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REGIONAL BRIEFS: More than 5,500 marijuana plants seized in raid

From the Forum News Service


Man found carrying AR-15 near school

SOMERSET, Wis. -- A Somerset man was arrested Tuesday after he was found carrying loaded weapons near a school.

Mark J. Hoffman, 23, was found walking and carrying two weapons near Somerset Middle School just after noon. According to a news release from the Somerset Police Department, Hoffman was carrying an AR-15 style rifle on a sling across his back and a Glock, semi-automatic .45 caliber pistol in a holster on his hip.

Officers attempted to question the man about his intentions, but he refused to give officers any information.

Since the original reported location of the man was within 1,000 feet of a school, officers determined that Hoffman was in violation of state statutes. Only persons who fall under state statute exceptions are allowed to carry weapons near schools, according to the release. When he refused to identify himself, Police Chief Doug Briggs said, the officers couldn't determine whether the man fell under the allowed exceptions in state statutes.

Hoffman was arrested on charges of obstructing an officer and disorderly conduct and booked into the St. Croix County Jail. Both weapons were found to have high-capacity magazines and were loaded.



DNR officer charged over gas purchases on state card

WILLMAR, Minn. -- A 47-year-old Sunburg man has been charged with felony theft related to gasoline purchases on his state-issued fleet card while working as a state conservation officer.

James Clifford Steffen is accused of charging more gas on his fleet card than was used in the state-owned boat, all-terrain vehicle and snowmobile he used for his work with the Department of Natural Resources.

Steffen's first appearance on two felony charges of theft of public funds, plus a misdemeanor theft count, is Aug. 14 in Kandiyohi County District Court.

According to the complaint opened Wednesday in District Court, the investigation was conducted by the Wright County Sheriff's Office and found that about 435 gallons of fuel was charged to the account but not used for state purposes. A total dollar amount was not assigned.

An investigation by the DNR began when a citizen reported suspicious purchases of gasoline by Steffen at a Sunburg gas station, including when Steffen filled his state-owned work truck and numerous portable gas cans in his state-owned boat.

The DNR found that the purchases were made by using a "9999" code, which is supposed to be fuel for other equipment, such as boats, ATVs and snowmobiles. A Wright County officer found 13 unusual purchases using the code between July 18, 2010, and April 2012.


More than 5,500 marijuana plants seized in raid

HINCKLEY, Minn. -- Federal, state and local law enforcement joined forces in raiding a marijuana field near Hinckley early Wednesday morning and seizing more than 5,500 marijuana plants with a street value of more than $4,125,000, the Drug Enforcement Administration said.

Law officers executed a federal search warrant on the parcel of land in Pine County.

“The focus of today’s effort was to locate, document and destroy these plants before they could be harvested and enter the illicit drug market,” B. Todd Jones, U.S. district attorney for the District of Minnesota, said in a statement.

Jones and Jack Riley, special agent-in-charge of the five-state Drug Enforcement Administration, announced the operation.

“Dismantling criminal organizations, like the one responsible for this marijuana, is a priority for the DEA,” Riley said.

Other law enforcement agencies taking part in the raid were the East Central Drug and Violent Offender Task Force, the sheriff’s offices of Pine, Chisago and Isanti counties, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, Minnesota State Patrol, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Minnesota Army National Guard, U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.


Weather service tags Mahnomen tornado as EF2

MAHNOMEN, Minn. -- The National Weather Service has rated a tornado that struck the Mahnomen area early Monday as an EF2, with peak winds of around 115 mph.

According to information on the weather service’s Grand Forks, N.D., website:

The tornado was on the ground for about 18 miles with intermittent gaps. The width of the tornado’s path varied from 20 yards to 150 yards, and the tornado lasted from about 1:50 a.m. until about 2:30 a.m.

The tornado damaged structures at three locations.

A house and numerous trees were damaged about seven miles southeast of Mahnomen.

About 10 miles southeast of Mahnomen, a pole barn was destroyed and farm equipment was strewn about.

The third location was at Roy Lake, where the tornado’s path was the widest and building damage was caused by winds around 100 mph, the weather service said.

There were no reports of injuries.

The weather service’s tornado ranking system goes from EF0 -- with winds speeds of 65 to 85 mph -- to EF5, with wind speeds greater than 200 mph.

An EF2 tornado has wind speeds of 111 mph to 135 mph.


Woman’s foster license revoked after son accused of sex with child

DULUTH -- A Duluth woman has had her child foster care license revoked because a child allegedly was sexually abused while in her care.

Barbara Ellen Randolph received the revocation order from the Minnesota Department of Human Services. Under Minnesota law, she has the right to appeal the revocation.

A man who identified himself as her grandson answered a call to Randolph’s home and said she didn’t want to comment.

A Department of Human Services spokeswoman said Randolph has 10 days remaining to appeal and is allowed to continue operating as a foster home in the interim.

