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From the Forum Communications News Bureau

North Dakota

Xcel seeks 9.25 percent rate hike in N.D.

BISMARCK -- Xcel Energy hopes to raise its overall rates by 9.25 percent, the company said Friday, citing the cost of its nuclear power plants and transmission lines.

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The Minneapolis-based company made the request Friday with the North Dakota Public Service Commission, which is expected to hold public hearings in the spring.

However, Xcel said it will raise rates Feb. 16, increasing the typical residential customer's monthly bill by 8.6 percent, or about $7. If the PSC ultimately approves a lower rate, the company said it will refund customers.

The rate hike would bring in $16.9 million, 90 percent of which will go to the continued operation of nuclear plants in Monticello and Prairie Island, Minn.; new transmission lines; and flood recovery in Minot, according to Xcel.

The company said it has nearly 90,000 customers in North Dakota.

On the Web: The rate hike request is at www.PSC.ND.gov.

(GFH)

Charges dropped for alleged GF robbers

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Two men arrested last week in Fargo after a woman reported they assaulted and robbed her in Grand Forks had charges against them dismissed Monday in state district court in Grand Forks.

That's because the investigation into the allegations continues, not because William Antoine Dontae Meadows and Semereab Tesfaye have been cleared of the accusations, said prosecutor Carmell Mattison.

She had charged Meadows, 35, and Tesfaye, 24, with robbery, aggravated assault and terrorizing on Dec. 12, the day after the alleged attack.

Based on the woman's description of the men and their vehicle, Meadows and Tesfaye were arrested by a state trooper near Fargo a half-hour after the woman called 911. With them was Kia Yang, 26.

Meadows, Tesfaye and Yang were charged Dec. 12 in Fargo state district court with carrying a concealed weapon, possession of marijuana and of drug paraphernalia, all misdemeanors.

The two men pleaded guilty Dec. 13 and were sentenced to 360 days in jail, with all but 12 days suspended during a year of probation.

Yang pleaded not guilty and is scheduled to appear again March 6 to have the case settled. She faces no charges in Grand Forks.

(GFH)

Minnesota

Former utility official pleads guilty

DULUTH -- A former Minnesota Power official pleaded guilty Tuesday to the theft of corporate property and agreed to pay $150,000 restitution.

Susan Kay Thompson, 54, entered the plea before Judge John DeSanto in State District Court in Duluth. Thompson appeared on a warrant after repeatedly failing for nearly two years to appear in court to face the charge against her. Her attorney said that Thompson's failures to appear were largely related to health issues.

The defendant worked as director of customer service for Minnesota Power for more than 20 years until resigning on Jan. 25, 2010.

Under questioning by St. Louis County prosecutor Nathaniel Stumme, Thompson admitted that she used a corporate credit card for personal expenses, that it was against corporate policy and that she defrauded the company.

Sentencing is set for Feb. 14.

(DNT)

Logging truck spills load on London Road

DULUTH -- A logging truck lost part of its load on a busy Duluth road Tuesday morning, causing a mess and slowing traffic.

No one was hurt when the logs fell off an eastbound Salmela Logging Co. truck on London Road at 26th Avenue East just before 9 a.m. The truck had just turned off northbound Interstate 35.

The Minnesota State Patrol said another vehicle and two sign posters were damaged. Traffic lanes on London Road were blocked for a time until logs were rolled out of the way

Salmela Logging is based in Kettle River. The State Patrol said the Peterbilt semi-truck was driven by Anthony Pluff, 30, of Cloquet. The State Patrol ordered the truck taken out of service and issued Pluff a citation for "improper load securement," according to Sgt. Curt Mowers, a State Patrol spokesman.

The incident was reported at 8:51 a.m.

(DNT Photo 1 Photo 2)

Man sentenced for wild rice scam

DEER RIVER, Minn. - A Colorado man must spend 20 years on probation for swindling nearly $300,000 from a wild rice company.

At a court hearing Monday in the Itasca County Courthouse in Grand Rapids, a judge stayed a 21-month prison sentence for Frederick Bradley Kellogg, 60, of Aurora, Colo., who previously pleaded guilty to felony theft.

The judge ordered Kellogg to serve 12 months in jail and 20 years on probation. In addition, he was ordered to repay $296,090 in restitution and participate in full-time work or school or serve 20 hours of community service.

