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V.A. Undersecretary touring Tomah facility Friday; Walker budget contains some 'sparcity' help for rural schools; 11 more Wisconsin stories

TOMAH -- The second-in-command of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs was to tour the V.A. Medical Center in Tomah Friday.

Undersecretary Carolyn Clancy is the lead agency's lead investigator into the reported over-prescription of opiates, and retaliation against whistle-blowing employees.\

This week, Senator Tammy Baldwin asked Clancy to take the whistle-blowers' stories into account, consider a criminal probe into last summer's drug-related death of Stevens Point patient Jason Simcakoski and adopt a national policy on drug prescriptions at V.A. hospitals throughout the country.

Clancy was scheduled to meet with reporters late Friday afternoon after a tour of the Tomah facility.

Former Tomah employee Ryan Honl said some staffers stirred up fear and intimidation that discouraged workers from speaking out against the prescription abuse that was blamed for the death of a 35-year-old Marine last August.

Honl held a sit-in on Tuesday at the V.A. center, in the hopes of speaking with investigators. He said he waited for 10 hours and no one spoke to him.

Johnson backs Keystone bill, Baldwin remains opposed

WASHINGTON D.C. -- Wisconsin's two U.S. senators remain split on allowing the Keystone XL oil pipeline, after the Senate approved it Thursday 62- to 36.

Republican Ron Johnson voted with the majority, saying the pipeline would deliver new sources of domestic oil which have resulted in lower energy prices and an improved economy.

Democrat Tammy Baldwin said the oil that's delivered by the Keystone pipeline could end up in other countries, thus causing gas prices to rise in the Midwest. She also repeated that the government has no business approving individual pipelines.

Baldwin said she supported amendments that would have ensured that Americans benefit from the pipeline's construction down the middle of the nation, instead of oil companies repeating higher profits from foreign customers.

Other opponents cited a steady increase in pipeline accidents over the past six years. However, Johnson said that President Obama's own State Department found the Keystone to be the most environmentally-friendly method of moving Canadian oil. He said there's no good reason for President Obama to keep blocking the project.

Menomonee tribe appealing Walker's casino rejection

KENOSHA -- Menominee Indian leaders and Kenosha area lawmakers say they'll keep pressing Gov. Scott Walker to change his mind about rejecting the tribe's Kenosha casino.

At a news conference in Madison Thursday, Menominee vice-chair Crystal Chapman-Chevalier said there's still time "to right this wrong for all of Wisconsin."

Walker said last Friday he would not approve the proposed Hard Rock gaming resort in Kenosha. He said it could force taxpayers to shell out hundreds of millions of dollars to the competing Potawatomi tribe for contractual obligations, if that tribe loses revenue at its nearby Milwaukee casino.

Walker had until Feb. 19 to give his decision to the U.S Bureau of Indian Affairs. The governor has said the Bureau would not let him change his mind although casino supporters believe he can do so before Feb. 19.

Assembly Democratic Minority Leader Peter Barca of Kenosha refutes Walker's claim that the project could hurt taxpayers.

He said the Menominee tribe posted a $250 million bond to cover any potential losses to the state.

Walker, a potential 2016 candidate for president, announced his decision a day before speaking to conservatives in Iowa who reportedly urged him to reject the project.

Chapman-Cavalier would not say if she thought politics drove the governor's decision, saying, "Look at the facts and judge for yourself."

She also said the Menominee tribe was considering legal options if the casino rejection is finalized.

Walker promises new budget contains some help for rural schools

MADISON -- Wisconsin's rural school districts would get at least some financial help under the proposed state budget Gov. Scott Walker will submit on Tuesday.

John Johnson of the Department of Public Instruction expects the Republican Walker to announce an $8.4 million increase over two years in what's known as "sparsity aid." The money will be given to districts with wide geographic areas, to help pay them pay the higher costs of serving those larger territories.

