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Final snow totals range up to 16 inches; IRS imposters bilk Wisconsin taxpayers out of $250,000; 16 more state news briefs

The final numbers are in from this week's snowstorm in Wisconsin, and the two-day totals are up to 16.6 inches at Gile near the Michigan border in Iron County.

Much of the northern third of the state picked up nine to 12 inches since Tuesday, and that has snowmobilers excited about hitting the trails.

One groomer in central Wisconsin says the new snow, plus colder temperatures, is creating a solid base that will keep the trails in good shape for a long time. Most of Marathon County's snowmobile trails are opening this (Thursday) morning, along with trails to the south in Dane County.

It was eight below at Hayward at 5 a.m., but forecasters expect a warm-up today with highs in the 20s and a chance of more light snow.

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IRS imposters bilk Wisconsin taxpayers out of $250,000

MILWAUKEE -- The IRS says 65 Wisconsinites have lost $250,000 to tax scammers over the past 27 months.

Now that it's tax-filing season, the government says Americans are facing a deluge of calls from fake IRS agents who threaten arrest, deportation and a loss of driving privileges unless they pay up.

Wisconsin ranks 27th among the 50 states in which scammers have the most success tricking people into paying taxes they don't owe.

IRS spokesman Christopher Miller of Milwaukee said it's a serious threat, and taxpayers need to remain vigilant.

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said the scams range from threats of court action to promises of big refunds that never get delivered. Once again, officials say the IRS will always write you and never call about tax payments that may be due.

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If wolf hunt ever returns, it could be later than before

MADISON -- Wisconsin hunters may never get to shoot grey wolves again, but in case they do, a state lawmaker wants the season to start later in the year.

A public hearing was held this week on a bill from Assembly Republican Al Ott of Forest Junction to start the wolf hunt in early November instead of in mid-October.

Ott says the old seasons conflicted with bird hunters and the quality of the wolf-pelts were not at their prime.

Animal rights groups convinced a federal judge in late 2014 to end Wisconsin's three annual wolf hunts by putting grey wolves back under federal protections. Two recent efforts failed to have Congress nullify that decision and let four states bring back their wolf hunts.

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Police say alleged Madison killer may have had help

Madison police are trying to determine if a 26-year-old man had help escaping the scene of a murder he allegedly committed.

Chief Mike Koval said Christopher O'Kroley may have had accomplices help him get away after he allegedly shot and killed Caroline Nosal, 24, of Stoughton in the parking lot of Madison's Metro Market Tuesday night.

O’Kroley was arrested Wednesday afternoon after he allegedly exchanged gunfire with a police officer near the East Towne Mall.

Madison Gas and Electric officials say they shut down a gas leak in the area soon after the shooting. Nobody was hurt or sickened in either of those incidents.

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Wisconsin State of the Tribes address set

MADISON -- We'll find out later this month how Wisconsin’s 11 Indian tribes are doing.

Lac Courte Oreilles Chairman Mic Isham will deliver the 12th annual State of the Tribes address Feb. 16, starting at 1 p.m. in the state Assembly chamber.

Speaker Robin Vos announced the date and time of the address Wednesday. He said it helps identify areas of mutual interest between the state and the tribal governments so they can work together to address shared concerns.

It also provides a bit of Indian culture for officials and State Capitol visitors as the Native American Drum and Honor Song group will perform on the east steps of the statehouse before the speech.

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Lincoln Hills supervisor cleared of wrongdoing

State officials now say a supervisor at the Lincoln Hills juvenile facility was cleared of wrongdoing soon after he was involved in an incident in which an offender's arm was broken.

A retired staffer recently said Kyle Hoff was helping hold a disruptive offender as his handcuffs were being removed last April and it caused the teen to receive a broken bone.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said this week Hoff was not among 20 Lincoln Hills employees on paid leave as the state continues to look into alleged abuses against teen offenders at Lincoln Hills near Irma. The news outlet says it's still not clear why Hoff was never put on leave while his case was investigated.

