From the Forum News Service


'Man in black' pleads guilty to more bank robberies

ST. PAUL -- The "man in black," a suspect in a series of armed bank robberies, pleaded guilty to more robberies Tuesday in federal court in St. Paul.

Mark Edward Wetsch, 49, of Shakopee, pleaded guilty to five bank robberies in Minnesota between March 9, 2011, and Jan. 3, 2012.

In entering his plea, Wetsch also admitted responsibility for 25 additional bank robberies in 2011.

Last month, he pleaded guilty to one count of armed bank robbery in a heist that occurred Jan. 3, 2012, in Brewster and led to his arrest.

He entered his latest plea before U.S. District Court Judge Susan Richard Nelson. As part of a plea agreement, Wetsch pleaded guilty to robbing five banks, in each case admitting that he wore a black mask and brandished a firearm believed to be real.

Authorities used the "man in black" description because the suspect in the first few robberies was wearing dark clothing.

Wetsch admitted taking a total of more than $110,000 in the 31 bank robberies.

Wetsch remains in custody. Pursuant to the plea agreement, the government is seeking a prison sentence of 14 years. Nelson will determine Wetsch's sentence at a future hearing, not yet scheduled.


Highway reopens after ammonia tank removed

MURDOCK, Minn. -- U.S. Highway 12 west of Murdock in west-central Minnesota reopened for traffic at 12:30 p.m. Thursday, two to three days before officials thought it could be done.

The highway was opened shortly after workers removed the ruptured anhydrous ammonia tank that had struck in an accident about 8:30 a.m. Tuesday near the Koch Nitrogen Fertilizer terminal.

There is only some minor cleanup work taking place at the site yet. Bill McGeary, Swift County emergency management director, said some of the ammonia that had been mixed with water is being cleaned up from the ground there. It poses no risk.

Authorities had thought the cleanup and detour would continue into the weekend, but McGeary said a change in tactics in how the damaged tank was being emptied of its anhydrous ammonia provided a big break for all of those involved. The tank was emptied by 11 p.m. Wednesday, and workers were able to focus on removing the damaged tank and semi-truck.

The truck was proceeding north on a township road after leaving the terminal when the rear of its trailer was struck by an eastbound Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad train.


Judge throws out suit over St. Croix River bridge

ST. PAUL -- A federal lawsuit to stop progress on the new St. Croix River crossing project, brought by construction company C.S. McCrossan, has been thrown out of U.S. District Court.

McCrossan was the unsuccessful bidder for approach work to be done on the Minnesota side of the river. Their bid was the lowest submitted, but the company's bid apparently lacked the necessary guarantees that a certain amount of the work would be given to minority-owned subcontractors.

Ames Construction and Lunda Construction were then awarded the contract by the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

In filing their suit, McCrossan claimed they were unfairly removed from the roadwork project and that they should be hired for the project.

On Monday, a judge denied the company's request, noting that their challenge was not likely to be successful. MnDOT officials had argued that any further delays in the project could cost taxpayers millions.


Flood damage to raise Minnesota Power bills

THOMSON, Minn. -- Damage from last year's historic flooding in the northeastern Minnesota will likely mean an increase in electric bills for Minnesota Power customers to cover $35 million to $44 million in repairs at its dam in Thomson.

According to annual and quarterly filings this year to the Securities and Exchange Commission by parent company Allete, the repairs and improvement costs at the Minnesota Power dam at the Thomson Energy Center will go beyond insurance payments and will be included in capital costs.

Company officials estimate that repairs to the earthen holding pond walls that breached above the dam, the forebay, will cost $25 million to $34 million. None of the work to fix and improve the forebay is covered by insurance.

Repairs to the buildings and other infrastructure are covered, but Allete expects costs beyond insurance coverage to cost $10 million.

Minnesota Power spokeswoman Amy Rutledge said repair work will be done as well as "hardening the system" to prevent damage like that in the historic June flooding last year.

As with any capital project, Allete would have to file a request with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission to use increased rates to pay for getting the dam back in use.


North Dakota

N.D. men with bladder cancer sue drugmaker

FARGO - Two North Dakota men with bladder cancer are suing a Japanese drug manufacturer in Fargo federal court because they say the company failed to warn them that bladder cancer was a risk in taking Actos, its diabetes drug.

Teddy Beach of Fargo and Dale Mumm of Wahpeton allege in their lawsuit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court that Takeda Pharmaceuticals conducted studies, including animal evidence, that showed bladder cancer was a risk with Actos before the drug was put on the market in 1999.

Court documents state that Beach took the drug from February 2007 to January 2009, and Mumm took it from June 2002 to August 2008.

Their attorney, Todd Miller, said Actos, or pioglitazone hydrochloride, is a treatment for Type 2 diabetes and is the most prescribed medication for that type of diabetes, with $3.4 billion in sales in 2009.

Beach and Mumm are seeking more than $75,000 in damages from the company.

A response to the complaint from Takeda has not yet been filed.


Water impasse may keep business from moving on time

JAMESTOWN, N.D. -- Jamestown Mayor Katie Andersen is not optimistic a water agreement can be reached with Stutsman Rural Water District in time for Titan Machinery's planned opening June 15.

"We don't have a very good precedent," she said. "I'm hesitant to say that is realistic."

At issue is whether Jamestown or Stutsman Rural Water District should supply water to the new Titan Machinery building still under construction west of Jamestown Regional Medical Center.

The farm implement dealer would move from an existing site in Jamestown.

The dispute between the city and Stutsman Rural Water began in October, when the city attempted to award bids to construct a water line to the new Titan Machinery site. Stutsman Rural Water asserted the location was part of its territory. Since then a number of negotiations have taken place with no finalized settlement.

"Very substantial differences exist," Andersen said. "It makes me feel we're not very close."


South Dakota

Noem wants tribal relations office within USDA

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., has introduced legislation that would establish an Office of Tribal Relations within the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Noem's legislation -- a proposed amendment to the farm bill -- would require the USDA to use existing resources to establish the office, thereby not increasing federal spending, according to a news release from Noem's office.

Such a permanent entity within the Agriculture Department would help improve communication between the department and tribal nations and would ensure South Dakota's American Indians have access to USDA's programs, according to the release. The tribal relations office would be within the office of the USDA secretary.

Noem previously introduced this legislation last year as an amendment to the House Agriculture Committee-passed version of the farm bill. The amendment was adopted and included in the bill passed by the committee. That bill did not receive a vote on the House floor, and the previous farm bill was extended for one year.