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Panama casino scheme proves to be a bad bet

PLUS: Scam beat booming, high-tech crime help, and initial success for Wisconsin tourism.

Dan Browning of the Strib continues mining his story about Oxford Global Partners, the one with the self-styled religious investment guru talk radio host. The story has now unwound to reveal big chunks of dough, probably from Oxford Global investors who can’t get their money out, dumped into a Panama casino venture. It’s a damned good read. The action now focuses primarily on Trevor Cook, a 37-year-old Minneapolis “money manager” who funneled God knows how much to a southern California lawyer named Gary Saunders. Saunders, naturally, has a sadly familiar resume.

Says Browning, “In 2003, Saunders was sanctioned by the Securities and Exchange Commission for allowing ‘false and misleading’ statements to be published about the financing behind an online education company he owned called EKnowledge Group. In addition, the state of California filed a $401,868 tax lien against his home in February 2008, listing EKnowledge as the debtor. Saunders declined to comment last week, saying he felt ‘constrained by ethics.’ “

There are the usual shootings and traffic accidents in the news, but the Scam Beat is pretty busy these days. Several outlets cover AG Lori Swanson’s latest suit, this one against two firms not even licensed to sell health insurance in Minnesota.Brian Bakst in Finance and Commerce writes, “According to court documents, Home Health America charged a lump sum of $3,000 to $4,000 to seniors, some of whom were never able to access the nursing care they were told of and others whose reimbursement for care ended after a few months. One woman told state authorities that her frustration with the company led her to cancel her policy and seek a refund, but the company took $1,250 off the top as an application fee.”

Maura Lerner covers the story for the Strib and quotes Swanson warning consumers “to be on guard against increasingly sophisticated bait-and-switch tactics that target the 46 million uninsured Americans who are searching for affordable health insurance.” One of the victims here in Minnesota was a former insurance broker.

And then there’s ACORN. A guy with the historically resonant name of Jeff Davis, representing a group called the Minnesota Majority, released a statement demanding an immediate investigation into the embattled group’s voter registration activities in Minnesota, (here’s PiPresser Bill Salisbury’s report). Congresswoman Betty McCollum, meanwhile, was announcing that she’s is on board with the bill to defund any company … as in ANY COMPANY … found to have engaged in criminal activities, like, for example, fraud and looting via no-bid contracts designed to support troops in war zones. Here’s coverage on that from the Strib’s Kevin Diaz in D.C.

Gov. Pawlenty will do his paperwork today to set up the “Freedom First” PAC, a conduit for cash for his presidential bid. According to a piece by MPR’s Tom Scheck, our self-described “Wal-Mart Republican,” “has some well known Washington names running the operation. Former Congressman and now lobbyist Vin Weber and Morgan Stanley vice-chair William Strong will co-chair the PAC. Several members of former President George W. Bush’s political team are also providing management advice.” Clearly the governor’s career is in the hands of real blue collar Americans.
Remarkably vivid color security-cam photography
of the two men who killed a customer in that Richfield pawn shop robbery — and the fact every TV station in town played the footage — is credited with the quick arrest of two suspects. Abby Simons and Bob Von Sternberg report for the Strib that the shop’s owner, Avi Strauss, “declined to discuss specifics of his store’s security, but he acknowledged how those cameras were integral in the suspects’ capture. ‘Photo surveillance is becoming like DNA now in solving crimes,’ Strauss said. ‘It’s like insurance. You hope you never really need to use it, but that’s how they solve crimes.’ “

As we prepare for what could be a very long weekend invasion of thousands of large, bizarrely-dressed and often inebriated visitors from the near east — Gophers vs. Badgers Saturday, Vikings vs. Packers Monday — we have mixed feelings at the news that the Wisconsin Tourism Federation (WTF) has finally gotten hip to the downside of its acronym and tweaked its name.

The Telegraph in Britain may have explained it best: “It seems that the federation was unaware of — or unconcerned by — the modern meaning of WTF until its acronym featured on a blog that features unfortunate corporate logos earlier this year. Commenters wondered whether an expression of foul-mouthed astonishment was the best way of boosting tourism to a state that would not be an obvious choice for most holidaymakers.” In fairness to Wisconsin though, ask yourself when you’re over there how many times an hour you say, “WTF?”

Nancy Ngo writes in the PiPress about 12 Minnesota cities putting up wind turbines to provide a bit of green energy to their local grid. “Last week, a wind turbine was installed in North St. Paul on the new public works site off First Street. It is easily spotted when driving along Minnesota 36, joining the 44-foot concrete stucco snowman and water tower as among the north metro city’s tallest structures.” North St. Paul never gets tired of that stucco snowman.

The Strib’s David Peterson has a good story on a Met Council rule that lays a $1,000 per table fee (not a tax, mind you) on every table a restaurant puts outside on a patio. To which, if you’re like me you say, “A thousand bucks? Are you kidding me?” It’s no joke. Writes Peterson, “When the complaints started piling up, the council’s staff at first proposed a 50 percent reduction, while acknowledging it was little more than a stab at the right price. ‘The 50 percent proposal was an acknowledgment that there is a technical basis for a discount, but that we cannot accurately determine exactly how much,’ staff members told council members in a memo.” The fee has now been cut back 75 percent. But the rub is that the fee money was being used to prop up the cost of sewer work … on the not exactly scientific theory apparently that people eating on patios used a lot more water than people eating indoors.

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An AP story reports that Radio K, the 87-year-old U of M based eclectic music station — (i.e., really good stuff the corporate stations don’t dare play) — will expand to FM today at 104.5 in Minneapolis and 100.7 in St. Paul. The story says signal power will increase when more money allows the station to increase antenna height and do other upgrades.

The Twins?
Don’t ask.