin website, and had been in contact with each other for more than a year. As it turned out, others trusted their bitcoins to Williamson -- and were scammed as well. Russell reported the fraud to foreign authorities, who told him to report the theft to Eau Claire Police -- which he did in late December. The Leader-Telegram said Russell first invested in bitcoins in 2012, when they were worth five-dollars a coin. Now, they're said to be worth over $800 apiece. He has physical bitcoins in a safe place outside his house -- and he wanted to turn in his digital bitcoins because he was concerned about their security.
Even without the wind chill, this morning was still one of the coldest of the season in Wisconsin. It got down to 29-below during the night Lublin in Taylor County. Merrill was still at minus-24 at eight this morning. In southern Wisconsin temperatures ranged from four-above at Milwaukee to minus-21 in Lone Rock -- with hardly any wind-chills to speak of. These frigid temperatures should not last all day. Forecasters say light southerly winds will move into Wisconsin this afternoon, when the entire state should see highs in the teens-and-20's. It's not supposed to get any colder than 5-below tonight. A low pressure system is expected to bring light snow to the southern part of the state tomorrow night into Wednesday. For now, the heaviest amounts are expected to be to our south -- and up to three-inches are forecast for the far southern part of the state. The northern half should stay dry. The bitter cold could return Wednesday night through at least Friday.
The Wisconsin Bike Federation is not canceling its "Winter Walk-to-School Day" tomorrow, in spite of a forecast of snow in the south and bitter cold temps in the north. It's the first time the group is holding such an event. The Bike Federation's Jake Newborn says his group has been encouraging communities to hold special walking activities to school, to promote physical fitness and alternatives for transportation. Far southern Wisconsin is expecting 1-to-5 inches of new snow tonight and into tomorrow. It's supposed to be dry but colder to the north, with lows tonight down to 10-below zero.
Wisconsin's Scott Walker is among seven Midwest governors asking President Obama for help in addressing the propane fuel shortage, and its resulting price hikes. Today, they sent a letter to the White House, asking the administration to increase propane supplies by quote, "every means of transport." The Midwest Governors' Association, chaired by Minnesota's Mark Dayton, passed on the letter to Obama. Governors of Iowa, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, and Ohio also signed the request. They urged the president to consider waivers aimed at increasing supplies, and consider ways to create more stable supplies in the future. The governors also hoped the U.S. Small Business Administration would ease up on loan requirements to help communities respond to the propane shortage.
Immigration reform was a key subject today, when U.S. House Republicans held their weekly caucus. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said there was a lot of discussion about whether his GOP majority should push for an immigration package in this election year -- and if so, what should be in it. Janesville Republican Paul Ryan said he could not trust the Democrat Obama to follow any immigration law the House approves. Ryan has been describing the president as "lawless" over the past few days, criticizing the White House use of executive orders to get what Congress won't give him. Some other Republicans accused Obama of being soft on deportations -- even though almost two-million immigrants have been sent home on Obama's watch. Boehner said there were some big differences of opinion within his caucus. He said it's clear that securing the borders should be a first step.
The U.S. Senate's banking sub-committee will learn more this afternoon about the breaches of shoppers' data at Target, Neiman-Marcus, and Michaels. All three companies have stores in Wisconsin -- and lawmakers will ask company officials if they had correct protections in place for customers. The chairman of the sub-committee, Virginia Democrat Sen. Mark Warner, says they'll look at ways to improve credit card security -- how Congress and help go after hackers and identity thieves -- and what can be done ahead of time to avoid security-and-privacy threats. Representatives of the Secret Service are expected to testify along with the federal Consumer Protection bureau, the Federal Trade Commission, and the National Retail Federation.
A Wisconsin legislative committee has endorsed the first step toward a U.S. constitutional amendment demanding a balanced federal budget. The state Assembly Elections Committee voted 6-2 today in favor of asking Congress to call a convention of states to bring a budget amendment forward. Most Republican state lawmakers are getting behind a national Tea Party push to convene a convention to officially propose the amendment. It would take two-thirds of the states to call the gathering, and three-fourths of the states would have to ratify an amendment before it can be part of the U.S. Constitution. Wisconsin's request now goes to the state Assembly.
The state Revenue Department will fight back against those who try to steal your identity before you can get around to filing your income tax return. It's a growing cyber-crime at both the state-and-federal levels. For the state returns, Revenue Secretary Rick Chandler says his agency will use a new identity verification system. Officials will send out letters to certain taxpayers asking them to take a short quiz about themselves before their refunds will be issued. Chandler says those who get the letters should not panic -- and the actual people listed on the returns should have no trouble getting the questions right. The goal is to make sure you get your refund -- and not let an identity thief beat you to it.
