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Summer gets off to cold start; Mom suspected of trying to asphyxiate four kids; Woman accuses John Menard of extortion, demanding sex; more state news

Summer officially begins this week, and yet, it was one degree above freezing in Superior this morning.

Most of Wisconsin was in the 40's and 50's, but a couple spots in the north cooled down to the 30's after a boisterous cold front went through.

Northwest Wisconsin had heavy thunderstorms early yesterday afternoon. A pole shed blew down near New Richmond, and hail fell in St. Croix and Polk counties. Marathon and Lincoln counties in north central Wisconsin also had hail and heavy rains, and parts of the region had winds up to 45 mph.

A stretch of eastern Wisconsin from Shawano to Waukesha counties had one of the state's worst hail storms so far this year. Several bands of hail fell throughout the afternoon. Tennis-ball-sized hail came down at Appleton.

Clearing skies and cooler temperatures are in statewide forecast today with highs in the 60's and 70's. Warmer readings are expected on Thursday, along with our next real chance of rain.


Mom suspected of trying to asphyxiate four kids

A $200,000 cash bond was set Monday for a northern Wisconsin woman suspected of trying to kill four of her six children by asphyxiation.

Heidi Mann, 37, of Rib Lake had a bond hearing yesterday in Taylor County Circuit Court. She hasn't been charged yet. Sheriff's deputies have asked prosecutors to file four attempted homicide charges.

Mann is scheduled to make an initial appearance on her charges June 25. She was arrested after investigators learned last week that she allegedly tried to use carbon monoxide asphyxiation on March 8 to kill four kids ages 3, 5, 8 and 11 at their Rib Lake home.

Taylor County Sheriff Bruce Daniels said the children are OK, and they're being cared for by other relatives. Other details have not been released since the matter remains under investigation.


Woman accuses John Menard of extortion, demanding sex

A former business partner is suing Eau Claire billionaire John Menard.

Tomisue Hilbert claims that the home improvement magnate pressured her for sex and later retaliated by firing her husband and filing suits against them and their friends.

Hilbert, 43, filed her suit in Hamilton County, Ind. She accused Menard of extortion, battery, assault and a breach of fiduciary duty for firing her husband Steve as the CEO of a private equity firm that Menard and the Hilberts started in 2005 in Indianapolis.

Menard's attorney denies any inappropriate conduct. He said that in February a court banned the Hilberts from managing the company's private equity funds in Wisconsin.

The suit claims that Menard, 73, wanted him and his wife to have sex with Tomisue Hilbert in 2011 at her home in the Caribbean, and he allegedly made several other requests.

Monday the Indianapolis Business Journal said Menard fired at least four employees of the equity firm since the Wisconsin court order. The report also said several lawsuits were filed against the Hilberts' friends who had connection to the equity operations.

Menard's lawyer said the defendants "mismanaged the assets and resources entrusted to them."


Lawmaker proposes budget ban on public access to iron mine area

It's technically called the state budget, but a Republican lawmaker says it should include a ban on public access where Gogebic Taconite is exploring the feasibility of a new iron ore mine.

The two-year spending-and-policy package will be up for discussion in the state Assembly today.

South Milwaukee Republican Mark Honadel said he'll ask his majority GOP colleagues to add budget language to keep protestors away like those that caused $2,000 of vandalism at the mining site last week.

The public currently has access to the land where Gogebic Taconite is drilling eight exploratory holes. It's the first stage in the possible development of a $1.5 billion mine along a four-mile stretch in Ashland and Iron counties.

A local mining education group hiked on the site Saturday, and about 50 people took part with no incidents. The head of that group, Frank Koehn, said it's crucial for people to see the site so they can learn what its impact will be.

Honadel said people are kept away from logging sites on public land so it only makes sense to keep people away from mining activities. He said it might be too late to get something in the budget but claims the protests must be addressed as soon as possible.

Senate GOP leader Scott Fitzgerald said his house is also in the early stages of its own plan to limit access.

Last week, officials said people who hid their faces slashed tires, damaged equipment, destroyed an employee's camera and took her cellphone. Gogebic Taconite's Bob Seitz called it "eco-terrorism."


