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WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: Natural gas prices up sharply

MILWAUKEE - Natural gas heating bills in Wisconsin keep going up, and not just because of the cold winter.  We Energies said today that an average customer would pay $739-dollars to heat a home between November and April.  That's 34-percent more than last year's final bill of $552-dollars.  

The increase is higher than the 20-percent jump that We Energies projected a month ago.  The continued cold weather doesn't help.  But with the high demand for fuel, wholesale costs have gone up -- and We Energies' spokesman Brian Manthey says utilities have run out fuel that was bought last summer when prices were lower.  We Energies is the state's largest natural gas utility, covering much of Wisconsin.  In Green Bay, the Wisconsin Public Service utility expects a similar price hike for the season.  The State Energy Office said the natural gas prices paid this month were the highest for the month since 1996.  The average statewide cost for a-thousand cubic feet of gas is $12.37-cents, way up from last year's average of around five dollars.


U.S. House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan kicked off four days of town hall meetings in his district by spouting off about cheese.  The Janesville Republican spoke to about 100 people today in North Prairie.  He brought up trade talks in which the European Union called on U.S. cheese-makers not to use European names for their products.  Ryan says it's ridiculous that America would agree to stopping its cheese producers from calling their products Gouda, Havarti, or anything else they want.  Ryan is also discussing the economy and taxes during his home district sessions.


Racine County sheriff's deputies stopped a car for speeding -- and they found 19 pounds of marijuana inside.  Deputies arrested a Milwaukee man, and they're continuing to investigate.  Officials said a police dog confirmed the presence of marijuana, after the car was stopped late yesterday afternoon on Interstate-94.  Officials said the pot was valued at $19,000.  It was apparently being transported from Illinois to Milwaukee. 


A teacher's aide in Marshfield faces possible charges, after she was suspected of driving two girls to a restaurant while drunk, and giving them alcohol on the way.  Police Chief Gary Jepsen said he would recommend criminal counts of child neglect and three-time OWI against 52-year-old Fran Daniel.  The chief said the matter came to light last Friday morning, after Daniel allegedly collided with another vehicle in a drive-thru lane at McDonald's in Marshfield.  Jepsen said one of the 16-year-old female students drove Daniels' car back to Marshfield High School, where police were waiting.  He said the students would face municipal citations for underage alcohol consumption.  The Marshfield School District is conducting its own investigation on the matter, while schools are closed this week for spring break.


Immigration officials say they've arrested 31 fugitives in northeast Wisconsin who were in the U.S. illegally.  Many were convicted of crimes that included identity theft. domestic abuse, child enticement, and illegally returning to the U.S. after being deported.  Eight previously-deported aliens were among those arrested, along with two who had deportation orders pending.  Twenty-seven of the 31 suspects were from Mexico.  Two were from Honduras, and one each from Russia and El Salvador.  The arrests were made over the weekend in Green Bay, Appleton, the town of Grand Chute, Seymour, Manitowoc, Menasha, and Greenleaf.  One of the subjects was a 19-year-old Russian national with four theft convictions.  Another was a 31-year-old Mexican national deported twice, and was convicted of drug crimes and identity theft, among other things.  


A Milwaukee man has agreed to quit his income tax preparation business, after he was accused of defrauding the government of $220,000.  41-year-old Michael Yohannes was the subject of a civil complaint filed by Justice Department tax attorneys.  They said Yohannes operated a branch of the Instant Tax Service in Brown Deer.  It allegedly filed tax returns on behalf of mostly low-to-middle income people, with unsupported information that resulted in excessive refunds.  Officials said the business reportedly kept much of those refunds as purported fees.  Under a federal court agreement, Yohannes did not admit wrongdoing -- but he agreed to be barred permanently from preparing or filing returns as part of any tax preparation business.