WISCONSIN STATE NEWS BRIEFS: State Assemblyman discovered using campaign funds for personal use
MADISON - Critics are questioning a state lawmaker’s use of campaign funds for a used convertible and a registration fee for a triathlon.
The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel said Assembly Democrat Brett Hulsey paid almost $1,200 for his red convertible, and $85 to take part in the Pardeeville Triathlon on July 6. The Madison lawmaker has been criticized the past couple years for taking photos of an unfamiliar boy at a beach, bringing a box-cutter to his Capitol office for protection, and bringing a muzzle-loading rifle onto the Assembly floor. Now, Hulsey tells Journal-Sentinel columnist Dan Bice that he justifies the use campaign funds for a car because he drives it in parades in his district. Hulsey also said the triathlon was meant to reach out to constituents, even though the event was 35 miles from his district. Hulsey said he got clearance from the Government Accountability Board to use campaign money for his convertible – something the board would not confirm. State Republicans were critical, but Hulsey says he blames Democrats for leaking negative stories about him. The second-term lawmaker and former Sierra Club leader has said he might become an independent.
A Wisconsin senator says a 90-day jail sentence for a drunk driving death is just one more reason the state needs a 10-year minimum prison term for drunken homicide. River Hills Republican Alberta Darling is the Senate’s main sponsor of a bill that would also make three-and-four-time OWI a felony – and would create a minimum six-month term for causing injuries by driving drunk. Darling criticized the three-month jail sentence given last month to 24-year-old Christopher Schneider, who pleaded no contest to reckless homicide after his vehicle struck-and-killed bicyclist Eugene Dennis northeast of Fond du Lac in 2011. Darling said a “respect for life” demands more than a 90-day jail term. Schneider’s attorney said the sentence was appropriate in his situation, and he was never in trouble before. The Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin criticized the short sentence, saying 90 days doesn’t seem right. Dennis was a Fond du Lac High School track coach who was about to start a six-month jail term when he was killed. He was accused of having sexual relations with a student, and he pleaded no contest to an illegal building entry and misconduct in office. Authorities said Dennis was drinking while watching a Packer game at a friend’s house, and then had a few more drinks at a tavern. A public hearing was held last week on the stiffer OWI penalties. Critics said it would cost too much to house all the offenders in prison.
_________________________________Governor Scott Walker says he’s open to creating mandatory minimum prison sentences for illegal gun possession. Milwaukee’s mayor and police chief called for that measure yesterday, after two violent months in which non-fatal shootings in the city jumped by 19-percent from the year before. Mayor Tom Barrett and Chief Ed Flynn want state legislators to set a mandatory prison term of at least three years for illegally possessing firearms. That might be a hard sell, though. Some lawmakers have balked at longer prison terms for drunk drivers, saying the state cannot afford the necessary prison space. Milwaukee had 144 non-fatal shooting incidents in June and July, 23 more than the same time a year ago. This summer’s total is also the highest since 2006. Three people were killed and eight wounded in Milwaukee violence this past weekend alone. The victims were identified yesterday. 27-year-old Dominic Baker and 23-year-old Samuel Soto were shot to death in separate incidents. Twenty-eight-year-old Darvin Trigg was beaten to death by a known suspect who remained at large at last word. Baker’s death is the only one from the weekend in which suspects are being sought. ________________________________
Wisconsin service members will benefit from two new state laws signed yesterday by Governor Scott Walker. One bill allows soldiers with financial problems to get up to 25-hundred dollars in assistance from a check-off fund on state income tax returns created two years ago. Previously, only a soldier’s or Marine’s family could get the help. The new bill allows the troops themselves to get the assistance, and they no longer have to be on active duty when they apply. Senate Republican Jerry Petrowski of Marathon says financial difficulties can sometimes affect a service member’s security clearances and an ability to perform assigned jobs. The second new law changes travel reimbursements for active National Guard members, so the state payments are the same as the federal ones. Walker says it will make their paperwork easier. Petrowski was the main sponsor of both bills in the Senate. Eleva Republican Warren Petryk was the main Assembly sponsor. Walker signed the measures during a ceremony in Madison. ________________________________
