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A bogus kidnapping ring based in California allegedly defrauded at least one Minnesota woman after she was told that her husband had been smuggled into the United States and was told to wire $2,000 for his release, according to court documents unsealed last week.
Four people were indicted and three were arrested in San Diego last week. The charges against Ruth Graciela Raygoza, Maria Del Carmen Pulido Contreras, Adrian Jovan Rocha and Jonathan Rocha says they falsely reported that they were holding a family member and demanded money for the safe release of their relative.
The group received at least five money transfers from people living in Maryland, Virginia and Minnesota.
The Minnesota woman, identified only as E.D. in the complaint, was contacted in August 2012 and told her husband “had been smuggled into the United States.” She was instructed to wire $2,000 to Adrian Rocha.
According to the complaint, Rocha picked up the transfer in the San Diego area and then “traveled to a location near the border in San Ysidro, California and handed money to a conspirator who delivered the money to another conspirator in Mexico.”
The Associated Press reported that scammers mostly targeted immigrants, and dialed random phone numbers to reach them.
"They would just randomly run through a sequence of numbers, like 1 to 100," Daniel Page, assistant special agent in charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs and Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations unit in San Diego told the Associated Press. "They're just like your professional telemarketer. They have a script. 'You need to pay this money. If you don't, something's going to happen.'"
After the outbreak of Salmonella that sickened over 80 people at an Ecuadorian independencefestival, the obvious question was whether there had been previous problems at New York Plaza Produce, the Minneapolis grocery store that was identified by health officials as the source of the outbreak and organizer of the festival.
Because New York Plaza Produce is a grocery store, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture is the agency tasked with inspecting the store and following up on any complaints.
On Aug. 22, two days after our first report, I requested all inspection, incident and enforcement records prior to the outbreak. I knew any reports on the current investigation would be non-public, but was surprised when the Department of Agriculture said the information I request was non-public because it is now part of an open and active investigation.
"The documents you requested will be released to you once our investigation has been completed," said the department, noting they were allowed to classify the information as non-public under statute 13.39 sub 2.
I asked the state Information Policy Analysis Division if it was legal to classify previously public data as non-public simply because of an active investigation. Stacie Christensen with IPAD said it is legal, but noted the statute is a part of the law that is highly contested.
I'll keep you posted on what happens with my request.
Despite a judge's ruling that its records are public, the Minnesota Joint Underwriting Association can continue to keep them secret as it appeals its lawsuit against the Star Tribune.
District court Judge Margaret Marrinan ruled Friday that the state-created insurance fund doesn't have to immediately turn over its records to the Star Tribune, reversing a ruling she made in August.
Marrinan has determined that the MJUA, which insures only high-risk providers, was subject to the state's open records laws because it was created for a public purpose by a public body. Marrinan's decision came after the MJUA sued the Star Tribune to prevent a release of records.
The MJUA went back to Marrinan on Sept. 4 to seek a stay of that ruling, arguing that it wanted to take the case to the state Court of Appeals, but to give its records over to the Star Tribune in the meantime would make the case moot.
"Although the public may well be entitled to the information," Marrinan wrote, "the timing of its release does not appear to be a factor so crucial that the motion of the [MJUA's] should be denied."
The Star Tribune reported in May that the MJUA has spent at least $32 million over the last decade to settle claims, including $12 million to resolve 169 claims filed against health care providers, some of whom were accused of crippling or killing their patients.
Because most MJUA policyholders have to prove they can’t get insurance from the private market, critics contend the MJUA keeps bad providers in business. Supporters of the group say it provides an essential protection for consumers to allow them to recover damages from providers in the case of harm or negligence.
Update: MinnPost reports the Minneapolis Police Department posted the Excel data files once again. Assistant Chief Matt Clark sent MinnPost an e-mail saying "The MPD values transparency with the public, and we want to provide any department information that can be lawfully shared."
Original Post: The Minneapolis Police Department stopped issuing crime data in an Excel format just weeks after MinnPost launched an interactive crime data application.
On Aug. 21, MinnPost released a Minneapolis Crime news app, which aggregated monthly neighborhood crime data in order to identify crime trends by neighborhoods. MinnPost fed the application with the Minneapolis Police Department’s Excel monthly neighborhood crime reports.
MinnPost news developers Alan Palazzolo and Kaeti Hinck wrote that they went to the police department’s website Tuesday to update their app, and to their surprise found a message saying “Do(sic) to issues with the Excel formats we will no longer be posting them.”
Read the full response from MPD to MinnPost here.
A St. Cloud liquor store owner agreed to pay a former employee $30,000 after the Minnesota Department of Human Rights found probable cause of sexual harassment.
Brian Fanfulik, owner of Liquor Pig, allegedly subjected an employee to “gestures that were evocative of masturbation and oral sex, and the slapping of the charging party’s buttocks” and repeatedly told her they should have sex, according to a memorandum of probable cause from the Human Rights Department made public last week.
In her complaint, the employee said Fanfulik threatened to charge her with theft if she pursued a sexual harassment claim against him. She said he falsely accused stealing time by taking smoke breaks, making personal phone calls and having lunch with her boyfriend.
The employee quit after the threats. The Department of Human Rights determined the “work conditions were so objectively intolerable” that she was forced to quit.
When contacted by the department, Fanfulik took issue with the employees performance, but “largely ignored” the sexual harassment claims, the memorandum said.
An employee at Liquor Pig said Fanfulik was not available for comment.
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