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Walker defends himself against 'criminal scheme' charges; Minnesota reopens income tax reciprocity talks; More state briefs

Gov. Scott Walker went on national TV this morning to continue his denials of wrongdoing after 250 court documents were released yesterday afternoon. In the documents John Doe prosecutors wrote that Walker was at the center of a “criminal scheme” connected with his 2012 recall election and those of GOP state senators.

In a news conference, a statement and tweets, Walker said two federal and state judges had not bought the prosecutors' arguments. He called them "categorically false."

Walker also slammed prosecutor John Chisholm, calling the Milwaukee County DA a "partisan Democrat."

The governor said the John Doe probe should be dropped for good, and Democrats will use it to distract from the issues most important to Wisconsin voters.

The newly released documents stated that Walker and Republican operatives RJ Johnson and Deborah Jordahl helped raise money and control recall campaign spending with the help of 12 conservative groups. They reportedly discussed their plans with prominent GOP figures, including strategist Karl Rove.

Jay Heck of the watchdog group Common Cause calls it a "game-changing development," although there have been no charges.

Prosecutor Francis Schmitz said the Republicans broke multiple election laws, including the filing of false campaign reports.

Federal Judge Rudolph Randa halted the John Doe probe last month before any charges could be filed. State judge Gregory Peterson earlier quashed subpoenas against targets, saying there was no probable cause that campaign laws were broken.

According to the documents, previous John Doe judge Barbara Kluka ordered numerous home raids to round up evidence connected with at least 29 conservative groups.

Yesterday's release of court records might not be the last in the investigation.

Judge Randa turned down the release of all documents connected with the probe as sought by five media groups in Wisconsin. However, Randa ordered state prosecutors to work with one of the targets of the John Doe -- the Wisconsin Club for Growth -- and decide which documents should be kept under wraps. The judge is giving them two weeks to get that done.

For now at least, Walker's main election opponent is taking a quiet high hoad concerning the allegations that he broke campaign laws in 2012.

Democrat Mary Burke's chief spokesman would only say that "Wisconsinites deserve a governor they can trust."

Instead of hammering her opponent on the John Doe, Burke chose to highlight the state's relatively slow progress in creating jobs. A federal report yesterday showed that Wisconsin had the nation's 37th slowest job growth percentage during 2013.


Minnesota reopens income tax reciprocity talks

Minnesota has made a new offer to Wisconsin to try to restore income tax reciprocity between the two neighbors.

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune says the amount Wisconsin pays each year to equalize the tax effects would be reduced by $1 million if the Badger State approves the new agreement by Sept. 30.

Reciprocity allows Wisconsinites who work in Minnesota -- and vice versa -- to file one state income tax return in their home state instead of filing separate returns to both states. About 80,000 residents of both states have been in that pickle since 2009 when former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty cut off the 40-year-old agreement because Wisconsin was not paying its share.

Minnesota says the Wisconsin must pay about $92 million a year to equalize the tax figures since many more Wisconsinites work in Minnesota than the other way around. Wisconsin officials have said the amount should be $4 million to $6 million less.


Economists say there’s little government can do to solve state’s economic problems

The two main candidates for governor each blamed the other after yesterday's report that Wisconsin had the nation's 14th-slowest job growth last year.

However, economists warned us not to take the political spin. They said the state's problems are much deeper than the magic wand that any state politician can wave.

The federal report said Wisconsin increased its private sector job base by 1.2% last year, nine-tenths lower than the national average.

UW-Milwaukee labor analyst John Heywood said a government's tax and infrastructure policies can help, but it's still "notoriously difficult" to reinvent a state's industrial climate.

UW-Whitewater professor Russell Kashian said government can foster an environment for creating jobs beyond what already exists, but he said the vast majority of jobs are not created through government action.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel says business leaders and economists have pointed a host of reasons of why the state's job picture is so slow to change. They include Wisconsin's aging industries like printing plants, paper mills and century-old foundries.

Economists point to a lack of entrepreneurship and venture capital for new high-tech industries compared to other states. Also, they say Wisconsin produces fewer students with college educations.


ATM pioneer dies

A memorial service will be held today in Pewaukee for a former state official who helped create the automated teller machine network as we now know it.

Frederic "Fritz" Ruf suffered a stroke a few weeks ago, but officials said he died from natural causes last Friday while watching the moon rise at his Pewaukee home. He was 77.

]Ruf turned down a job offer as an attorney because he could make more money in Chicago's banking industry. He moved to Wisconsin in 1969 to become a vice president at the former M&I Bank, now BMO Harris.

While there, he created a consortium of banks which made remote ATM's a unified network. That resulted in the formation of the TYME Corporation of which Ruf served as president.

He served two stints in state government under former governor Tommy Thompson in the 1990's -- first as a deputy secretary of the former Department of Development and later as head of the state's Housing and Economic Development agency.

Later, Ruf served on the Pewaukee City Council and the Waukesha County Board, which he left just two months ago.


New app helps Milwaukee police nab alleged thieves

Want police to arrest the guys who robbed you?  There's an app for that.

Milwaukee police used the "Find My iPhone" app on a man's stolen cell phone to track the two suspects who robbed him.