Michael James Randolph, 28, faces a felony charge of criminal sexual conduct for allegedly engaging in sexual conduct with a foster child younger than 13 in Barbara Randolph’s home, according to a criminal complaint filed April 4. Duluth police said Michael James Randolph is Barbara Randolph’s son.

The complaint said the sexual conduct occurred last summer and was first reported to Duluth police March 5 after the alleged victim, a girl, confided to a therapist assigned to work with foster children.

Michael James Randolph’s case is scheduled for a jury trial Aug. 27. He’s represented by public defender Jeremy Downs, who couldn’t be reached for a comment Wednesday.


Appeals court upholds conviction in rural Barnesville arson

MOORHEAD, Minn. -- The Minnesota Court of Appeals has upheld the conviction of a woman found guilty of setting multiple fires at her and her husband’s rural Barnesville farmstead in 2011.

Tara Andvik is serving a five-year, nine-month prison sentence after a jury found her guilty of three counts of first-degree arson in May 2012 in Clay County District Court.

Andvik was suspected of setting the fires herself and trying to frame an ex-lover for the fires, which destroyed the farmstead’s house and barn. In her appeal, she challenged whether there was sufficient evidence to support the jury’s verdict and asked for a new trial on the basis of ineffective legal counsel.

In an unpublished opinion filed Monday, the Court of Appeals affirmed Andvik’s conviction.

“The evidence presented at trial does not support any reasonable theory as to anybody other than appellant setting the fires. We will not reverse a conviction based on mere conjecture,” the opinion stated. “Therefore, we conclude that the circumstantial evidence is sufficient to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that appellant is guilty of three counts of first-degree arson.”

The Court of Appeals also found that Andvik’s defense counsel effectively represented her during trial.


Driver of scooter killed in collision with car

RED WING, Minn. -- The driver of a scooter was killed Wednesday morning after colliding with a car in Red Wing, the Minnesota State Patrol said.

The scooter was eastbound on Highway 61 around 6 a.m. when it collided with a Chevy Malibu driven by Nicholas Sparby, 29, of Red Wing, as he was turning left off Hill Street, a crash report states.

The name of the scooter’s driver was not immediately released.

Sparby apparently was uninjured, said the patrol, which continues to investigate.


Suspicious death investigated

DEER RIVER, Minn. -- The Itasca County Sheriff’s Office is investigating what it calls a suspicious death after a woman was found dead in a home in Deer River.

The sheriff’s office received a 911 call just before 9 a.m. Wednesday about the woman found in a home on the 500 block of Fifth Street Southeast. Police don’t believe the circumstances around the death pose a threat to the public.

The body was sent to the Ramsey County Medical Examiner’s Office for identification.

The sheriff’s office is working with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension in the investigation.


Hallock doctor reprimanded by state board

HALLOCK, Minn. -- A Hallock doctor has been reprimanded by the state Board of Medical Practice for inappropriately prescribing pain medication, the board said.

Dr. Thomas A. Lohstreter was also disciplined for unethical and unprofessional conduct and improper management of medical records.

As part of the reprimand, he must pay a $2,000 fine, study policies for prescribing pain medication and take classes that, among other things, raise awareness of chemical dependency.


Willmar woman charged with assaulting child

WILLMAR, Minn. -- A 49-year-old Willmar woman accused of abusing a 1½-year-old child faces felony charges of third-degree assault and malicious punishment of a child.

Ann Marie Binger made her first appearance Wednesday in Kandiyohi County District Court, and unconditional bail was set at $10,000.

According to the complaint, the boy was brought to the Law Enforcement Center on June 9 and taken to Rice Memorial Hospital for observation. The officer assigned to the case saw that the boy had bruises and injuries over his entire body.

The officer documented the injuries, which included red marks on his face, a gash in his hairline, bruises and swelling on his forehead, and bruises and red marks on his arms and feet.

The child's parent said they were living with Binger, who had been observed screaming at the child and hitting the boy on his forehead by flicking her fingers, the complaint said.

In an interview with a detective, Binger allegedly admitted to flicking the child on the forehead, plus spanking him with her hand and slapping the child’s face. When shown photos of the boy’s injuries, the complaint said, she admitted that she possibly inflicted the injuries to the child's forehead and that she felt she should be punished for injuring the child.

Her next court appearance is Aug. 5.


North Dakota

Ex-Fargo Mayor Lindgren to speak at gun control event

FARGO -- Former Mayor Jon Lindgren will speak Monday at an event here sponsored by Mayors Against Illegal Guns.

Lindgren said he was asked to speak at the event, which Mayor Dennis Walaker is not expected to attend.

Walaker, who several years ago joined the group founded by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, said he is an inactive member.

Walaker said gun violence in Fargo is not the problem it is in cities like Boston and New York.

Lindgren, who was mayor from 1978 to 1994, said Wednesday that he favors more stringent gun control to help prevent violence.

