December 16, 2007

Minnesota battles consumer fraud

Two years ago, 80-year-old Florence Teslow of Bloomington got a letter telling her she had won a large sum of money. All she had to do was pay the taxes to receive it. She cleaned out her savings account thinking she was going to be set for life.

She lost $1, 200 and her pride.

“I can’t believe I was so stupid,? she said. “I’ve learned my lesson.?

It is a lesson that the state of Minnesota is working to prevent others from learning the hard way in the future.

The state has developed a new program by partnering with private groups and state agencies to better protect its citizens from direct mail, phone and email fraud. Started in September 2007, the first-of-its-kind program in the U.S. was put in place to fight the types of scams where victims are asked to send money in order to claim a prize or be entered into a drawing.

According to estimates by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, Minnesotans lose between $8 million and $10 million per year due to scam artists, with the majority of them being senior citizens.

“If citizens, especially seniors, learn to recognize fraud, that’s half the battle,? said special agent John Willems who works for the Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division. “Seniors are especially vulnerable because sometimes they are conned out of their life savings and have no other source of income.?

But, the problem is nationwide.

In to a study done in the spring of 2000, Consumers Digest said at least 5 million people are financially abused in the United States each year, but only 1 in 25 cases gets reported. This abuse costs Americans over $50 billion dollars per year, according the Federal Trade Commission.

Partnering with AARP, the state’s Chiefs of Police and Sheriffs Associations, the Minnesota State Lottery, the Better Business Bureau, Bremer Bank and others, the Minnesota Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Department will raise community and customer awareness about fraud.

Phase one of the program, which focused on organizing enforcement of the law with police and sheriffs associations, has been completed and now the program is starting phase two, said Nathan Bowie from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.

“We’re now working with businesses, such as banks, to develop training materials for their employees so they can better recognize fraud,? Bowie said.

Along with employee training, pamphlets will be available for bank customers to better educate themselves about fraud, he said.

Once these support groups get fraud reports from citizens, they then will be able to put that information into a database that can be accessed by the police. Law enforcement can work with phone companies and ISPs to shut down the phone lines and email addresses of the scammers, Bowie said.

“Hopefully, we can make a big impact on reducing fraud in the state of Minnesota and keep our seniors safe,? he said.

Teslow’s daughter was able to help her get back on her feet by replacing the money in her account.

“If I didn’t have my daughter to help me out, I don’t know what I would have done. I probably would have lost my apartment,? she said.

To report a fraud, email the Department of Public Safety at

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December 9, 2007

Pawlenty promotes wind power

Governor Tim Pawlenty and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson have teamed up to promote the use of wind-generated power in the United States.

The Governors Wind Power Coalition hopes "to increase collaboration among states, exchange wind-related information, sponsor more wind research, and seek recommendations on federal and regional policies."

Use of windpower is expected to increase as much as 30 percent in 2008, becoming an important source of clean renewable energy for the country.

Minnesota is one of the top producers of wind power in the United States.

Eden Prairie Von Maur receives threat

A department store in Eden Prairie closed early on Saturday after receiving an unspecified threat.

The Von Maur department store closed at 7 p.m. on Saturday after police said a threatening phone call was made to the store.

Police are now investigating what they call a "suspicious incident." No customers or employees were hurt and the doors reopened on Sunday.

Another Von Maur store in Omaha, Nebraska was the target of a gunman who entered that store last week and killed eight people before killing himself.

December 2, 2007

Norstrom to open second location in Minnesota

Seattle-based Nordstrom's department store has agreed to open its second location in Minnesota.

Nordstrom signed a letter of intent with Ridgedale mall in Minnetonka to open a store in 2011. Plans are being made for a two-level 172,000 square foot store.

At this point it is unclear where the store will go. Originally, Nordstrom spokesperson said it would take over one of two Macy's locations at the mall. After Macy's said it had no plans to close one of its locations, Nordstroms retracted the statement and said that it only planned on opening a store in Ridgedale.

Nordstroms only other location in Minnesota opened in 1992 at the Mall of America. There are 101 locations nationwide.

Diabetes drug may be linked to bone fractures

A diabetes drug, recently discovered to have a relationship to increased heart failure, has now been discovered to weaken bones.

A new research study found that Avandia, a GlaxoSmithKline product, increased the activity of the cells that degrade bones and may cause osteoporosis.

GlaxoSmithKline acknowledged a study that found women who take the drug are more likely to suffer from fractures.

The FDA has demanded a major study of Avandia compared to its competitors to find out how it affects the heart. The study will begin in November 2008 and end some time in 2014, but the FDA will order interim checks on patients to make sure they are doing well on the drug.

Avandia has been used by over 7 million people in the U.S. since its introduction in 1999.

November 18, 2007

Spicer city employee gets restraining order against mayor

An employee of the city of Spicer, Minn. received a restraining order against Mayor Perry Wohnoutka on Thursday in Kandiyohi County District Court.

Daniel Haats claimed that the city's mayor made harrassing phone calls to him.

Until Feb. 15, Wohnoutka may only contact Haats through the city administrator and must stay away from Haats' home in New London. The order also prevents Wohnoutka from being at any City Council meeting Haats is required to attend.

Wohnoutka already faces criminal charges of assault and disorderly conduct after allegedly striking two bar employees after he had been drinking there. He also faces a misdemeanor charge of tampering with a fire alarm system in July. Wohnoutka claims he was turning off the ringing alarm at a senior citizens apartment to help out the residents.

