REGIONAL BRIEFS: Three charged with teen sex caseGRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Two men and a woman face human trafficking charges in state district court in Grand Forks in what prosecutors say was an operation pimping out a 17-year-old girl to older johns.
From the Forum Communications News Bureau
Man allowed to withdraw guilty plea on child porn (DNT)
MADISON, Wis. — A federal judge has allowed a Superior man to withdraw his guilty plea to possessing child pornography and set a Jan. 7 trial date for the case.
Timothy Urbanski, 48, had pleaded guilty to the possession charge May 15, but by May 29 he had filed a motion to withdraw his plea.
Urbanski claimed he didn’t know there were sexually explicit images of minors on the DVD authorities seized at his residence in July 2011.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Altman contested the plea withdrawal and argued that Urbanski admitted under questioning by District Judge Barbara Crabb to possessing a DVD in July 2011 that contained depictions of minors involved in sexually explicit conduct.
Urbanski, through a new attorney, said he thought Crabb’s question referred to knowing if there were unlawful images on the DVD at the time of the plea hearing, not when his residence was searched.
The attorney supported Urbanski’s contention that his client graduated last in his class from a Pine River, Minn., high school.
Crabb approved Urbanski’s motion in an Aug. 8 order.
The Superior man also is facing 10 counts of felony possession of child pornography in Douglas County Circuit Court. His next court appearance in Douglas County is Sept. 10.
Two-week saturation patrol set in Minn. (FF)
ST. PAUL – Buses, limousines and other passenger-carrying vehicles will be the focus of a statewide saturation patrols through Aug. 27, according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
Saturation activities include traffic enforcement, driver and vehicle inspections, compliance reviews and educational outreach.
Potential areas of focus, a news release stated, are destination venues, such as Target Field, Mall of America, the Metrodome and casinos.
Supporters of convicted man call for new trial in child sex case (WCT)
GRANITE FALLS, Minn. — Supporters, including the mother and grandmother of the alleged victim, displayed support Tuesday for a Montevideo man they say was wrongly convicted of criminal sexual conduct.
Supporters of Steven Jon Lynn Horton, 22, held picket signs outside the Yellow Medicine County Courthouse in Granite Falls to protest his recent convictions on first- and second-degree criminal sexual conduct charges.
They came also to show their support for motions filed that morning by Horton’s attorney, Aaron Walton of Olivia, asking for an acquittal or a new trial. The motions claim there was insufficient evidence for the convictions.
The supporters included close family members of the alleged victim, who say the accuser is not credible. The grandmother and mother of the alleged victim were among those speaking on Horton’s behalf outside the courthouse.
A 12-member jury returned guilty verdicts Aug. 3 on two of three counts of criminal sexual conduct related to a Jan. 11 incident. The verdicts were returned at 10:30 p.m. after nearly eight hours of deliberations following a two-day trial before District Judge Dwayne Knutsen in Montevideo. The charges alleged that the defendant had sexual contact with a girl under age 13 in Clara City.
Chippewa County Attorney David Gilbertson said the credibility of the alleged victim was a central part of the trial, but that scientific evidence was also submitted to corroborate her testimony.
The court on Tuesday took the motions for acquittal or a new trial under advisement.
Horton remains in custody while he awaits sentencing.
Duluth zoo polar bear in St. Paul (DNT)
ST. PAUL -- It was a bear of a trip, but the polar bear displaced by the flooding at Duluth’s Lake Superior Zoo can be seen at Como Zoo in St. Paul.
After torrential rain flooded her home in Duluth in June, and she was quarantined for 30 days, Berlin recently joined Buzz and Neil in their outdoor public habitat, the Polar Bear Odyssey Exhibit.
“It has been amazing to watch Berlin have the opportunity to experience things that weren’t available in her exhibit at our zoo,” Maicie Sykes of Lake Superior Zoo said in a news release.
The quarantine, which is standard for incoming zoo animals, was followed by a behind-the-scenes introduction to the other bears. Since Buzz and Neil are both neutered males, breeding is not possible.
Berlin is joined at Como by two harbor seals from Duluth, Feisty and Vivian.
“We miss Feisty, Vivian and Berlin,” Sykes said, “but we are grateful the staff at the Como Zoo continues to work with us on a professional level and allows us to be involved in their care.”
Man charged in hit-and-run accident (DNT)
DULUTH -- A Bayfield, Wis., man accused of running a red light on a Duluth street, traveling onto a sidewalk, striking and seriously injuring a pedestrian, and narrowly avoiding her 9-year-old daughter before fleeing the scene, has been charged with five crimes.
Robert Nicholas Buehlman, 29, is charged with felony criminal vehicular operation resulting in great bodily harm, criminal vehicular operation – leaving the scene of an accident, driving after suspension, driving without insurance and failure to stop for a traffic control signal.
