Polk County authorities warn of jury duty scam
The Polk County Sheriff’s Office is warning of a scam in which people are asked to pay fines for missing jury duty.
The sheriff’s office says it has received reports of calls made to county residents, telling them they have been sent numerous certified letters ordering them to report to jury duty. Because they haven’t responded, they must pay a substantial fine, and should do so in cash or a pre-paid card.
The sheriff’s office says it would never demand payment of fines by phone and asked that those who receive such calls to report them to authorities.
Ex-town clerk pleads guilty to $30K fraud
The former clerk for a tiny town in northeastern Iowa has pleaded guilty to embezzling more than $30,000 in public funds.
Former Masonville clerk Christine Anne King pleaded guilty last week to one count of mail fraud during a hearing in federal court in Cedar Rapids.
In a plea agreement, she admitted that she routinely issued herself fraudulent payroll and expense reimbursement checks between July 2002 and October 2011.
To cover up the fraud, King says she falsely inflated the balances on the city’s bank accounts on routine reports provided to the city council and state auditor.
The 42-year-old will be sentenced at a later date. She faces a possible prison term, plus restitution.
Masonville is a city of 125 residents, about halfway between Waterloo and Dubuque.
Court decision could open door to immigrant rules
The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision not to review a Nebraska city’s ordinance that bans renting homes to immigrants living in the country illegally could open the door to similar laws elsewhere, supporters said, though they’re likely to encounter fresh legal challenges.
Attorney Kris Kobach, who defended the ordinance, said the decision gives a “bright green light” for other cities within the 8th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals that want to adopt such laws. The circuit includes Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, and the Dakotas.
Still, any city that chooses to adopt such an ordinance would almost certainly face a costly legal fight from advocacy groups that are working to stop them. Earlier this year, the justices declined attempts by two other towns — in Pennsylvania and Texas — to revive similar laws that had been struck down by lower courts. But unlike the Pennsylvania and Texas ordinances, the Fremont rules do not impose penalties on immigrants.
The Fremont ordinance requires renters to get a $5 permit and swear that they have legal permission to live in the United States. First approved in 2010, the ordinance has survived several legal challenges and an attempt to repeal it at the ballot box in February.
The high court on let stand an appeals court ruling that found the ordinance does not discriminate against Latinos or interfere with federal immigration laws.
The number of Hispanics in Freemont jumped from 165 in 1990 to 1,085 in 2000 and 3,149 in 2010, mostly because of jobs at the nearby Hormel and Fremont Beef plants. However, supporters of the measure insist it does not target Hispanics.
Lawsuit filed over cannon blast settled
A woman injured by a cannon blast in south-central Nebraska has settled her lawsuit.
The Gosper County Board of Commissioners was informed of the settlement last week. The notice had come from the Nebraska Intergovernmental Risk Management Association. The settlement amount has not disclosed.
Authorities say the homemade cannon was positioned in an area where people were coming and going during a community celebration in Smithfield on July 3, 2009. An attorney for the Doyle Daake, who made the cannon, says Kanda Garrelts walked around the cannon after it was lit and that she ignored warnings.
Garrelts had sued Smithfield and Daake, and Smithfield filed a subsequent action against Gosper County.
Minot City Council backs firing of city attorney
Minot’s City Council has formally backed the firing of the city attorney.
City Manager Cindy Hemphill fired Colleen Auer last week for alleged insubordination. Auer had been on the job only about a month.
Auer maintained that she could be fired only by the City Council, and the council voted to affirm Hemphill’s action.
Auer traveled to Bismarck after she was dismissed to file complaints with the state Labor Department and the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. She says she might sue the city for wrongful termination. Auer, who moved to Minot from Scottsdale, Arizona, argues that she was fired in retaliation for a complaint she filed alleging harassment and a hostile work environment. The city investigated, and Mayor Curt Zimbelman said Auer’s claim had been rejected.
The city is not commenting on the pending complaints because of the possibility of litigation.
Lawmakers: human trafficking must be addressed
U.S. Reps. Kevin Cramer and Erik Paulsen joined North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem in a call for more legislation to combat human trafficking.
The three met with law enforcement officials and organizations working on the issue of human trafficking in Williston. While the state’s oil boom has brought prosperity and high population growth rates to the area in recent years, it has also brought prostitution and human trafficking — issues that Stenehjem, Cramer and Paulsen say need to be urgently addressed.
Paulsen and Cramer have attached their names to a number of bills in the U.S. House aimed at combating human trafficking.