Security concerns have been raised about the payroll-and-benefit computer system for University of Wisconsin employees. The Legislative Audit Bureau said today that the centralized system which began in 2011 is at risk for security breaches -- and it could lead to unauthorized payments. The non-partisan auditors recommended that the UW boost its security, and improve the operation of its payroll-and-benefit system. The Republican co-chairs of the Legislature's Joint Audit Committee say there still needs to be continued oversight. The UW issued a response to the new audit, saying they remain committed to improving the payroll-and-benefit system. Earlier, state auditors discovered that the system caused the UW to over-pay $33-million to its employees for pensions-and-health benefits from 2011 until last year.
Four same-sex couples filed a federal lawsuit today against the Wisconsin's constitutional ban on gay marriage. The American Civil Liberties Union represents the couples. The group gave the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel a copy of the complaint, and it planned a noon-hour news conference in Madison. Fifty-nine percent of Wisconsin voters approved a state constitutional amendment in 2006 banning gay marriages and civil unions. The suit comes amid of flurry of similar challenges throughout the country, many of which have been successful. The homosexual marriage issue is moving forward in the federal court system. In Utah, a federal judge's decision to allow same-sex marriages has been put on hold while it's being considered by an appeals' court. Meanwhile, a legal challenge continues for Wisconsin's domestic partner registry, which Democrats adopted in 2009. It gives same-sex couples in the Badger State about one-fifth of the benefits that married couples get.
Former Governor Jim Doyle, his campaign fund, and his wife Jessica have given a total of $12,500 dollars to Democrat Mary Burke, as she runs for Doyle's old job against Scott Walker. Newly-filed campaign reports show that Doyle and his wife each gave five-thousand dollars to Burke soon after she entered the race last October -- and Doyle's campaign fund kicked in another $2,500. Burke was Doyle's commerce secretary for part of his tenure. The new reports show that Burke raised $1.8 million dollars since October -- including $400,000 of her own money. Republican Governor Walker raised $5.1 million from last July-through-December.
A pro-life group is urging its supporters not to buy Girl Scout cookies. Pro-Life Wisconsin says the national Girl Scout organization has a partnership with Planned Parenthood. However, Girl Scout officials in Wisconsin say none of the cookie money goes to the national group. A scouting spokeswoman in the Madison area tells the Wisconsin State Journal that all cookie revenues stay with the troops which sell them, and their regional councils. The national Girl Scouts have posted an explanation on their Web site. It says the group quote, "does not advocate one way or another with regard to what we perceive as private issues handled best by families."
UW-Milwaukee alumnus Satya Nadella was named today as the next CEO of Microsoft. He'll succeed the retiring Steve Ballmer, and will be only the third chief executive in Microsoft's 38-year history -- the first being Bill Gates. Nadella is currently the head of Microsoft's enterprise and cloud computing functions. Among other things, he converted the Windows Live Search function into Bing -- which 18-percent of Web surfers now use as their search engine. He's also credited with starting Microsoft Office products for small businesses -- and the commerce server Biz Talk. The first speculation came last November that he would succeed Ballmer. Nadella was born in India in 1967. He came to UWM as a graduate student, after earning an electrical engineering degree from Manipal University in India. He graduated in 1990 from Milwaukee, and joined Microsoft in '92.
A suburban Milwaukee man will still have a marijuana possession offense on his record, even though a judge ordered earlier that it be expunged. A state appeals court ruled this morning that the conviction remain on Kearney Hemp's record. The 24-year-old Brookfield man was found guilty in 2010 of possessing pot with the intent to deliver. He served 30 days in jail and was on probation for 18 months -- and at the time of his sentencing, the judge ordered that his conviction be deleted from his record if he served his probation successfully. However, Hemp's lawyer never filed a request for expungement until late 2012, after he was charged in Walworth County in a new drunk driving and pot possession case. Hemp argued that his expungement should have automatically taken effect when his first sentencing was completed. The First District Appellate Court ruled 2-1 today that expungement must be applied for -- and it won't be granted if there are further charges at the time the request is made.
A convicted bigamist will stay in jail in Calumet County, where he'll be sentenced in almost two months for forgery. 46-year-old Tim Swinea of Weston had his bond revoked yesterday, after he was arrested Sunday in New London on a warrant for missing a sentencing hearing on January 21st. Swinea was convicted in that case of taking thousands-of-dollars from his ex-girlfriend's company in a bad-check scheme. Last year, Swinea spent four months in Marathon County Jail for bigamy. That was after a former wife from the Wausau area learned that he was also married at the time to a Missouri woman who had three of his kids. He later skipped out on a court appearance just before he was to stand trial in Calumet County. A warrant was issued in late August -- and the state issued another warrant against Swinea in November, for violating the terms of his Marathon County probation. The victim of the check-kiting scheme in Calumet County said last year that she met Swinea online, and she almost married him.