Buehlman is scheduled to make his first appearance in State District Court in Duluth today.
The Monday accident caused life-threatening injuries to Ashen-Shugar-Aren Rhiannon-Orenda Diehl, 33, of Duluth. At the time that St. Louis County prosecutor Rebekka Stumme approved the criminal complaint Tuesday, the victim was in serious condition at St. Luke’s hospital with broken vertebrae, a bruised lung, a collapsed lung, broken ribs and possibly a broken leg.
One witness told police the woman cross Superior Street and then saw a black Honda strike her causing her to fly through the air and land on the sidewalk. Buehlman’s passenger told police that he had fallen asleep at the wheel.
Amtrak train death ruled accidental (FF)
MOORHEAD, Minn. – The Clay County Sheriff’s Office has ruled the death of a Fargo man whose body was found March 19 along the railroad tracks between Glyndon and Hawley, as accidental.
Chief Deputy Matt Siiro said investigators found no evidence of foul play in the death of of 27-year-old Jared Nilles, who was traveling from Fargo to Chicago aboard Amtrak’s Empire Builder passenger train.
Authorities believe Nilles opened a door and fell out, but it’s unclear which door because it apparently closed behind him.
An unlit cigarette and a lighter were found where a westbound train hit Nilles’ body after he apparently fell out of the Amtrak train, the report says.
Nilles’ body was found along the tracks near the Buffalo River State Park entrance.
Investigators found no witnesses who saw Nilles open a door and the train had no surveillance system or cameras in the general passenger area, and no warnings if a door is open.
A passenger told authorities that Nilles had been drinking in the lounge of the train and “was extremely intoxicated,” the report states. The autopsy report indicates Nilles’ approximate blood-alcohol concentration was 0.37 percent.
Pizza order leads to drug arrest (WB)
WOODBURY, Minn. -- An untimely pizza order spelled doom for a St. Paul man who faces a felony drug charge, according to Woodbury police.
A criminal complaint says the man was at the Red Roof Inn on Dec. 20, 2011, while Woodbury police were combing the motel for mail fraud suspects. Chee Her, 28, invited officers into his room and told them they could search it.
While officers searched, Her asked if it was OK if he ordered a pizza, but he needed the motel’s address in order to complete his food order.
A detective looked through a Red Roof flyer on the dresser to help the man locate the address. When he lifted up the flyer, a small baggie fell out and landed on the dresser.
Police said the baggie contained a white powder of suspected methamphetamines. Detectives also found another baggie containing suspected meth.
Her told police he figured the substance would test positive for meth since “he was pretty sure someone got high in the room,” the complaint states.
In an interview with police, Her denied the baggies were his but reiterated his assertion that they would likely test positive for meth.
He was later charged by Washington County prosecutors with fifth-degree drug possession. His case is set for a November jury trial.
Man sentenced for sex with teen (PRE)
PARK RAPIDS, Minn. -- A sobbing sex offender was immediately taken into custody Monday after apologizing to his teen victim and his own family at his sentencing.
Kevin Christopher Leonard, 43, of Park Rapids, received 180 days in jail for sexually assaulting the teen three times in 2011. He pleaded guilty June 18 to a single count of third degree criminal sexual conduct in exchange for the county dismissing two similar counts.
His attorney, Tom Kuesel, told Judge John Smith that Leonard was at a low risk to re-offend.
“If (the victim) had been three months older, this would not have been a crime,” Kuesel said.
Leonard must register as a predatory sex offender.
Marketing business puts 200-job expansion on hold (BP)
BEMIDJI, Minn. – Bemidji is no longer is planning for the immediate expansion of a Twin Cities-based marketing firm.
Skybridge Marketing Group, based in Rockford, Minn., announced in January that it would expand to Bemidji and bring with it about 200 new jobs. But those plans are indefinitely on hold, Dave Hengel, executive director of Greater Bemidji, said Monday evening in a Bemidji City Council work session.
Hengel, while offering an update on Greater Bemidji initiatives and projects, said the owner of Skybridge got nervous about expansion plans.
If the company does choose to expand, it still plans to do so in the Bemidji area, Hengel continued.
“I can’t promise anything, but I’m hopeful. I really am hopeful,” Hengel said.
Alleged back-stabber says victim fell into knife (FF)
MOORHEAD, Minn. – A Dilworth man accused of stabbing an acquaintance in the back last week when both of them were drunk told police the victim fell backward onto the knife and it was an accident, court records show.
Rodrick Mark Ponce, 48, is charged with second-degree assault with a dangerous weapon and third-degree assault in connection with the incident reported at 2:01 a.m. Thursday at a Dilworth residence.
According to the complaint filed in Clay County District Court, Ponce told a detective that he and the victim had been drinking all day and that he’d been sharpening his knife that night. He said the victim was sitting in a chair in front of him when he fell backward onto the knife.