According to a criminal complaint filed in the case, Kellogg approached the owners of GRV-Gibbs Wild Rice Co. in Deer River about selling rice in 2010. Kellogg said he would create, produce, print and distribute coupons to participants in Susan G. Kommen Race for the Cure events throughout the United States, and the coupons would increase online sales.

He also claimed to have buyers of several large outlets, including Costco, Cub Foods and Family Dollar, around the globe.

During the course of a few months, the company sent about 120,000 pounds of wild rice to Kellogg, who never prepared the coupons nor paid for the rice. In addition, the company learned Kellogg sold some of the rice at nearly one-third of the market value.

Updated digest

County investigating possible abduction

APPLETON, Minn -- The Swift County Sheriff's office is asking anyone with information about the apparent abduction of a woman Monday evening in Appleton.

According to the sheriff's office, dispatch received a 911 call at 8:09 p.m. reporting that a white woman was being forced into a vehicle. The woman was wearing a white jacket and black pants. She was forced into a black mid-size sport utility vehicle by two white men. One was wearing a black jacket, black pants and white shoes. The driver of the SUV was a white male wearing a dark-colored T-shirt.

The woman was yelling for help. After she was forced into the vehicle, the SUV sped off to the south on Minnesota Highway 7.

As of this morning, no one has been reported missing from Appleton or Swift County and law enforcement has exhausted all leads.

Anyone with information is asked to call the sheriff's office at (320) 843-3133 or (320) 289-2356.

(WCT)

Paynesville schools evacuated, students stricken with unknown ailment

PAYNESVILLE, Minn. -- Paynesville Area Secondary School was evacuated and closed Tuesday because of suspected air quality issues that also affected a choir concert Monday evening.

According to a statement from the Paynesville Area Health Care System, the hospital was notified at 9 p.m. Monday that several students had fallen ill at the choir concert. Nine patients were treated.

Tuesday morning, the hospital was notified at about 10 a.m. that students were experiencing lightheadedness, headaches, nausea and feeling faint. Ten patients were treated and released from the hospital's emergency department, and a dozen were seen at the clinic, according to the release.

The cause of the illness is undetermined and still under investigation, according to the release from the hospital.

Ashton Knapp, a ninth-grader at Paynesville Secondary School, said in a telephone interview that it was "an unforgettable choir concert" Monday, as students started fainting or leaving the stage because they felt ill.

As the choir was about to begin its final last song, the school was evacuated.

School officials could not be reached Tuesday afternoon for comment. The school has about 500 students in grades 6-12.

(WCT)

Coalition asks cities for LGA support

WILLMAR, Minn. -- The Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities is asking mayors and elected officials around the state to tell Gov. Mark Dayton about the importance of Local Government Aid in funding local street projects and providing municipal services.

"We're encouraging all of our mayors and elected officials to be in touch with the governor's office as he creates his budget for the 2013 legislative session, to remind him that Local Government Aid is an important program for communities across the state and that it's really necessary that the governor pay attention to that and create a sustainable program that's fair and equitable to communities to help them meet their needs,'' said Coalition spokesman Bradley Peterson, an attorney with the St. Paul law office of Flaherty, Hood, P.A.

Peterson spoke to about 45 elected and appointed officials from area cities and a few interested citizens during a Tuesday morning discussion about LGA at the Willmar Fire Station.

According to the Coalition's website, the goal of LGA, begun in 1971, is to assist cities with low property tax wealth or high needs to keep property tax rates reasonable and provide needed city services for economic growth and strong communities.

The Coalition is conducting regional meetings around the state to educate local officials and new and returning legislators about LGA -- and also to gather support for retaining and possibly increasing LGA.

(WCT)

Hastings man faces child porn charges

HASTINGS, Minn. -- Justin Michael Pakonen of Hastings was charged Monday with eight felony counts of possession of pornographic work involving minors. The charges were filed in Dakota County District Court.

The 27-year-old defendant told Hastings police he was depressed and that viewing the images on the computer helped him.

According to the criminal complaint, a Minneapolis Police officer working as part of the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) observed some peer-to-peer sharing of child pornography, which was coming from an IP address in Hastings. After determining who the address belonged to, the agent contacted Hastings police. The address was registered to Pakonen.

Police executed a search warrant at Pakonen's residence. Items seized were a computer and a cell phone. Pakonen admitted to having pornography on the computers and that he is addicted to it.

No court date has been scheduled for Pakonen.

(HSG)

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