Stenehjem said North Dakota requires assistance on the federal level to combat trafficking as “these are not localized enterprises, these are nationwide, even international.”
Stenehjem said the top priority is not treating victims of human trafficking as defendants. By putting safe harbor laws in effect and withdrawing the threat of arrest, he said, victims of human trafficking are more likely to come forward and give information that can be used to pursue traffickers.
Windie Lazenko, a victim of human trafficking as a teenager and the head of 4Her North Dakota, an organization that provides assistance to victims of sex trafficking, echoed these calls. She called for the establishment of a shelter for victims of human trafficking. Currently, they can be put up in domestic violence shelters, but these facilities are already strained by an increase in domestic violence that has come with the population growth.
Paula Bosh, a victim specialist with the FBI’s Minot office, said that identifying the signs of human trafficking can be difficult coming from a “North Dakota nice” mentality that makes many hesitant to accept that this kind of activity is occurring in the once-quiet state. Realizing that trafficking is occurring in the state and educating people about the signs of human trafficking are key to combating it, she said.
Plan to reduce Native American women prisoners gains approval
A criminal justice oversight council in South Dakota unanimously endorsed a proposal last week to apply for a grant from the federal government to help reduce the disproportionate number of Native American women from Pennington County in the prison system.
Of the women in the prison system, about 30 percent are from Pennington County, where Rapid City is located. Native women constitute a large portion of that group.
The council oversees the implementation of the Public Safety Improvement Act. The act took effect in July.
The council granted support for state staff to apply for a federal grant to fund a program to help high-risk women in Pennington County.
Jim Seward, the chair of the council, said the program would not be only for Native Americans. But, he said, “the data suggest that population to be in high need.”
Seward said the award could be up to $1.75 million over three years, depending on the parameters of the project and whether or not the application to the federal government is successful. The effort could help women with housing and other needs in order to reduce their risk of offending.
Rapid City officials consider prayer dispute over
A U.S. Supreme Court decision on prayer in a New York case should end the dispute over the Rapid City Council’s decades-long practice of beginning meetings with an invocation, city officials say.
Justices said last week that prayers to open town council meetings don’t violate the Constitution, even if they routinely stress Christianity. The ruling was a victory for the town of Greece, New York.
Prayer at public meetings also has been an issue in Rapid City. The Wisconsin-based nonprofit Freedom from Religion Foundation last year asked the city to stop beginning council meetings with a prayer. The prayers have been conducted by local ministers since at least the 1950s.
The foundation, which advocates for the separation of church and state, did not explicitly threaten to sue Rapid City but did send two warning letters.
City Attorney Joel Landeen told the Rapid City Journal that the Supreme Court ruling means it would be foolish for the foundation to pursue the matter.
Foundation Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor said she was dismayed by the ruling but that the group won’t stop its battle against public prayer, which she called offensive.
Judge who halted Act 10 to retire
A Madison judge who halted Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s public union restrictions has decided to retire.
Maryann Sumi announced last week she’ll step down on May 30 after nearly 16 years on the bench. Then-Gov. Tommy Thompson appointed her as judge in 1998.
In 2011 she found that Republican lawmakers violated the state open meetings law during the run-up to passing Walker’s union measure, which stripped most public workers of nearly all their collective bargaining rights. She stopped the restrictions from being implemented, enraging the GOP.
The conservative-leaning state Supreme Court overturned her ruling two months later. Debate on the case between the justices was so heated that Justice David Prosser wrapped his hands around Justice Ann Walsh Bradley’s neck.
Appeals court tosses homicide conviction
A state appeals court ordered a new trial for a Milwaukee man accused of shooting his parents.
Prosecutors charged Corey Kucharski with two counts of first-degree intentional homicide in the 2010 deaths of Ralph and Pamela Kucharski. Kucharski contended voices he began hearing after a stint of heavy methamphetamine use told him to kill them. He was sentenced to life in prison.
Kucharski, now 38, argued on appeal that Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Jean DiMotto wrongly ruled he was mentally responsible for his actions even though it was undisputed he was suffering from schizophrenia at the time of the killings.
The 1st District Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 last week that Kucharski clearly was in a psychotic state when he killed his parents and there was no other explanation for his behavior.
Judge Kitty Brennan wrote in dissent that the majority didn’t say DiMotto applied the wrong law or failed to consider the evidence. Instead they simply inserted their judgment in place of DiMotto’s, Brennan wrote.
The state Justice Department fought the appeal on behalf of local prosecutors. The agency can ask the state Supreme Court to take the case.
Across the Region is compiled from Associated Press wire, staff reports and news releases.