A central Wisconsin man will start having a second trial on April 9th, for allegedly stealing Social Security benefits from his missing mother-in-law. Last week, a Portage County jury could not reach unanimous verdicts on three fraud-related charges against 72-year-old Ronald Disher of Almond. They did convict him in an attack on a Social Security agent, and a new trial date was set yesterday in his fraud-related case. Disher was accused of helping steal $175,000 in Social Security checks written to Marie Jost -- who's been missing for over three decades. Disher told jurors last week that he drove two other defendants to a bank where they cashed the checks -- but he denied knowing anything about the stolen checks, or what the other two were doing at the time. Charles Jost was found innocent by insanity. Disher's wife, Delores Jost, had her charges dropped after she suffered a stroke last year.
Two people were killed, and a third person was injured after an overnight traffic crash in Manitowoc County. It happened shortly after 2:30 this morning on Highway 42, just north of the Manitowoc-Sheboygan County line in the town of Meeme. Reports indicated that a vehicle rolled over, and took out a porch from a nearby home. First responders from Howards Grove found all three people trapped in the vehicle. The injured person was airlifted to a hospital. Other details were expected later this morning.
A man killed in a northern Wisconsin snowmobile crash was the owner of an industrial plant in Rock Falls, Illinois. He was identified this morning as 46-year-old Timothy Litwiller of Milledgeville, Illinois, the owner of Industrial Coating of Rock Falls. Iron County authorities said his machine left a trail near Mercer early Saturday, and hit several trees. Speed-and-alcohol are believed to be factors, but the mishap is still being investigated. Litwiller graduated from Milledgeville High School in 1986, and was in a snowmobile club and the community men's club. Also this weekend, Hobart Volunteer Fire Department captain Russell Krause died in a snowmobile crash in Florence County. Authorities said his machine went off a road and hit a tree. Litwiller and Krause were the 12th-and-13th snowmobilers to die in Wisconsin crashes this winter.
The final defendant has been sentenced in a South Dakota counterfeiting scheme. Rafiq McDonald of Orlando, Florida was given six months in a federal prison, which he'll serve at the same time as a state sentence in Wisconsin. Johnson, Timothy Oben of Eau Claire, and Macquillie Woodard of Minneapolis were all convicted of passing bogus 100-dollar bills at various businesses in Sioux Falls South Dakota in late 2012. Oben and Woodard earlier pleaded guilty. Oben was sentenced to two years behind bars. Wisconsin's online court records show that McDonald has a status conference scheduled next Monday on three counts of theft and a pair of marijuana possession charges. They're all felonies except for one pot possession count. McDonald was ordered to pay $400 in restitution for his South Dakota counterfeiting conviction.
The superintendent of the Two Rivers School District is working for free this year. Randy Fredrikson gave up $170,000 in salary-and-benefits, to thank the district that employed him over the last 26 years. The 58-year-old Fredrikson tells the Manitowoc Herald Times-Reporter he appreciates the School Board which gave him a chance as the district's chief administrator in 1995, while staying with him through trying times and letting his wife teach in the school system. Fredrikson is not drawing a salary or health-and-dental insurance this school year. Technically, he's retired -- so he is getting a state pension which he'd get regardless of whether he volunteered to work.
Madison's downtown convention center is open again, after it was closed for most of January for renovations. A two-year, three-point-two million dollar package was ordered for Monona Terrace, the structure designed by Frank Lloyd Wright about two blocks west of the State Capitol. The most expensive item was about 15-hundred square yards of new carpeting. The Wisconsin State Journal says it's described as more muted than the bright orange carpet which used to fill Monona Terrace. The building is perhaps best known as the site of Michael Feldman's "Whad' 'Ya Know" public radio program on Saturday mornings.
Wisconsinites love to party -- and that could partially explain why Milwaukee had bigger TV ratings than the nation as a whole for last night's Super Bowl. According to the overnight numbers, WITI-TV in Milwaukee had a 49.8 rating for Seattle's crushing of Denver. The national rating was 47.9 -- almost two points lower than Wisconsin's only metered market. The numbers were impressive, considering that the Green Bay Packers were not playing. But there were eight players-and-coaches with Wisconsin ties -- including Seahawks' quarterback Russell Wilson and Broncos' running back Montee Ball, both of whom starred together with the Badgers. The national rating was the fifth-highest for the 48 Super Bowls.
A documentary about the challenge of spearing for Wisconsin sturgeon will make its premiere on Thursday in Fond du Lac. Five-time Emmy-award winning director Steve Boettcher of Appleton made the film "The Frozen Chosen." It's about two families and their long histories in catching the elusive sturgeon. Sometimes, anglers will spend years going after the massive ancient fish -- which can grow to hundreds-of-pounds. The Schumacher family of Fond du Lac and the Muche family of Stockbridge are profiled in the documentary -- along with the state DNR's attempts to protect the sturgeon population. The film's premiere comes two days before the annual spearing begins on Lake Winnebago and its lakes up-river.