Governor Scott Walker has been asked for a second time to have the state become a partner with Milwaukee to fight crime. In a letter to the governor, Alderman Bob Donovan said he wants to renew discussions that he and others from the city had last summer with state officials. He said they considered several items for the new state budget – but none were ever proposed. Donovan said Milwaukee Police is doing what it can but quote, “It just cannot keep up with the crime wave that is now sweeping the city’s neighborhoods.” Donovan counted 14 shooting incidents this past weekend – including two deaths – and 12 shootings the weekend before that. Donovan’s letter accused Mayor Tom Barrett of being quote, “impotent when it comes to addressing Milwaukee’s extreme violence.” The alderman said Milwaukee is quote, “a tale of two cities” – one that includes the popular entertainment and cultural attractions, and the other being what he called a “broad swath” of “crime-ridden” neighborhoods which are putting a burden on the city as a whole. Walker and Barrett have not responded to Donovan’s proposal. ________________________________
Another 20 singers were hauled away today, as a crackdown continued on the anti-Walker group that refuses to get a state gathering permit at the Capitol. As police handcuffed the alleged violators, the rest of the Solidarity Singers sang on. They ended their performance by chanting, “We’re not going away.” The singers have been an almost daily fixture at the statehouse since the massive 2011 pro-union protests. Police never cracked down on the group’s refusal to get the required permit until last month, when a federal judge upheld most of the permitting system. The Walker administration’s crackdown began July 24th, with around 160 citations issued. _______________________________
Wisconsin utility scams are on the rise, and they’re getting more sophisticated. We Energies of Milwaukee received over 500 reports of scams in the last year and a half. About 10-percent of those people were victimized. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel says more people are being told that their power will be cut off, or their house will explode, if they don’t buy a new meter. Some get calls from an official-sounding scammer called the “Wisconsin Energy Disconnection Department” to say they’re behind on their bills. In most cases, people are told to go buy prepaid debit cards and call in the numbers. The scammers then walk away with the entire amounts on the debit cards. At least one victim lost over a-thousand dollars. Madison Police have had about 50 utility scams since March. Many calls go to restaurants and other businesses, in the hopes of catching somebody off guard at their busiest times. In Beloit, the downtown business group sent an alert to its members, after some were told that Alliant Energy would install new meters – and the utility would need deposits or the old meters would shut down. Kerry Spees of the Wisconsin Public Service utility in Green Bay says most people quote, “smell a rat” and call their utility when they think they’re getting scammed. In reality, utilities own their meters and never charge customers for them – and those behind on their bills get written disconnection notices.
About a-thousand people gathered at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek last night, for a candlelight vigil that marked the one-year anniversary of the temple’s shooting rampage. The vigil was held next to the parking lot where two-of-six worshippers were killed last August fifth by gunman Wade Michael Page. Children of some of the victims gave passionate eulogies at the vigil. They recalled the chaotic shooting scene, said they’ve come closer than ever, and thanked the community for its support the past year. 15-year-old Gurvinder Singh, who lost his father Ranjit, said he has seen two kinds of American people – one like the gunman Page, and the many who helped the Sikhs in their time of need. The teen said quote, “Thank you for your love.” Oak Creek Mayor Stephen Scaffidi praised his city for the love and support they’ve shown. He said Oak Creek is quote, “not a city of hate – it’s a story of what all communities should do.” The vigil was the last of several anniversary events during the weekend, including religious observances and a six-kilometer run in honor of the six victims.
