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Across the Region: Feb. 9

IOWA

Trial begins for Iowa woman accused of 2 killings in 1983

The trial of an Iowa woman accused of killing her husband and his girlfriend more than 30 years ago began last Wednesday in Waterloo.

Prosecutors opened the case against 54-year-old Theresa Supino, who was arrested in March in connection with the 1983 slayings of Steven Fisher and Melisa Gregory, the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier reported . Their bodies were found on the Copper Dollar Ranch northwest of Newton.

Authorities charged Supino with two counts of first-degree murder. She has pleaded not guilty. Authorities have not said what led to the arrest, only that the development came after authorities completed hundreds of interviews and continued to process evidence.

 

U.S. Bank to pay $18M to customers of collapsed brokerage

U.S. Bank will pay $18 million to settle a lawsuit alleging that its lax oversight enabled the founder of one of the nation’s largest brokerages to embezzle $215 million from customers, a judge ruled Wednesday.

The payment will go to customers who had accounts to trade domestic commodities futures through the now-collapsed Peregrine Financial Group, Inc., under the settlement approved by U.S. District Court Judge Linda Reade.

The agreement settles a civil enforcement action filed by the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission alleging that U.S. Bank improperly allowed Peregrine founder Russell Wasendorf Sr. to misuse customer funds.

Wasendorf, the former CEO of the Iowa-based brokerage, is serving a 50-year prison term after he was convicted of stealing $215 million from thousands of customers over two decades. He carried out the fraud by repeatedly falsifying U.S. Bank records to fool regulators into believing that Peregrine’s customer account had more money than it did.

NEBRASKA

Man who committed 1st crimes at 9 gets 22 years in prison

A 25-year-old man who authorities say committed his first crimes when he was 9 years old has been sentenced to nearly 22 years in prison on drug charges.

Jason Jackson was sentenced Wednesday for conspiracy to sell methamphetamine and marijuana. Federal prosecutors said Jackson was involved in the Lincoln drug trade during 2012 and 2013.

Jackson’s criminal record came up during Wednesday’s hearing, as the judge considered whether to use Jackson’s crimes as a juvenile against him for sentencing.

The list began with juvenile convictions for trespassing, two assaults and a criminal mischief when Jackson was 9, the Lincoln Journal Star .Next came felony convictions for burglary and a robbery when he was 17. While on parole at age 23, he was arrested on the federal drug charges.

Online court documents say Jackson is awaiting a state trial on robbery, firearms and several other charges stemming from an April incident. Prosecutors say he shot at a man at a storage facility during an argument over money. He’s pleaded not guilty.

 

Committee hears bills to ban LGBT discrimination

A Nebraska legislative committee heard more than four hours of often-emotional testimony last week about bills that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in hiring, adoptions and foster parent selection.

Each of the three bills has been introduced in past years, but this year’s Judiciary Committee is made up of mostly new members, including vocal LGBT advocates Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln and Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln.

Sen. Colby Coash of Lincoln said he’s not sure how the new votes will fall. But if the bills do advance, the battle against the Legislature’s overwhelming conservative majority will be difficult, he said.

“I can tell you that any of these will need 33 votes to break a filibuster, because (a filibuster) will happen,” Coash said.

NORTH DAKOTA

Bismarck businessmen ordered to pay nearly $1 million to IRS

A man who pleaded guilty to under-reporting income from his Bismarck restaurant has been ordered to pay nearly $1 million to the Internal Revenue Service.

Forty-two-year-old Youde Li pleaded guilty to four counts of tax evasion and was sentenced recently to time served, three years of supervised release and restitution.

U.S. Attorney Timothy Purdon says Li did not report $961,000 in income from his China Garden restaurant. He also did not report that income on his personal tax returns.

 

Study: Wal-Mart spent $9.3M on North Dakota ballot measure

A new study shows that retail giant Wal-Mart gave $9.3 million to try to pass a North Dakota ballot measure last November that would have allowed the company to open pharmacies in the state.

The figure is part of an analysis released Thursday by the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity. It found that corporations and trade groups gave at least $217 million to sway the outcome of state ballot measure and referendum campaigns during the 2014 midterm elections.

North Dakota voters rejected the pharmacy ballot measure, which would have repealed a 1963 law banning chain retailers such as Wal-Mart and Target from operating pharmacies.

Voters sided with small, pharmacist-owned drug stores and their allies who raised a fraction of Wal-Mart’s total.

SOUTH DAKOTA

Medical malpractice victims in SD can’t find lawyers

South Dakota lawyers who handle medical malpractice cases say they are turning away people who were victims of egregious medical mistakes. The odds are stacked against them when it comes to juries, lawyers say, but a law passed in 1976 by the South Dakota Legislature is also deterring legitimate claims.

The law in question capped noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases at $500,000. It did not include an inflationary increase. Had it, the cap would be more than $2 million today.

Because of the way damages can be awarded in South Dakota, the economic calculus means that many deserving clients will not get their shot at justice, lawyers say. Steve Johnson, one of the state’s top plaintiff lawyers, decided recently to stop taking medical malpractice cases, in part because of the cap on noneconomic damages.

“The cap is a negative in terms of being able to adequately represent people in this particular area,” Johnson said. “It simply is.”

The cap on noneconomic losses serves as a barrier to the justice system for many who have been wronged by negligent health providers, Sioux Falls lawyer John Hughes said. And one of the dirty secrets of the system is that many of those who are harmed end up on Social Security disability, Medicare and other taxpayer-funded programs because they couldn’t access the justice system, he continued. . The public ends up subsidizing the health care industry and their insurance companies.

Others say the cap is vital to ensuring that South Dakota maintains a strong health care system. Dr. Mary Milroy, president of the South Dakota State Medical Association, believes the cap deters frivolous lawsuits. Health providers, she said, live in constant fear of being sued and what a lawsuit can do to their reputation.

No jail time for Sioux Falls official who read boss’s email

A former Sioux Falls city fire official won’t serve jail time for unlawfully accessing the fire chief’s email account.

KELO-TV reported that a judge on Monday sentenced Patrick Warren to three years of supervised probation and 100 hours of community service.

He pleaded guilty in December to unlawful use of a computer and in exchange, prosecutors dropped 14 other counts against the former division chief.

Warren looked at Fire Chief Jim Sideras’ email account and saw confidential messages between Sideras and Sioux Falls Police Chief Doug Barthel.

WISCONSIN

Man sentenced to prison for burning business

A Medford man has been sentenced to 11 years in prison for burning down his pizza business in order to collect insurance money.

Federal Judge Barbara Crabb also ordered David Johnson on Tuesday to pay restitution of nearly $155,000. The 36-year-old Medford man earlier pleaded guilty to arson for setting fire to Main Street Pizza and Grill in February 2013.

Crabb determined Johnson’s actions knowingly put people that lived in a neighboring building at risk. The restaurant was a total loss and the adjacent building was damaged.

 

Mother pleads guilty in death of toddler

A mother whose young daughter was struck and killed on a Madison street has pleaded guilty to child neglect.

Raya Hansen, 33, is to be sentenced Monday in Dane County Circuit Court. Prosecutors will recommend a prison sentence of 2½ years.

The State Journal reports a charge of second-degree reckless homicide was dismissed Wednesday as part of the plea agreement.

A criminal complaint says Hansen was high on drugs when she put her 1-year-old daughter in a wheelchair and headed to a drug store about 3:30 a.m. on Feb. 14, 2013.

The wheelchair rolled out into the street and was struck by a van.

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