Study says state falling behind in technology, educating workers

A new study of Wisconsin's economy shows that it's not keeping up with today's high-tech advances, most industries ignore a growing export market, and the state's workforce is not as well-educated as others.

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation hired an Ohio firm to examine the state's economic sectors over the last year. The review shows that all but one of the state's 37 largest industrial sectors are in manufacturing - many of which use processes that date back 100 years or more.

The data is similar to previous reports. But the numbers have taken on a new urgency amid reports that Wisconsin's job growth is the 44th lowest in the nation and its wages have dropped twice as fast as the national average.

Electrical equipment is the state's top manufacturing sector, replacing paper mills. Paper conversion is ranked second. It produces things like bags and envelopes.

Lee Swindall of the WEDC said the state cannot do anything about market forces, which Michigan found out when its auto industry got hit hard.

The report said Wisconsin only gets 15% of its economic output from innovative high-tech firms - almost 4% less than the national average.

Only 41% of manufacturers in the survey thought "global engagement" was important, almost 9% less than national firms. Swindall said the export attitude must change, and quickly.

Also, 33% of Wisconsin adults have nothing more than a high school diploma - about 5% above the national average.

Swindall says the report has a few positives. Electrical equipment manufacturing grew by 31%in the state from 2008 through 2011, and cheese-making has grown 30% in that same period.


Woman gets 13-year term for killing child for eating Chiclets

A Madison woman will spend 13 years in prison for killing her three-year-old son because he ate candy-coated gum after she told him not to.

Maria Castillo-Dominguez, 24, was convicted in Dane County of first-degree reckless homicide in the death of Luis Angel in 2011. She claimed that her boyfriend caused the death, but he was never charged.

Castillo-Dominguez told police she threw her son against a wall in her apartment after he disobeyed her and ate some Chiclets. She also admitted hitting Luis in the face after she ordered him to get undressed to take a bath.

Police said the boy vomited after the bath, and his father took him to a Madison hospital where he died.

Castillo-Dominguez also faces a charge of battery by prisoners, filed in January. That case is still pending with a trial date set for July 23.


Tobacco shop owner accused of avoiding $270,000 in taxes

The owner of two tobacco shops in southeast Wisconsin has been charged with state tax evasion and not having proper permits.

Mohammad Siddiqui, 40, of West Allis is accused of not paying $270,000 in excise taxes in 2010 and 2012. Officials said Siddiqui did not have a distributor's permit for stores in Sheboygan and Milwaukee counties, and he did not have adequate records about purchases from his suppliers.

Siddiqui is charged in Sheboygan County Circuit Court with eight misdemeanors. His initial appearance is set for July 1.


Hedge fund managers claim pork company worth more than Chinese firm will pay

A New York hedge fund says Smithfield Foods should be sold for more than the $4.7 billion that a Chinese firm plans to buy it for.

Smithfield, which owns the Patrick Cudahy meat plant near Milwaukee, plans to sell its entire business to China's Shuanghui Company. The Starboard Value hedge fund, which owns almost 6% of Smithfield stock, says the firm could attract more money if it was broken up into three parts and sold separately.

Starboard CEO Jeffrey Smith says that if Smithfield was broken up into its pork production, pork processing and international business units, the company could get a combined $44 to $55 a share instead of $34 offered by the Chinese firm.

Starboard Value also used its weight as a stockholder to claim that Wausau Paper should leave Wisconsin and focus on the production of paper towels for public restrooms. Instead, Wausau sold its mills in Rhinelander and Mosinee this spring to an equity firm that will keep running the plants and preserve hundreds of jobs.


Wisconsin meat plant is first to sell over state lines

Wisconsin's first state-inspected meat plant has begun to sell its product across state lines, as part of a federal and state agreement reached in 2011.

Gov. Scott Walker said Monday that Wyttenbach Meats of Prairie du Sac has become the first Wisconsin company to ship products to other states under the agreement.

The Badger State is one of three to sign a deal with the U.S. Department of Agriculture under rules established two years ago. It allows interstate sales of meats that are handled by state inspectors.

Wisconsin has 272 state-inspected meat facilities. State agriculture officials say many of those processes are interested in the program.


Body pulled from river in Eau Claire not yet identified

A body was pulled Monday from the Chippewa River in Eau Claire.

