Officials chide tribe for plans to hunt elk near Clam Lake; Obama expected to visit Milwaukee; insurance fraud on the rise, plus more state newsWisconsin News
A Wisconsin DNR attorney said plans by Chippewa tribal members to kill an elk this weekend for a ceremonial function doesn't bode well for state-tribal relations. Also, state ag officials say 286 farmers received permits to harvest about 6,300 acres of hay from state lands last month. Plus stories about BMO Harris plans to lay-off 75 employees, a cantaloupe recall, several fatal accidents and more state news.
CABLE -- State and local officials say the Chippewa Indians should have been more forthcoming about their plans to kill an elk in northern Wisconsin for a ceremonial function. The matter became public this week when the DNR sent a letter to tribal officials, questioning the tribes’ authority to hunt the elk without working out an agreement with the state first.
On Thursday, the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission confirmed it approved a permit to hunt a single elk. Spokeswoman Sue Williams said the animal would be taken between now and Monday, if it hasn’t been done already. She called it part of creating a healthy eco-system, and the tribes are allowed to do it under their long-standing treaty rights. But DNR attorney Quinn Williams said the matter “just came out of left field” and it does not bode well for state and tribal communications.
He said it’s a “big deal” because it’s the first time an elk would be hunted in Wisconsin. The animals were re-introduced in the state in 1995, and about 185 elk reside in the Clam Lake area. A hunt would automatically be scheduled once the herd surpasses 200 animals, and that’s expected next year. Williams questioned the legality of the tribal hunt now but he said the DNR has no plans to stop it or prosecute anyone. He said it would be hard to convince a judge that taking one elk would hurt the total population.
James Bolen of the Cable Area Chamber of Commerce says the elk are a major tourist attraction and the tribes’ unilateral hunting approach would not endear them to non-Indians in the area. He said the Chippewa should have communicated better, and explained what they’re doing and why.
Mother of boy who died near Maiden Rock headed to jail
NORTHFIELD, Minn. -- A Minnesota woman who failed to get help for her injured toddler has been sentenced to a year in jail, after the child died at a relative’s home in western Wisconsin.
Melissa Ohmann, 21, of Northfield was sentenced Thursday, after she pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter. She must also spend 10 years on probation.
Seventeen-month-old Nicholas Miller was shaken 15 times by his step-father in 2009 in Northfield. The boy’s health got worse over the next four days, and prosecutors said Ohmann ignored her instincts and did nothing to get help for the youngster.
Nicholas later died at a family member’s home near Maiden Rock. Hokanson is now serving a life prison sentence, after he was convicted two years ago of killing Nicholas.
Ohmann expressed regret and sorrow for causing the toddler’s death but assistant prosecutor Jessica Bierwerth said Ohmann’s apology was quote, “too late for Nicholas.”
Hudson couple sentenced for role in $10 million mortgage scheme
MINNEAPOLIS -- A Hudson man and his wife have each been sentenced to almost seven years in prison, for running a $7 million mortgage fraud scheme in the Twin Cities.
A judge in Minneapolis also ordered James and Wendy Ober to spend three years on probation when they’re no longer behind bars.
Authorities said they found fake buyers to purchase foreclosed houses from banks at low prices. The fake buyers used a variety of forged documents to obtain the loans, and the proceeds went to the Obers and others who ran the scheme. The homes were allowed to deteriorate, and they went into foreclosure again.
The scheme netted about $23 million in loans that were used to buy 136 properties in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area and rural locations.
Prosecutor Tom Sinas said nothing was off limits to the Obers including the use of judges’ names on forged documents. Rosa Ventura, who had her identity stolen as part of the scheme, said she heard from bill collectors about debts she didn’t owe.
She said the Obers “have no idea the damage they’ve done.” Both Obers apologized. Wendy Ober said she “strayed away from my values.”
Insurance fraud rising -- but so are fraud arrests
MADISON -- Experts say insurance fraud is on the rise – and most insurers have become much better at catching it.
It’s a hot topic, after authorities said an Argyle man tried to kill his family and burn down his house to get $156,000 in insurance money and a fresh start in life.
Martha Lester-Mittenzwei of Madison College says insurance fraud is more common due to the shaky economy, and the need for people to look for alternative ways of getting money.
The Wisconsin Radio Network reports that insurance fraud is the second-most popular white collar crime after tax evasion and one of every five adults surveyed two years ago said it’s acceptable to defraud insurance companies. Insurance fraud takes many forms. When gas started hitting $4 a gallon, Lester-Mittenzwei said people came up with schemes to report their vehicles stolen to collect the insurance money. That because they couldn’t sell those gas-guzzlers.
Today, Lester-Mittenzwei says most insurers have special investigating adjusters who take over when fraudulent activity is suspected. She said falling behind on a mortgage is a red flag when checking out a fraud suspect.
Wisconsin delegation helps House avert federal government shutdown
WASHINGTON D.C. -- Wisconsin’s representatives helped the U-S House avert a federal government shutdown on Oct. 1st.
Republicans Jim Sensenbrenner and Tom Petri were the only Wisconsin members to vote no yesterday, when the House voted 329-to-91 in favor of a six-month stop-gap spending package.
Republican vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan of Janesville interrupted his campaigning to vote in favor of the bill, even though it spends $19 billion more than the massive cuts he proposed earlier this year. The measure allows an across-the-board increase of six-tenths-of-one percent, in accordance with a budget deal from last summer.
Wausau area Republican Sean Duffy said the package is far from perfect and he said it’s “irresponsible to force a government shutdown and play games with our markets.”