__________________________________A military-style security firm has received a state license – and state officials say they will not penalize the company for working without one. Gogebic Taconite rankled mining opponents when it hired the Arizona firm of Bulletproof Securities. The firm’s armed guards worked for a week in early July, before they were pulled because they did not have a state license. The state Department of Safety and Professional Services could have fined Bulletproof Securities up to $500, put its representatives in jail for up to six months, and bar the company from operating for a year. State officials decided to pursue none of that. Agency spokeswoman Brittany Lewin said Bulletproof followed normal procedures. The Iron County district attorney’s office first said it would consider charging the security firm, but later said it would defer to the state. Gogebic Taconite hired the armed guards in response to a theft-and-vandalism incident at the site in mid-June. Now, the mining firm says it will use the Bulletproof firm along with others who’ve been working at the site. __________________________________
A suburb of Wausau has decided to keep its own police force. The Rothschild Village Board voted last night to scrap the idea of merging its police department with the Everest Metro department that covers Schofield and the village-and-town of Weston. The proposed merger would have allowed Rothschild to add more patrols, and to have full-time detectives and a K-9 unit for the first time. Former Rothschild officer Doug Radloff said the community would lose some of its identity without its own police department. He said the move seems more like an acquisition by a larger group than a true merger. Other residents said the Rothschild Police Department is fine as it is. Trustee Dan Mortenson said a merger would have cost taxpayers money, noting that the current department is expected to have a $42,000 surplus for this year. Under the merger, Rothschild would have had to spend just over a million dollars next year to help pay for a larger Everest Metro police facility, with a contribution to the department’s fund balance – both through 2017._________________________________
A youth sports field in Appleton is no longer named in honor of Alex Rodriguez. The New York Yankees’ slugger was suspended for 211 games yesterday, for multiple violations of baseball’s drug program. The Appleton field was named for Rodriguez in 2003. USA Youth, which manages the field, said the Rodriguez signs have been taken down – and the group’s board will now consider options for a new name. The Fox Cities Sports Authority chose A-Rod’s name to highlight his brief time with the former Class-“A” minor league Appleton Foxes, who are now the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers. Rodriguez played 65 games for Appleton in 1994, hitting .319 with 14 homers before he was promoted to a Double-“A” team in Florida. __________________________________
Protestors in Milwaukee continue to demand a fair hourly wage at fast-food restaurants and retail stores. The protests are part of a nationwide movement of walk-outs and strikes, calling for a $15-dollar an hour salary and the right to unionize. “Raise Up America!” and a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics say the average hourly salary for fast-food employees was nine-dollars an hour in 2012. The restaurant industry is fighting back protests, saying a $15-dollar per hour wage would jeopardize the industry and force business closures while raising the unemployment rate.
A new report shows that at least 77 children in Milwaukee were victims of child sex trafficking over a two-year period ending last August. Milwaukee’s Homicide Review Commission reviewed police incident reports, and then estimated the total numbers of children either recruited or encouraged to be a part of commercial sex acts. The new report shows that almost 80-percent of child sex trafficking victims are black, and 92-percent are girls. Seven-of-every-10 victims had been reported as missing to Milwaukee Police at least once. The city’s Child Welfare Bureau and the Bob-and-Linda Davis Family Fund paid for the study. Erin Perkins of the Milwaukee Commission on Domestic Violence-and-Sexual Assault says the new data will be quite useful, because there’s very little information available about child sex trafficking on a local level. Police Detective Lynda Stott says the problem is hard to quantify, since most sex trafficking is reported as battery or domestic violence. She says Milwaukee Police have at least a dozen pending cases involving pimps who traffic children.______________________________
