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MINNESOTA NEWS ROUND-UP: "Man in Black" bank robber sentenced to 14 years in federal prison

ST. PAUL - The so-called "man in black" bank robber has been sentenced to 14 years in federal prison.

Fifty-one-year-old Sheikh Bilaal Muhammad Arafat, formerly known as Mark Wetsch, pleaded guilty to six counts of bank robbery. He admitted to robbing a total of 31 banks in southern Minnesota in 2011 and 2012 while wearing a black mask and brandishing a firearm. Arafat stole more than $110,000. He was arrested in St. Peter in January 2012 after robbing a bank in Brewster. Wetsch changed his name while in the Sherburne County jail. 


Two Grand Rapids residents will spend a year in the Itasca County jail for a series of church burglaries. Twenty-eight-year-old Erin Autio and 42-year-old Danny Madsen were convicted on nine felony burglary charges, but received 57-month stayed sentences. The conditions include ten years of supervised probation, 12 months in jail, community work service and fines. Autio and Madsen burglarized churches in Grand Rapids, Bovey, Deer River, Big Fork and Pengilly between June and December of 2013. A search of their residence turned up stolen computers, TV's, power tools and furniture.


The Minnesota State Patrol is investigating a pair of fatal morning crashes. Officials say the first wreck occurred just before 6:00 a.m on Highway 7 east of Hutchinson. Another deadly crash was reported about an hour later(7 a.m.) on Highway 27 west of Herman. Troopers are expected to release more information on both crashes later today. 


The filing period for Minnesotans interested in running for public office opens today and runs through June 3rd. Candidates for federal, state, county and some local offices need to file in the next two weeks. Those running for U.S. Senate and Congress must file with the Office of Minnesota Secretary of State. Candidates for Minnesota House, constitutional offices and judicial seats may file with the secretary of state or in their county of residence. All 134 positions in the state House are up for grabs this fall. The 2014 election also includes many county and municipal positions. 


Two patients in the Midwest - one in Indiana and a second in Illinois - have been recently diagnosed with Middle East respiratory syndrome, which has caused 173 deaths since it was found in Saudi Arabia in 2012. But a doctor from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says most Minnesotans are at very low risk Doctor David Swerdlow leads the CDC's response team and says the illness isn't easily spread, however there is no specific treatment. He says a respiratory illness like this can be treated in an intensive care unit if needed, but there's no specific anti-viral medication. Swerdlow says travelers should take the usual health precautions, including frequent hand washing, covering coughs and sneezes, and avoiding contact with those who are sick. 


A black bear paid a visit to a Baxter neighborhood yesterday (Mon) afternoon. Baxter Police Chief Jim Exsted says officers monitored the situation because neighborhood kids were being released from school at the time. Exsted says they tried to lure the bear to a swamp but were not successful. After a nap in a nearby tree, the Brainerd Dispatch reports that the bear climbed down and walked off into the wilderness.