But the agency cleared him of wrongdoing last May. Records about the case were not released last month because it was under a second review that has since been finished.

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Bomb threat demands ‘Justice for Steven Avery’

Manitowoc County authorities are investigating two bomb threats received Wednesday night, one of which demanded “Justice for Steven Avery.”

Officials say the courthouse and sheriff's offices were combed for possible explosives, but none were found in those areas.

The threats were called in around 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.

Authorities say Manitowoc County sheriff's officials and others in the community have received threats ever since the Netflix series “Making a Murderer” raised doubts about Avery's conviction in the 2005 killing of Teresa Halbach.

Manitowoc Police Captain Larry Zimney told WLUK TV it's very possible the Avery-related threat came from somebody outside Wisconsin.

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Roth won't run for Ribble seat; second Democrat might

State Senate Republican Roger Roth now says he will not run for the northeast Wisconsin U.S. House of Representatives seat to be vacated by Reid Ribble at the end of the year.

At least seven other Republicans -- mostly state lawmakers -- are considering a run the post this fall as they try to keep the set in GOP hands.

A second Democrat, former state Rep. Penny Bernard-Schaber of Appleton, now says she's interested.

Roth, who's from Appleton, said he and his wife are expecting a third child in April and now is not the time to consider a move to Washington. However, Roth is not ruling anything out in the future, saying he could give what the country needs -- a leader who can “set aside political rhetoric in favor of governing.”

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Teen faces 2017 trial for three traffic deaths

SHAWANO -- It will be almost a year before an eastern Wisconsin teenager could go on trial for allegedly killing three people in a traffic crash while under the influence of marijuana.

A two-week trial is now set to begin next Jan. 23 in Shawano County for Ryan Swadner of Cecil, who turns 19 next month.

He faces 11 criminal charges, including eight felonies for driving into the path of an SUV in October 2014 on Hwy. 22, killing three teenage passengers: Tyler Welch and Cody Borsche of Shawano and Paige Brunette of Bonduel.

Pretrial requests will be considered Feb. 19, and a final pretrial hearing is set for Nov. 22. In the meantime, a special prosecutor from the state Department of Justice will help the Shawano County district attorney handle the case.

--Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau

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Ariens Company fires seven Muslim employees

BRILLION -- Ariens Company has fired seven Muslim employees for continuing to take unscheduled prayer breaks.

More than 50 Somali immigrant Muslims at the Brillion-based manufacturer recently protested the company's enforcement of a policy of two 10-minute breaks per work shift without accommodating unscheduled prayer time.

The employees wanted the company to continue a previous, more lenient practice of allowing Muslims to leave their work stations at different times, such as dawn and sunset, to pray as part of the requirements of their religion.

Ariens said it was sticking with a policy that doesn't accommodate special prayer breaks despite having bent the rules some when there were fewer Muslim employees.

The company said as of Wednesday 32 of the Muslims have chosen to stay with the company and work within the break policy, 14 had resigned, and seven were fired for continuing to take unscheduled breaks.

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Voter bills approved by Senate committee Wednesday

MADISON -- Wisconsin would implement online registration for voters by the spring of next year and forbid Milwaukee officials from moving forward with a plan to provide local IDs under bills approved by a Senate committee Wednesday.

Republicans on the Senate Elections Committee approved the registration proposal on a party-line 3-2 vote.

As rewritten by a late amendment, the bill would also make changes to state elections law.

The panel also approved a separate proposal prohibiting county and town governments from issuing, or spending money on, photo identification cards.

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Suspect in grocery store killing in custody

MADISON -- A suspect wanted in connection with the killing of a woman outside a grocery store is in custody.

Christopher T. O'Kroley, 26, was taken into custody around 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, according to police, after shots were fired near East Towne Mall.

Police were searching for O'Kroley after a 25-year-old Stoughton woman was shot and killed in the parking lot of the Metro Market on Cottage Grove Road Tuesday evening.

Officers got a tip from a citizen that a man matching O'Kroley's description was seen in the Zeier Road area. The citizen identified O'Kroley based on photos of him seen in media reports about the shooting.