But the victim said he and Ponce were hugging when he felt a “pinch” and said to Ponce, “Did you just stab me? That’s it.” He said he didn’t see Ponce with a knife until he was stabbed.
A preliminary breath test showed Ponce’s blood-alcohol content was 0.35 percent; hospital staff determined the victim’s BAC was 0.305 percent.
Ponce’s next court appearance is Monday.
Alcohol not a factor in crash that killed teen (FF)
MOORHEAD, Minn. – Alcohol does not appear to be a factor in a one-vehicle accident Thursday that killed a Moorhead High School student, Clay County Sheriff Bill Bergquist stated in a news release Tuesday.
For the first time since the accident, the sheriff’s office also officially identified those involved as Kullen Carney and Brendan Daly, both 16, and 17-year-old Austin Wagar.
Wagar died Friday at Sanford Medical Center in Fargo as a result of his injuries. Carney – who was identified as the driver – and Daly both have been released from the hospital.
All three occupants were wearing their seat belts, and alcohol does not appear to be a factor in the accident, Bergquist said.
The crash was reported around 6:40 p.m. Thursday. The three boys were in a white Buick Century when it fishtailed, went into the ditch and flipped. The car landed on its roof and started on fire.
The Minnesota State Patrol is reconstructing the accident, which could take months, the sheriff’s office stated.
Veto overturned, sales tax got to ballot (RE)
RED WING, Minn. -- The Red Wing City Council voted Monday night to override the mayor’s veto and keep a local option sales tax on the ballot this fall.
“I didn’t do it lightly,” Mayor Dennis Egan said of the veto. But the proposed plan allowing the city to garner up to $14.88 million in a maximum of 20 years from a half-percent tax was too much, he said.
Egan had asked City Council members to consider a smaller package.
“What I was hearing and my personal belief is that was too big a package to start off with,” Egan said.
The council overrode his veto 6-1 and kept the projects and price tag the same.
Frontier moves up start of Fargo service (FF)
FARGO – Frontier Airlines will resume nonstop service from Fargo’s Hector International Airport to Denver on Nov. 9, one week earlier than the return date announced last week.
Shawn Dobberstein, Hector’s executive director, says the change is likely due to strong ticket sales and support from the community.
In addition starting service a week earlier, Frontier extended its introductory fare offer through Aug. 18. Until then, travelers can book flights for as low as $99 each way at www.FrontierAirlines.com .
Three weekly nonstop flights will depart from Fargo at 7:10 p.m. and arrive in Denver at 9:55 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Return flights will depart from Denver at 10 a.m. and arrive in Fargo at 10:55 a.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
Three charged with teen sex case (GFH, filed late Monday / follow to filed separately this evening)
GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Two men and a woman face human trafficking charges in state district court in Grand Forks in what prosecutors say was an operation pimping out a 17-year-old girl to older johns.
The charges carry a maximum penalty of life in prison.
Travis Johnson, 29, Joshua Harry, 27, and Amanda Stewart, 22, each face a charge of human trafficking, alleging they persuaded a 17-year-old girl to engage in sexual acts with men from November 2010 to April 2011. According to investigative affidavits, they allegedly advertised an “escort service” using photos via a website, www.backpage.com.
Under state law, “human trafficking,” defined broadly as several ways of facilitating another’s sexual performance or acts, of anyone younger than 18 is a “Double A” felony with a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Johnson also faces a Class C felony charge of corruption of a minor for allegedly having sex with the girl when she was 17.
Both Johnson and Harry have records of felony crimes in Grand Forks.
Harry made an initial appearance Aug. 9 in state district court in Grand Forks on the human trafficking charge. Arrest warrants were issued last week for Johnson and Stewart, who are expected to appear in court soon. Johnson is serving a state prison sentence in the regional jail in Rugby, N.D., on previous felonies. Stewart lives in south Grand Forks.
More charges involving more people could be coming in what is an open investigation, McCarthy said Monday.
Lack of money for infrastructure delay housing project (DP, filed late Monday)
SOUTH HEART, N.D. -- South Heart will need additional funding before it moves forward with a proposal for an 88-acre housing development. The city council denied an annexation request last week.
“We denied it because we don’t have the city services for it,” said Mayor Floyd Hurt. “If we had enough money for the water and sewer, we would have approved the annexation a long time ago.”
A public hearing was held about the annexation of the land southeast of the South Heart city limits, which is owned by Jim and Rosie Perdaems.
The proposal includes single- and multi-family dwellings and an RV and mobile home park. and there is also space for a city water tank and mini-storage, according to the plans.
Hurt estimates that getting the proper infrastructure installed could cost South Heart more than $1 million.
“We would hate to annex the property without being able to offer services,” Hurt said. “They made a big investment in buying (the land), and then you feel bad that they have to sit on it. I just wish there was some way to hurry this along, so they can annex the land, get it zoned and get their plan moving.”