A man who had a cavity illegally searched by former Milwaukee police officer Michael Vagnini had his drug conviction thrown out today. 35-year-old Larry Rogers said justice was finally done. Authorities said Rogers was stopped in 2010, and Vagnini found illegal drugs in Rogers’ anal cavity. A short time later, Rogers filed a complaint with Milwaukee’s Fire-and-Police Commission. Nothing came of it until he later testified in a John Doe investigation into alleged improper strip searches by Milwaukee officers. Rogers was also planning to testify against Vagnini in the officer’s criminal trial – but the trial was never held, because Vagnini struck a plea deal that gave him 26 months in prison. Deputy District Attorney Kent Lovern said Rogers cooperated with investigators in the matter for a long time – so he deserved to have his conviction vacated. Officials could not say what might happen to other suspects who had their cavities illegally examined by police. Rogers’ attorney tried to throw out the conviction on a claim that police violated Rogers’ Fourth Amendment right to unreasonable searches. Judge Jeffrey Wagner would not go that far, though. Rogers already served his jail time, but two years of extended supervision were dropped when his name was cleared today. ______________________________U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin says gay men should have the right to give blood. Baldwin has joined 83 other Senate and House Democrats in urging Health-and-Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to end the ban – which was adopted in the 1980’s when AIDS first spread, and gay men had higher infection rates. The Gannett News Service obtained the Democrats’ letter, which said the ban on blood donations by gays is quote, “at atmosphere that promotes discrimination.” Baldwin – the nation’s first openly gay U.S. senator – said there have been dramatic improvements in blood screening since the ‘80’s, and doctors now have a better understanding of the HIV virus. The American Medical Association has joined Baldwin and other Democrats in opposing the ban. They say blood donors should be determined by health factors, and not their sexual orientation. AIDS can also be spread by blood transfusions – and for that reason, the National Hemophilia Foundation says it’s too soon to lift the ban on gay blood donors. Foundation vice president John Indence said the science behind any change needs to be sound. ______________________________
A search is on in northwest Wisconsin for a southeast Wisconsin police lieutenant wanted for burglary and the theft of a pick-up truck. Authorities in Barron County said Waupun officer Bradley Young led officers on a chase last night, and then fled-on-foot into a wooded area near Rice Lake. A manhunt began involving SWAT team officers, sheriff’s deputies, and other law enforcement personnel. Homes were evacuated within a mile of where the 43-year-old Young disappeared. Sheriff’s officials said they believe that Young had a weapon at last word.
A nine-year-old boy was killed when he fell from the back of a utility task vehicle, and went under an attached brush mower. Derek Lendosky died in the mishap, which occurred just before three yesterday afternoon near Fennimore in Grant County. Authorities said Derek and two other kids were riding on the back of the utility vehicle, as it was towing a brush mower that was running. Derek stood up to grab a walnut from a tree when he fell off the vehicle, and went under the mower. He died at the scene.
A 22-year-old man has been ordered to stand trial for allegedly killing two Wisconsin Rapids women in a drunk driving crash. Tim Saavedra of Loyal made his initial appearance yesterday in Portage County Circuit Court on two counts of homicide by drunk driving and two counts of reckless homicide. He waived a preliminary hearing and conceded there’s enough evidence to put him on trial. Saavedra is scheduled to enter pleas to his charges on September 16th. Authorities said his blood alcohol level was at point-14 shortly after he drove his pick-up truck into a cluster of trees on July 20th. Data from the truck showed that Saavedra was driving at 94-miles-an-hour before the crash. Two of his passengers – Stephanie Eberhardt and Melissa Peterson-Suzda, both 21 – were killed. A 21-year-old Rudolph man was also injured.
A De Pere teenager has been sentenced to 40 years in prison for shooting an unarmed boy to death in Green Bay. 19-year-old Julio Gonzalez escaped a possible life sentence after he struck a plea deal in May, and pleaded no contest to reduced charges of reckless homicide and reckless endangerment. He was among seven people convicted in the death of 15-year-old Jeremy Teller of Green Bay last July 31st. Authorities said the defendants were seeking revenge from an earlier fight when they confronted Teller and a friend. Gonzalez shot Teller in the back, even though the victim was the not the intended target. Last Friday, 26-year-old Miguel Garcia was sentenced to 15 years for being a party to felony murder. Three others got lesser sentences. The final two defendants are still waiting to be sentenced.
A Milwaukee man who apparently drowned in a Jefferson County river has been identified as 76-year-old Thomas Latiker. Authorities said he and his brother were fishing in the Crawfish River on Sunday when their boat capsized. Both hung on, and tried to get the boat to the shore – but Latiker apparently let go near the shore, and his brother saw him floating in the water and called rescuers from a nearby home. Divers later found Latiker’s body.
Authorities were digging near a wooded area in Janesville today, after getting a tip about the disappearance of a young girl 66 years ago. WISC-TV in Madison said officers were checking out information about a 1947 case in which eight-year-old Georgia Weckler went missing in Jefferson County. Janesville Police officers helped Jefferson County sheriff’s deputies, the state Justice Department, and the Wisconsin K9 SOS search and rescue unit at the scene.