“I don’t own a gun and I feel safer because I don’t own a gun,” Lindgren said. “It always makes gun advocates angry when I say that.”

The former mayor said he disagrees with the view that gun violence is not a significant problem in Fargo.

“I’m not sure that’s true,” he said. “We have suicides by guns. We of course have the occasional murder by someone using a gun. Widespread gun ownership contributes to violence in our community as it does elsewhere.”

The event is 10 a.m. Monday in Island Park.


Authorities seek three ex-Bison in petition fraud case

FARGO – Another arrest warrant has been issued for another former North Dakota State University football player accused of skipping out on his community service sentence.

Don Carter, 21, was sentenced to perform 50 hours of community service after he pleaded guilty in Cass County District Court to a single count of Class A misdemeanor petition fraud. An arrest warrant for Carter was issued Tuesday after Carter failed to show for a hearing at which he was ordered to explain his alleged failure to complete his community service.

Carter and 14 others were accused of faking signatures on two petition forms for ballot initiatives last summer. Thirteen of the 15 were current or former Bison football players.

All 15 pleaded guilty last fall to an election offense and were sentenced to a deferred imposition of sentence, 360 days of unsupervised probation, 50 hours of community service and a fine of $325 or $350.

In a deferred imposition, the charge is removed from a defendant’s public record if probation is completed successfully and there are no new criminal offenses.

Arrest warrants have also been issued for two other former Bison players for allegedly skipping their community service: Aireal Boyd and D.J. McNorton. The warrant for Boyd was issued July 17. The warrant for McNorton was issued in May.


West Nile virus found in Cass County mosquitoes

FARGO -- Three pools of mosquitoes in Cass County tested positive for West Nile virus Tuesday, Vector Control reported.

In response, the cities of Fargo, Moorhead, Minn., and West Fargo ordered aerial spraying Wednesday for adult mosquitoes.

One human case of West Nile virus was recently reported in Grant County, and Grand Forks has found infected mosquitoes and birds, said Ben Prather, director of Cass County Vector Control.

He said Cass County had eight reported West Nile cases last year. Infections often run in multiyear cycles, he said.

“We want to get out ahead of this,” Prather said. “We don’t want human cases to occur before we take action.”

West Nile virus is commonly spread by infected mosquitoes and can cause flu-like symptoms. Most people, 70 to 80 percent, develop no symptoms. Less than 1 percent of those infected develop encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) or meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord). About 10 percent of those with a serious West Nile infection die.

The Grant County case, the first human case this year in North Dakota, is a woman in her 30s. She was not hospitalized.

In 2012, 89 human cases of West Nile virus were reported in North Dakota.


Construction worker rescued from collapsed trench

FARGO -- A construction worker was trapped up to his shoulders in dirt in Fargo when the walls of a trench he was working in collapsed Wednesday morning.

By the time the Fargo Fire Department responded about 9:45 a.m., other workers helped dig the man out of the 16-foot-deep plumbing trench.

Assistant Chief Leroy Skarloken said the man wasn’t trapped for too long.

“It was a pretty serious situation. It could have been fatal,” Skarloken said.

Skarloken did not know the man’s condition, but guessed that his injuries were limited to aches, pains and stiffness. He was taken to a local hospital.

It’s unclear whether the worker was part of the excavating or plumbing company on site at the home.

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration will investigate, Skarloken said, and may determine what led to the collapse.


Accused Taco Bell groper pleads not guilty

FARGO – A Taco Bell worker accused of groping the breasts of two customers in the drive-thru and offering one of them free food in exchange has pleaded not guilty.

Austin James Brady, 20, of Fargo, pleaded not guilty in Cass County District Court on Wednesday to a Class C felony charge of unlawful entry into a vehicle, and to a Class B misdemeanor charge of sexual assault.

Charges filed last month allege in separate incidents about 2 a.m. in March and April, Brady asked a vehicle to pull out of a drive-thru line at the Taco Bell at 2121 S. University Drive and then grabbed a woman’s breasts when he brought out the food.

In the March incident, the women in the vehicle told police he offered to give them more free food if they would party with them.

Brady’s former attorney, Jade Rosenfeldt of Vogel Law, said in a prior court hearing that Taco Bell had helped him get legal representation, and a Taco Bell representative said Brady was still employed there.

Judge Wade Webb said in court Wednesday that Brady is no longer represented by the Vogel Law Firm and had since applied for and received a public defender.


Jeff Holmquist
Jeff Holmquist has been managing editor of the New Richmond News since 2004. He holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and business administration from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. He has previously worked as editor in Wadena, Minn.; Detroit Lakes, Minn.; Hutchinson, Minn.; and Bloomington, Minn. He also was previously owner of the Osceola Sun, Stillwater Courier and Scandia Messenger along with his wife. Together they previously founded and published The Old Times newspaper for antiques and collectibles collectors; and Up!, a Christian magazine of hope and encouragement.
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