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Snow falls in northern Wisconsin; Accused drunk driver says leprechauns were at the wheel; More state news briefs

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Parts of far northern Wisconsin got an inch of snow Sunday and last night, and a few more inches are possible as the week goes on.

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Pine County in Minnesota picked up five inches yesterday before the storm rolled into Wisconsin and left an inch at Washburn and Gile. Other parts of the north saw a rain and snow mix. Light rain fell on Packer fans in Green Bay on and off during Sunday’s win over Cleveland.

The National Weather Service says a pair of low-pressure systems to the north and east of Wisconsin could bring a few inches of snow tonight to parts of Vilas County close to Lake Superior. Forecasters say lake-effect snows are possible all week in far northern Wisconsin.

Meanwhile, a hard freeze is predicted for tonight in Madison, Milwaukee and 20 counties in the south. That will mark the end of the growing season there after it ended during the weekend in northeast Wisconsin.

Statewide highs are projected in the 30's and 40's all week long with lows generally in the 20's.

Only a handful of places in the north normally see their first snow in October. In Eagle River the average date is Nov. 2 when the first tenth of an inch falls. The first inch normally doesn't come down there until Nov. 4.

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Accused drunk driver says leprechauns were driving car

Authorities said a 50-year-old Eau Claire man gave officers a creative excuse as he tried to escape his eighth drunk driving arrest.

Officials said Joseph O'Connell claimed that leprechauns were driving his car when it veered into a ditch near Bloomer a couple weeks ago. Authorities said he was knocking on doors at 2:45 a.m. Oct. 6 to seek help to get his vehicle out of a ditch. His blood alcohol level was .22, almost three times the legal limit.

O'Connell is due back in Chippewa County Circuit Court Nov. 15. For now, he's free on bond.

The Eau Claire Leader-Telegram said O'Connell's most recent OWI conviction came seven years ago. He served two years in prison on that conviction.

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Mom of three dead boys accused of using other identities to order her own Mother’s Day flowers

Sharon Wand, who was badly burned in a house fire in Argyle, is now charged with identify theft.

Prosecutors said she was recovering at a nursing home in Dodgeville when she ordered Mother's Day flowers for herself from two florists, using the names of five other people including three cousins and two strangers.

Wand, 28, was severely burned 13 months ago in a house fire -- set by her husband Armin -- that killed three of their boys and an unborn daughter. He's currently serving three life prison terms plus 105 years.

Sharon's new charges include seven felony counts of identity theft and one misdemeanor theft count.

In May Sharon Wand was charged with three misdemeanor theft counts after authorities said she stole jewelry, a ceramic figurine and other items from people at the same Dodgeville nursing home.

The florists apparently knew that something was amiss when the names of the purported buyers had incorrect addresses. Police said they interviewed Wand in late May. She claimed to be shocked to receive all the flowers in her room. A status conference is set for Nov. 12 when all of her charges will be discussed.

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Eight charged in timeshare sales scam

The number of Wisconsinites facing federal charges in a property sales scam has grown to eight.

The U.S. Attorney's office said the defendants are accused of bilking 1,400 people out of $2.3 million.

The four newest defendants are Jason Schultz, 36; Tina Baalman, 28; and Jessica Gilbert 24, all of Green Bay -- and Jessica Weinhart, 30, of Neenah.

According to prosecutors, they worked for companies that called people and said they could sell their timeshares as long as they paid upfront fees of up to thousands of dollars. Investigators said there's no evidence that a single timeshare was sold, and most of the victims were elderly.

Officials said the four defendants worked for various companies in Green Bay from 2007 through 2011. Four others were charged in July, and they're due to appear in federal court Nov. 26.

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Burke says she wasn’t involved in Trek’s deal with Armstrong

Both Mary Burke and her former employer said she had nothing to do with the firm's relationship with disgraced Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong.

Burke is now running for governor as a Democrat, and she points proudly to the jobs she helped create when she worked for her family's Trek Bicycle business.

She was with the Waterloo company when Armstrong had a deal to compete with Trek bicycles, years before he admitted longtime speculation that he used performance-enhancing drugs.

Mary Burke was the head of strategic planning and forecasting for Trek when it signed Armstrong. That was in 1998 when he was recovering from cancer before he won seven Tour de France titles which he later gave up.