O'Kroley was a former employee at Metro Market. The woman who was killed had worked at Metro Market for about three years.

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Driver arrested on 10th OWI offense

A Beloit man was arrested on suspicion of 10th offense operating while intoxicated after a traffic crash in Beloit.

Kelvin Kenny, 55, was involved in a minor crash at St. Paul and Prospect Avenues Tuesday afternoon.

Police stopped him when he attempted to leave the scene. They determined he was intoxicated. At that point he was arrested on suspicion of 10th offense OWI. He was also arrested on a probation violation and on traffic offenses including hit and run, inattentive driving and failure to yield to an emergency vehicle.

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Fifth Madison-area student sentenced on conspiracy to distribute marijuana

A fifth Madison-area college student has been sentenced for organizing a conspiracy to distribute marijuana in the Madison area.

Amadou Camara, 24, of Sun Prairie, was sentenced Tuesday to 30 months in prison for conspiring with others to import and distribute marijuana. He pleaded guilty in November.

Camara and six co-defendants, all college students, arranged the purchase, transportation and distribution of as many as 19 loads of marijuana, ranging from five to 50 pounds from California and Colorado to Madison.

Prosecutors said the marijuana loads were divided among the investors who provided money for the purchase. Those people then sold the marijuana in Madison for a substantial profit between September 2010 and February 2015.

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Man charged with vandalizing Lincoln statue in Burlington

A 22-year-old man is accused of vandalizing a 103-year-old statue of Abraham Lincoln in Burlington.

Jacob Hinds of Burlington made his first court appearance in Racine County Tuesday on a felony charge of criminal damage. A $500 bond was set, and Hinds is due back in court next Thursday for a preliminary hearing.

Authorities say the eight-foot bronze statue of the nation's 16th president was pushed to the ground early last Saturday. The city's mayor said it will cost at least $2,500 to repair the damage.

Sculptor George Ganiere of Chicago made the Lincoln statue, which is now owned by the Burlington Historical Society.

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Four charged in murder of five-year-old

JANESVILLE -- One of four men charged in the killing of a five-year-old boy in Beloit appeared in court Wednesday afternoon, while two others had their returns to Wisconsin delayed by this week's snowstorm.

Hugo Martinez, 18, completed his initial Rock County court hearing in the Jan. 22 shooting death of Austin Ramos Jr. Authorities say the bullet was meant for the boy's father, a former member of a rival gang, in retaliation for another killing last year in Beloit.

Sergio Ortiz-Raygoza, 23, and Eric Salazar-Mota, 22, were arrested in Storm Lake, Iowa, where they waived extradition. However, officials say blizzard conditions kept them from leaving Iowa right away.

The fourth defendant, Issac Torrez, 24, has a status conference in his case next Tuesday.

All four are charged with first-degree intentional homicide in young Austin's death.

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Murder plea deal creates uncertain sentencing prospect

LA CROSSE -- An 18-year-old La Crosse man has pleaded guilty to murder with no idea how long he might be in prison.

Eighteen-year-old Deshawn Randall, 18, faces a mandatory life sentence on his original charge of first-degree intentional homicide.

However, the judge could allow a supervised release after he serves 20 years, the prosecution says it will not recommend a release date, and the defense has not decided if it will suggest anything.

Randall admitted shooting George Miller, 17, of La Crosse nine times in the last of six shooting incidents in a one-week period last August in La Crosse.

Randall will be sentenced April 8.

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Thousands watch video of apparent flying meteor

MUSCODA -- Thousands of people have seen video of an apparent meteor flying over a small town in southwest Wisconsin.

The Muscoda Police Department's Facebook page has a six-second video of what looks like a huge white ball falling from the sky and disappearing just before it could land.

A rooftop camera at UW-Madison also caught the apparent meteor on Monday night as a moving burst of light.

WTMJ TV in Milwaukee has a comment on its website from an unnamed Madison professor saying the fireballs are common, but seeing them so vividly is not very common.

Almost 65,000 people had seen the two videos online as of Wednesday morning.

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