Johnson says rural schools can also expect increases in transportation aid if they bus students for more than 12 miles. However, Johnson says the governor has been silent on the issues of state aids per student and the mandated revenue limits -- both of which have been dropping in rural areas.

Last year, state Assembly Republican Rob Swearingen of Rhinelander chaired a task force on the needs of rural schools. One of its major recommendations included more busing aid.

-- Ken Krall, WXPR, Rhinelander

Body of missing LaX man found on riverbank

WISCONSIN DELLS -- The body of a missing La Crosse man was found Thursday in Wisconsin Dells.

Police said a kayaker discovered the body of 23-year-old John Dwyer on a bank of the Wisconsin River's Lower Dells about a quarter mile east of the Kilbourn Dam.

Police said Dwyer's injuries made it appear that he fell, but that's not certain, and the Columbia County medical examiner's office is helping Dells Police determine the cause of Dwyer's death. He went missing last Sunday morning, while celebrating his and other birthdays with friends in downtown Wisconsin Dells.

Dwyer's family called police last Sunday after he did not return home as he had planned.

His death is the third in less than a year on the Wisconsin River at the Dells.

Last April, Mitchel Blanchard of Pardeeville drowned as he ran from police who were investigating a nearby tavern altercation. Officials said Alexander McNair's body was found last July, after he jumped from a highway bridge.

Appeals court mulls retrial for St. Paul killer

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- A Minnesota appeals court could decide within 90 days whether Jeffrey Trevino deserves a new trial. Trevino is the St. Paul man convicted of killing his Wisconsin-born wife, Kira Steger from the Wausau area.

On Thursday, Trevino's lawyer argued his jury did not get proper instructions on its deliberations. He's also seeking a shorter sentence, after Judge Leonardo Castro ordered Trevino to spend 27.5 years in prison -- twice the maximum under Minnesota's sentencing guidelines.

Castro said the longer sentence was justified because Trevino was cruel to dump Steger's body in the Mississippi River to throw off large groups of people who were searching for her.

Authorities said Steger disappeared in February of 2013, soon after she went on a date with her husband in which she spent much of the night texting her boyfriend.

Her battered body was found almost three months later in the river at St. Paul.

UW Madison research won 160 patents in 2013

MADISON -- UW Madison received 160 patents in 2013 for new items spurred by the university's research.

The university said Thursday it had the sixth-largest number of patents in a world-wide survey of 100 global colleges. However, that doesn't mean the UW excels at getting new products on the market.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel points to a survey from university technology managers, in which Madison ranked 38th among 202 schools in the licenses and business start-ups spurred by the school's studies. It reported 63 licenses and options in 2013, with seven start-ups initiated.

Carl Gulbrandsen, the managing director of the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, said it's a difficult environment and many industries would rather have somebody else take the risk instead of using technologies directly from universities.

Former priest loses appeal on sex charges

MADISON -- A former Wausau priest has lost his appeal in an effort to drop convictions on eight sex-related charges.

The State Supreme Court says it will not consider overturning an appeals court ruling, which upheld convictions against 51-year-old Timothy Svea.

Authorities said he sexually assaulted teenage boys at least three times in the late 1990's at St. Mary's Church in Wausau, and on a mission trip at St. Mary's Ridge at Cashton in Monroe County -- while exposing himself to children 25 times.

Online court records showed that 30 charges were filed against Svea, including an alleged sexual assault in Brown County. He struck a plea deal, and pleaded no contest in 2002 to second-and fourth degree sexual assault, false imprisonment, and exposure charges.

He was sentenced to 18 months in prison, plus 20 years of extended supervision with orders to get counseling.

Officials said his sexual acts involved boys as young as 15, and one victim was handcuffed to a bed. The incidents went on for a few years until a Wausau victim complained to his parents, and the police became involved.

-- Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau

Flu has claimed 5 Wisconsin children

MADISON -- A bad flu season keeps getting worse in Wisconsin. State Health Services officials now say that three more children have died from flu complications. That brings the total number of pediatric deaths to five -- the second-highest total in the U.S.

Texas is the only state with more child flu deaths this season, with seven. Also, Wisconsin's five deaths are the second-highest on record in the state, trailing only the swine flu season of 2009 when six kids died.

Across the country, 56 children have died from flu complications this winter. Officials say this year's flu vaccine has not been a good match for the predominant H-3-N-2 flu strain but officials still urge folks to be vaccinated, saying some protection is better than none.

Minnesota woman allegedly bilked Mayo outlets for 6,000 'scripts

Federal prosecutors said a woman used at least 31 aliases to obtain prescription painkillers from Mayo Clinic facilities in Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Nancy Dusso, 50, of Eyota, Minn. has been charged with obtaining controlled substances by fraud, and Social Security fraud.

Investigators said Dusso used false names and stole Social Security numbers to obtain up to 6,000 opiate prescriptions from more than 150 Mayo Clinic doctors, mostly during 2013.

The drugs included oxycodone, hydrocodone, and codeine.

Officials said Dusso used Social Security numbers from both living and dead people and at the different sites, she listed her address as being Colorado, Oregon, Utah, and Kentucky.

Officials said Dusso was caught after a nurse practitioner at a Mayo satellite location got suspicious and called the clinic's security. Federal, state, and local investigators helped gather evidence.

Manitowoc will split food, industrial divisions

The Manitowoc corporation's board of directors has approved a plan to split its food service and building crane operations into two separate publicly-owned businesses.

Chief executive officer Glen Tellock said the move would let each firm take advantage of expected long-term improvements in demand, and other opportunities in their respective markets. Chief financial officer Carl Laurino calls the split a logical proposition and both would keep playing big roles in the food service and crane industries "as they stand today."

The spin-off is expected to be finalized by early next year.

The firm said it would provide more details later on the structure and management of the newly-separated business units.

A couple of shareholders have been advocating for the separation of Manitowoc's crane and food service businesses -- including billionaire investor Carl Icahn, who owns more than 7.5 percent of Manitowoc Co. stock.

Iowa man sentenced to 50 years for taxi driver's murder

LANCASTER -- A Dubuque, Iowa man will spend 50 years in prison for hijacking a taxi in Platteville and killing its driver near La Crosse.

Timmy Johnson Jr., 26, was sentenced Thursday in Grant County on reduced charges of reckless homicide, kidnapping, and armed robbery.

He had pleaded no contest in the death of Merle Forbes Jr., age 79, last June, just hours after Johnson completed jail time for another crime.

Prosecutors said he was high on PCP when he called a cab to go to a secluded spot where he planned to kill himself. However, Johnson assumed Forbes would hurt him so he stabbed the cab driver with a stolen knife, put him in the trunk, and drove north to La Crosse.

That's where police started chasing him at speeds up to 115 miles an hour before the cab rear-ended another vehicle and flipped over. Three people in the other vehicle had minor injuries. Johnson's lawyer blamed it all on his client's under-treatment for mental illness.

Prosecutors said he clearly had a pattern of dangerous behavior, with 30 prior convictions.

Teen who killed brother facing lessor charge

MILWAUKEE -- A Milwaukee teen who said he accidentally shot his brother is now facing a negligent homicide charge.

Dennis Jackson, 18 appeared in court Thursday, where a judge set bond at $5,000 and ordered electric monitoring upon release.

Jackson is due back in Milwaukee County Circuit Court next Friday for a preliminary hearing. He's charged in the shooting death of his 23-year-old brother, Leroy Smith, at a Milwaukee home on Monday.

Witnesses quoted Jackson as saying it was an accident. Police said he initially denied handling the weapon until he was confronted by the witnesses' statements.

Jackson then told officers he was trying to clear a jam from his handgun when it accidentally went off.