Minnesota State University Student killed

A Minnesota State University student was struck by a car and killed Sunday morning after leaving a sorority event with another student.

Police said that one of the women was laying on the ground, with the other one helping her, when they were struck by a car driven by a 17-year-old Mankato resident, whose name has not been released. Both women were taken to Immanuel St. Joseph's at the Mayo Clinic where one was pronounced dead and the other underwent surgery.

The women were walking along 3rd Avenue near Kingswood Drive when they were struck. One of the women was trying to help the other one up from the road.

Neither woman's name has been released.

November 11, 2007

Double shooting in North Minneapolis, one man dead

A man is dead and another injured after being shot at a North Minneapolis home on Saturday, said Minneapolis police.

The shooting happened at a family barbeque in the back yard of a home on the 3000 block of James Avenue North around 3:00 p.m.

Police were alerted to the crime by 911 and Shot Spotter, a high tech system that uses cameras and sound sensors to locate where a gun has been fired. When police arrived, one male was found dead in the alley behind the home and the other was transported to North Memorial Medical Center. He was in critical condition Saturday night.

Although no suspects have been arrested, police say that a neighbor, who keeps a video camera pointed at the street, may have caught the shooters on film.

Suspect arrested in St. Paul rape case

St. Paul police have arrested a 19-year-old man who is believed to have raped a 17-year-old girl in her home last week.

George Allen Walker, a St. Paul resident, will spend time in the Ramsey County Jail until he appears in court on Tuesday on charges of first-degree criminal sexual conduct as well as for probation violation.

Police released a sketch of the suspect on Friday.

Walker is accused of forcing his way into the girl's home, on the 600 block of East Jessamine Avenue on St. Paul's east side, after she opened the door to him on Wednesday night.

The girl, who was home alone at the time of the attack, was treated and released from Regions Hospital.

October 28, 2007

Fisherman dies in boating incident

The body of a 35-year-old Plymouth man was recovered from Eagle Lake near Willmar on Saturday.

Around 11 a.m. Saturday morning, witnesses said they saw two people fall into the lake from their fishing boat, said police. Martin Richard Schriner's body was found around 5:45 p.m. that night.

One of the witnesses, who was on a jet-ski, rescued the second man and took him to shore.

The survivor was treated at Rice Memorial Hospital and released.

Suspect in Cottage Grove woman's murder arrested

A 19-year-old Savage man has been arrested in connection with the murder of a Cottage Grove woman, said Savage police.

Katherine Ann Olson, 24, was murdered after answering a Craigslist ad for a babysitting job. Her body was found on Friday in the trunk of her own car at a Burnsville park after her purse and a bloody towel were discovered in a Savage ball field.

Olson's roomate said that she hadn't seen her since she left Thursday morning to answer the ad. After a police search of the park where her purse was found, a Minnesota State Patrol helicopter found her car in the parking lot of the park which was only a few blocks
from the ball field where her purse was found.

Olson graduated in 2002 as co-valedictorian at Park High School in Cottage Grove. She graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, with majors in theater and Latino studies, from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn. last year . She also tutored students, taught Spanish and participated in her church choir.

"The world has just lost a wonderfully intelligent, talented young lady," said her father, "who would have made such a significant contribution had she been given time to do that."

October 14, 2007

Two University students robbed at gunpoint

Two University of Minnesota students were approached by two men on Wednesday night near Stadium Villiage and then robbed university officials said.

The suspects took the students' wallets, cash and cell phones at gunpoint at 2601 University Av. SE. around 11:45 p.m. before leaving in a gold or silver colored car, police said.

The robbers, who were described as "East African or Somali men," fired off a gun shot at the victims as they drove off in their car.

Man arrested in light rail rape case

Almost two weeks after raping a woman he abducted at the 38th Street light rail station, a 20-year-old* Minneapolis man has been arrested.

The suspect was arrested by St. Paul police on Friday and brought to the Hennepin County Jail. He is facing charges of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, kidnapping and aggravated robbery, police said.

Police said that video from the transit station helped to indentify the man, who has no permanent address.

Metro Transit spokesperson, Bob Gibbons said that the victim remembered key details that helped with the investigation.

This was the first abduction at a light rail station since service began in 2004.

*Both the Star Tribune and give the suspect's age as 20. The St. Paul Pioneer Press and give it as 28.

October 7, 2007

14-year-old charged in meth distibution case

A 14-year-old St. Paul girl has pleaded guilty to bringing crystal methamphetamine to school and giving it to fellow students. The girl was charged in juvenile court Wednesday with second-degree sale of a controlled substance after being arrested on Tuesday.

She returned to the Ramsey County Juvenile Detention Center after her hearing and will remain there until her next hearing on Oct. 10. Two grams of the substance were found in a search of her home. According to school officals, the girl said she "found" the crystal meth.

Seven of the girl's classmates from Hazel Park Middle School Academy were taken to hospitals after ingesting the meth. The 14-year-old was also taken to the hospital.

Judge rules that Craig may not withdraw plea.

A Hennipen County District judge ruled on Thursday that Sen. Larry Craig cannot withdraw his guilty plea from a men's restroom sex sting at the Minneapolis airport. He plans to finish his term as an Idaho senator in spite of the ruling after announcing plans to vacate his seat on Sept. 30.

Judge Charles A. Porter ruled that the facts of the case support conviction and that Craig's plea "was accurate, voluntary, and intelligent."

Many fellow Republicans have urged Craig to step down, but Craig feels he is still capable of doing his job. "I have seen that it is possible for me to work here effectively," Craig said in a written statement.