In the past decade, Trek credited Armstrong with a revived interest in cycling -- and higher sales for the company.

Back in 2005, former Tour de France winner Greg LeMond claimed that Trek CEO John Burke placed “immense pressure” on him to retract statements which questioned Armstrong's credibility on whether he used performance-enhancing drugs. Trek settled the lawsuit in 2010, and Armstrong admitted his drug use in January of this year.

Mary Burke recently told the Associated Press she never knew about the specifics of the Armstrong case, and it had nothing to do with her job. The AP also said court records in the case never mentioned Mary Burke.

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Secret probe apparently looking into possible recall election violations

A secret investigation is reportedly taking place into a number of state government issues, including possible election law violations in recall contests.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said former longtime federal prosecutor Francis Schmitz is leading a John Doe investigation. Columnist Dan Bice said Kenosha County Circuit Judge Barbara Kluka is presiding over the probe, which prosecutors often use to gather evidence for criminal cases.

The Journal Sentinel said Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney Bruce Landgraf initiated the investigation, but he's not answering questions about it. Bice said the probe has spread to five counties, but much of the activity is centered in Dane County, the home to Madison and the State Capitol.

The Journal Sentinel says the state-related case had opened as early as February of last year. Nine senators were targeted for recalls in 2011 in connection with the law that virtually ended collective bargaining for most public employee unions. Two GOP senators lost their seats in 2011, and the Republicans lost one of four recall contests the following year when Governor Scott Walker survived his recall effort.

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Woman still missing; boyfriend accused of drug violations

The boyfriend of a missing Milwaukee woman appeared in Sunday court on five drug charges.

Kris Zocco, 38, is believed to be one of the last people to see Kelly Dwyer, 27, before she vanished Oct. 11. Prosecutors said Dwyer went to Zocco's house to use drugs, and she was last seen spending the night there.

A judge ordered a $5,000 cash bond for Zocco. A preliminary hearing was set for next Monday on three felony counts of maintaining a drug house, possessing marijuana with the intent to deliver and possessing narcotics. Zocco is also charged with misdemeanor possessions of cocaine and drug paraphernalia.

Dwyer is still missing. Her family called police Oct. 12 after she failed to show up for work.

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Walker signs bills, promises tax cut every year

About 40 people looked on yesterday, as Gov. Scott Walker signed a $100 million statewide cut in local property taxes.

Walker told those gathering at Ralph and Mary Rice's farm near Burlington that he would cut property taxes every year he's in office.

The average homeowner, with a property value of $148,000, will pay $31 less than he or she would have expected over the next two years. The aid is being funneled through the state school aid formula, which means the richest areas will get the smallest tax relief, if any.

The Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance says people in almost one-fifth of the state's 424 school districts will see no or little relief. In Racine County, where the bill was signed, the average home will get between two cents a year and just over $17.

The tax cut was sped through the bill-making process in just 10 days during a special session. Republicans said taxpayers deserve to get back some of the state's $760 million surplus that was built up in the last budget period. They also said it's not necessarily true that the tax cut will add to a state deficit in 2015 because the projections do not take economic growth into account.

Democrats said the whole thing was a political gimmick to help Walker get reelected in just over a year from now.

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Menominee casino deal deadline nears

The Menominee Indians only have two more days to convince Gov. Scott Walker to let them run a casino in Kenosha.

The governor has given the tribe until Tuesday to prove that they've met his criteria for the project. The Menominee have been trying for years to build and open a casino and resort at the site of the former Dairyland Greyhound Park. The federal government finally gave its blessing a few weeks ago, leaving it up to the governor to make the final decision.

Walker has demanded that all 11 Wisconsin tribes support the project. With the Potawatomi and Ho-Chunk still opposed, the Menominee tribal chairman said last week that he hoped Walker would see the project differently.

In recent days, the Menominee said it would offset revenue losses that the Potawatomi and Ho-Chunk gaming operations would face if the Kenosha Casino was built. The Oneida tribe dropped its opposition late last week.

Walker said he also wants to see community support and no net increase in the state's gaming.

Kenosha area legislators are doing what they can to lobby for the project. Assembly Republican Samantha Kerkman of Powers Lake said it has great economic potential now that the Hard Rock restaurant and casino chain was given a development and management contract. Walker has said the Hard Rock's involvement would not influence his decision.

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