A 31-year-old man was just leaving his car when a man pointed a gun and demanded the car and everything else he had. The victim called police, who tapped into his cell phone app and traced the phone to a north side parking lot around 4 a.m. yesterday -- almost a half-hour after the holdup occurred.

Two teens, ages 16 and 17, were arrested after a short chase. They had the victim's cell phone.

Earlier this year, Milwaukee police used the same iPhone app to find a man who allegedly held his ex-girlfriend at gunpoint.

Last September, Apple added a "kill switch" that prevents thieves from using stolen cell phones once they're remotely activated. Apple added the "kill switch" last fall, and Google and Microsoft plan to do the same on the next versions of their smartphone systems.


Platteville chancellor says campus will be ready for students in August

UW-Platteville chancellor Dennis Shields promises that his campus will be ready for students by the time fall classes roll around in August.

A half-dozen structures and Memorial Park were damaged when one of two tornadoes hit Platteville late Monday night. Damage estimates are still being tallied.

For now, the affected structures on the southwest side of campus have been fenced in for security.

Chancellor Shields said the recovery process would take time, but he assures that UWP will be ready to serve all its students by this fall. Things like student registration started up yesterday after all campus activities were shut down for two days.


Dane County tornado damage reaches $15 million

Dane County officials have tallied more than $15 million in damage from tornadoes early Tuesday and a second round of thunderstorms Wednesday.

County Executive Joe Parisi reports almost $11 million in damage to homes and $4 million to public facilities, mostly to the Country View Elementary School in Verona. More than 150 homes and a dozen businesses were damaged in Dane County, mostly in Verona and Madison. At least two homes were destroyed.

To the south in Green County, officials said 80 homes were damaged with losses of $150,000. At Platteville, three people were still in a Red Cross-Salvation Army shelter yesterday in the wake of two tornadoes which hit that community.

A tornado relief fund has been set up at Platteville's Mound City Bank as the damage cleanups continue.

Once all the estimates are in, state officials expect to consider whether it's enough to seek federal disaster aid. Gov. Scott Walker has promised that uninsured residents will get some type of federal or state relief.

Meanwhile, more rain and thunderstorms hit Wisconsin yesterday. Trees fell in parts of Grant County. Parts of Crawford County had street flooding.


Investigation continues in river death

There are still lots of unanswered questions about the death of a Wausau area man, after he drove his SUV into the Eau Claire River early Tuesday.

Everest Metro police are still trying to find out what happened just before Matt Chaignot, 27, of Rothschild drove into the water off the Grand Avenue Bridge in Schofield.

Police captain Clayton Schultz says officers may want to check the vehicle's computer and try to come up with a timeline of where he was. Schultz said Chaignot had contact with a coworker around 12:45 a.m. Tuesday, but officers don't know what happened after that.

Also, they're working with Wausau police to determine if Chaignot was involved in a hit-and-run crash around 2 a.m. Tuesday. Schultz said it might be hard to match vehicle parts because of heavy front-end damage.

An autopsy showed that drowning was the preliminary cause of Chaignot's death.  Toxicology test results are pending. They're expected in about three weeks.

--Raymond Neupert, WSAU, Wausau


Janesville man suspect in second killing

A Janesville man who has pleaded not guilty to stabbing his roommate is now under arrest for the beating death of his girlfriend.

Clayton Courtney, 28, faces a possible new charge of first-degree intentional homicide.

According to police, the State Crime Lab confirmed yesterday that blood on his pants matched that of the murder victim, Britney Cross, 21. She was found dead May 5 along a riverbank in downtown Janesville. That was a day after Courtney was arrested for allegedly stabbing and wounding his roommate Michael Clark, 28. During that incident, Courtney apparently claimed that he killed three people in one night.

Investigators have not been able to link him to any other deaths beside Cross's. Police tried to determine whether Courtney had anything to do with the death of Mary Coulthard, 75, who was reported missing May 3 and was found dead in a Janesville river six days later. Courtney has denied any involvement in that case.

In the meantime, he's waiting for a trial date to be set on six criminal charges in the Clark stabbing, including attempted homicide, reckless endangerment and resisting arrest.


Job fair offers 1,600 openings

Hundreds of workers laid off by Wisconsin's maker of military vehicles are getting lots of help in finding new jobs.

The Oshkosh Corporation held a job fair yesterday where 29 companies sought people for a total of 1,600 openings.

In April Oshkosh announced the layoffs of 700 hourly employees and 60 salaried workers due mainly to the scaling back of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan. Now, the company says the total number of layoffs should be around 535 after many employees took early retirement.

The job fair focused solely on production workers.


Kraft recalls some Velveeta

Kraft Foods is recalling Velveeta cheese from Walmart stores in up to 12 states, including Wisconsin.

The company said the product did not have the proper amount of a sorbic acid preservative, and that could cause the cheese to prematurely spoil and cause food-borne illnesses.

Kraft said the affected Velveeta packages were shipped to three Walmart distribution centers and apparently ended up in stores in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Michigan and seven others from Colorado to Ohio.

The packages have a date stamp of Dec. 17, 2014. They also have a code with the last three numbers being 6-1-4.