The Senate is expected to approve the stop-gap bill next week and that will set stage for much tougher decisions Congress will have to make when it returns after Election Day. They’ll have to deal with over $100 billion in automatic spending cuts, as a punishment for the failure of last year’s “super-committee” to reach a compromise on long-term budget deal.
At the same time, the Bush-era tax cuts are due to expire at the end of the year – bringing the prospect of a tax hike for most Americans.
Farmers harvest 6,300 acres of hay from state-owned lands
MADISON -- Wisconsin farmers harvested hay from almost 6,300 acres of state-owned lands, under emergency provisions caused by this summer’s drought.
Gov. Scott Walker agreed to let farmers make hay on state lands, to help them generate much-needed feed supplies for their livestock.
The DNR said it issued 286 hay-making permits and five emergency grazing permits. Those permits expired at the end of August, to re-grow habitat and create more cover for this fall’s hunters.
Meanwhile, the dry conditions continue in spite of more rainfall lately. For the first time this year, the U.S. Drought Monitor says all of Wisconsin is abnormally dry or worse but the “extreme” drought territory in far southern Wisconsin continues to get smaller. Only seven counties are in that category.
Almost two dozen counties had an extremely drought status earlier this summer.
Cut Fruit Express recalling possible tainted cantaloupe
INVER GROVE HEIGHTS, Minn. -- Packaged fruit products sold in Wisconsin are being recalled, due to a possible health risk involving cantaloupe.
Cut Fruit Express of Inver Grove Heights Minnesota is voluntarily recalling fruit packages with cantaloupe, due to possible salmonella contamination. One of Cut Fruit’s suppliers, D.F.I. Marketing, ordered that its cantaloupe be recalled. Cut Fruit Express says it’s voluntarily recalling its packages as a precaution – and no illnesses been reported from its products.
They were distributed through Sept. 5th, and were sold in Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan, and Minnesota. Customers are being urged not to eat the Cut Fruit cantaloupe.
They’re being told to dispose of it, or take it back to the store where they bought it.
BMO Harris cutting jobs in Cedarburg, Sun Prairie
BMO Harris Bank plans to cut almost 75 jobs at two facilities in southern Wisconsin.
The firm told state officials it would lay off 37 people at its Bank Mortgage Investment Management center in Cedarburg, and 37 others at a data center in Sun Prairie.
Spokesman Jim Kappel said the affected employees mainly have data processing and underwriting functions. He said it’s part of a larger cut of 200 positions at BMO banks throughout its service region.
BMO Harris acquired the former M & I Bank 18 months ago. Kappel said employees would get the chance to apply for other jobs within the firm and those who are not kept will get severance pay and help in finding new jobs.
Kappel said BMO Harris has hired over 350 people since acquiring M & I. Many are personal bankers, credit analysts, and service representatives.
Obama to visit Wisconsin to campaign, fund-raise
MILWAUKEE -- President Obama is expected to visit Wisconsin a week from tomorrow to raise campaign money and hold a roundtable discussion. The campaign has not confirmed it, but several media reports say the event will take place at the Milwaukee Theatre on Sept. 22nd. Invitations say donors would pay $250 for a general reception, $5,000 for a photo with the president at a VIP reception, and $25,000 to attend Obama’s roundtable.
Ben Sparks of Republican Mitt Romney’s Wisconsin campaign slammed the president for coming to Wisconsin just to raise money. Obama has not visited the Badger State since last February, when he toured Milwaukee’s Master Lock plant.
Meanwhile, yesterday Vice President Joe Biden told about 3,000 supporters at UW Eau Claire that the nation’s top objective should be to become the most educated nation in the world. Biden said that both he and President Obama would not be where they are in life, had they not received financial aid for college.
Biden talked about the administration’s plan for the U.S. to have the highest percentage of college graduates of any nation in the world by 2020.
Before leaving Eau Claire, the vice president spent a half-hour having lunch at Eau Claire’s Acoustic Café.
Pavement hiccup creates traffic headaches near Portage
PORTAGE -- Traffic was backed up for five miles Thursday after pavement buckled on the Interstate bridge over the Wisconsin River near Portage.
It happened on the southbound lanes of Interstate 39-90-94 and it reduced traffic from three lanes to one. The State Patrol said the buckling occurred on the right lane of the bridge, and the left lane had already been closed due to other repair work.
Traffic was funneled onto the center lane, with long backups. The emergency repairs were finished around 1 p.m. – about 90 minutes after the work began. The State Patrol said it took another half-hour to eliminate the traffic back-up, but things are moving normally this morning.
Meanwhile, two people died and two others were seriously hurt in a traffic crash near Kewaskum in Fond du Lac County.
Sheriff’s deputies said a vehicle with three Eden residents was hit by an oncoming vehicle that crossed a center-line. Two of the Eden residents were killed – a 73-year-old man and a 59-year-old woman. A 13-year-old Eden girl was taken to Milwaukee Children’s Hospital.
The driver who allegedly caused the crash, a 24-year-old Campbellsport man, was taken to a West Bend hospital. The mishap occurred around 5:30 yesterday afternoon on Highway 45 in the Fond du Lac County town of Auburn. Officials said alcohol might have been a factor, and they’re still investigating. The victims’ names were not immediately released.
Elsewhere Thursday, a 79-year-old man was killed in a traffic crash in Manitowoc County.
Sheriff’s deputies said the man drove through a stop sign going west, and collided with a semi-truck heading north on Highway 42 in the town of Two Creeks. The semi driver was a 28-year-old from Algoma. The older motorist was ejected from his vehicle, and he died at the scene. A third vehicle driven by a 45-year-old Green Bay man was damaged by debris from the crash site. Manitowoc County deputies and the State Patrol continue to investigate. The name of the fatal victim has not been released.