Police said canoeists spotted what appeared to be a body near the Short Street Bridge around 5:50 p.m. Fire Department rescuers launched a boat and recovered the body about 40 minutes later about a quarter mile from the bridge.

There was no word on the person's identity. WQOW TV of Eau Claire said police did not have a report of a missing person in the area since April when UW-Eau Claire student David Rodgers vanished after going into the Chippewa River.


State's maple syrup production is highest in two decades

Maple syrup production in the state has hit a 20-year high.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says farmers produced 265,000 gallons of syrup this season, the highest amount ever recorded since the USDA began tracking maple syrup in 1992.

It's good news for maple syrup farmers since last year was one of the worse recorded seasons at 50,000 gallons produced.

The USDA says the longer harvest season of 29 days helped with the record-breaking statistics. Nationally, production is also up at 1.34 million gallons.

Search continues for man who apparently drowned in Lake Michigan

Searchers in Kenosha spent most of last night looking for a man who is presumed drowned in Lake Michigan.

Fire department officials said a woman and another man tried rescuing the victim by jumping into the water. One report said the woman grabbed the man but could not hold onto him due to choppy waters and winds of up to 25 mph.

The incident was reported just before 6 p.m. Rescue divers worked for most of the evening but could not find the man. The Coast Guard kept patrolling the area into the night. WTMJ TV of Milwaukee said the search would not resume today.

The man is said to be 31-years-old. Other information, including his name, was not immediately released.


Plane crash victims were doctor and his brother

One of the two men killed in a weekend plane crash on Madeline Island was a doctor at the Gundersen Health System in La Crosse.

Rick Renwick, 63, was an OB/GYN specialist at the clinics in La Crosse and Viroqua. His brother, Bruce Renwick, 58, of Waunakee, was also killed.

Ashland County Sheriff Mick Brennan said the doctor was piloting the single-engine Piper Comanche that went down on a second approach near the Madeline Island Airport on Saturday evening. Brennan said the craft apparently stalled out and dove into a wooded area at a 40 to 60 degree angle before it burst into flames. The bodies were pulled from the craft the following day.

Madeline Island is just east of the Apostle Islands chain. The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the incident.


GOP leaders: Budget ready for adoption

Republican leaders are still confident that the current version of the new budget is basically the one that will pass both houses this week.

The Assembly is scheduled to start debating the two-year, $68 billion package of spending and new policies. Representatives are expected to take a break tonight before approving the budget tomorrow. It would then go to the Senate Thursday.

A spokeswoman for Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said that what she calls a "technical amendment" is being drafted, but she would not go into details.

Among the main bones of contention among majority Republicans are the proposed ending of residency requirements for local government employees and new rule changes favoring high capacity wells at mega-dairy farms.

On the Assembly side, Whitewater Republican Steve Nass said Monday he would vote against the budget, but there would have to be 10 other defectors to avoid whatever the leadership comes up with.

In the Senate, Republicans Dale Schultz and Rob Cowles have expressed major reservations about the budget. The Senate leaders can only afford one defector to maintain its status quo.

Among other things, the budget cuts state income taxes by almost $650 million. It also expands private school vouchers statewide, rejects an expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare, freezes UW tuition for two years, allows state buildings to be sold and forces those on unemployment and food stamps to work harder in seeking jobs to keep their benefits.


Chicago firm accused of bilking struggling consumers

The state Justice Department has filed suit against a debt-resolution company from Chicago for allegedly taking millions of dollars in illegal fees from Wisconsinites.

The attorney general's office said the former Legal Helpers portrayed itself as a law firm while actually operating as an unlicensed debt settlement service. It ran between 2009 and last April.

State Justice officials said 1,900 financially strapped Wisconsinites enrolled, and they were illegally charged fees of up to $900 upfront plus $50 to $75 a month.

According to the state's complaint, one consumer paid $18,000 to Legal Helpers, and the firm never tried to negotiate the person's debt levels.

The Justice Department said Legal Helpers used non-lawyers in an out-of-state third party to deal with debt cases, and consumers complained that they could never talk to an attorney.

The state seeks up to $10,000 per violation, restitution to customers and possible prison time for the former company's owners.