A man who drowned at a Marinette County park was identified today as 37-year-old Robert Fietsch of Clintonville. Authorities said he was taking picture at Twelve Foot Falls Park in the town of Dunbar on Saturday, when he fell off some rocks and into the water. Sheriff’s deputies said the man was camping alone. His death has been ruled an accident.
___________________________________Wisconsin farmland is getting dry again, after an extremely wet spring and early summer. The National Ag Statistics Service says 44-percent of the topsoil in the Badger State is short-to-very short of moisture – 10-percent more than the previous week. Almost a-third of sub-soils are either short or very short – nine points higher than a week ago. Eau Claire just finished its second-driest July on record. Only 1936 was worse. Average temperatures around the state were 5-to-7-degrees below normal last week – and that’s not helping the crops to grow. Reporters say the Wisconsin corn crop needs more heat-and-rain, especially the late-planted corn. Showers and thunderstorms are expected late tonight and early tomorrow, as a cold front moves into northwest Wisconsin. But don’t look for a warm-up. Highs are expected to be pretty much in the 70’s all week, with lows in the 50’s. Eighty-seven percent of the state’s corn crop is in fair-to-excellent condition. Two-thirds of the soybean crop has bloomed, below the average for the date of 80-percent. Still, 91-percent of the beans are fair-to-excellent.
Farmland values across the state and the nation continues to rise. The USDA says farm real estate values are at an average 29-hundred dollars per acre this year, a nine-point-four percent increase from last year. Croplands saw an even bigger jump, up 13-percent from a year ago. A Chief Economist with the USDA says lower interest rates and strong income prospects are the reasons for the jump in values - but cautions that it’s “unlikely” the trend will continue.
This week is National Farmers Market Week. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Wisconsin ranks as one of the highest number of farmers market at number eight – 286 listed on the national directory. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack says nationwide, there are over eight-thousand farmers market listed on its directory – a five-thousand increase from last year. The national Farmers Market directory is at farmersmarket.usda.gov.
A plant in Manitowoc that makes towers for wind energy turbines will stay busy at least through the first half of next year, thanks to a recent $70-million order. Broadwind Energy says its 2013 production capacity has been spoken – and the latest orders cannot be shipped until well into next year. CEO Peter Duprey says Broadwind expects its 2014 output to reach or exceed its design capacity of 500 wind towers. The company said its sales fell sharply after a federal tax credit for wind-power turbines expired in 2012. However, it was brought back in January of this year, and Duprey says Broadwind expects a strong wind energy market for at least the next several years. Broadwind is based in suburban Chicago. As of this spring, it had 800 workers at facilities around the country, including plants in Manitowoc and Abilene Texas.
UW-Madison is back in the Top-10 in the Princeton Review’s annual list of the nation’s top party schools. Wisconsin’s flagship public campus is No. 8, after being 13th a year ago. The new ranking is based on a nationwide survey of 126,000 college students as part of an annual book called “The Best 378 Colleges.” It’s been published for just over 20 years, and it includes 62 lists. Claremont-McKenna of California is named the best-run college. Columbia of New York was chosen to have the best campus library. UW Madison used to be the country’s No. 1 party school, but university and city officials have worked together to address problems with alcohol over the last few years. In 2012, Madison passed an ordinance to crack down on large house parties, and offer more entertainment options for those under the legal drinking age of 21. Starting this fall, all incoming students will be expected to take an online program to learn about the dangers of alcohol abuse.
A Brookfield man says he’s living proof that if you keep plugging away at something, good things can happen. Joshua Friedel became the first Wisconsinite in recent history to win the annual U.S. Open Chess Championship in Madison over the weekend. About a half-dozen other players had higher ratings. Friedel said he overcame the odds by studying numerous tactics and puzzles beforehand. He has represented Wisconsin in the U-S Open since he was nine years old, starting in 1996. He won a tiebreaker after splitting first-place with two other players. Friedel lost one game in the tournament to a higher-rated opponent. He says it’s tough to fight back after such defeat. Over 100 Wisconsin players competed in the national tournament in their home state. About 420 others came from elsewhere to take part.