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Angela Major 

A worker uses an excavator to work on the grounds of the former GM plant Monday, March 5, in Janesville. Commercial Development Company of St. Louis bought the 4.8-million-square-foot former auto plant and the nearly 300 acres surrounding it in December. Commercial Development has said it intends to begin razing some or all of the plant property this spring.


Crime
'Felony lane gang' returns to southern Wisconsin

JANESVILLE

The “felony lane gang” was back in Rock County last month.

At least two county residents fell victim to the theft operation in February, Janesville police say.

Thieves broke into cars and stole checks that were cashed by a woman driving what is likely a rental car, according to an alert issued Monday.

These so-called felony lane gang operations have occurred throughout the country and were last reported in the Janesville area in June 2017.

Janesville police on Monday sent out the alert with photos of a woman in a car who they believe was involved.

Felony lane gang smash-and-grabs often involve victims who leave purses or wallets in their cars, and that’s what happened Feb. 15, according to the alert.

A woman ran into a Janesville day care center to pick up her child, and her car window was smashed, according to the alert.

Beloit police reported a similar case the same day, and checks from both victims were cashed in Darien, Walworth, and Rockton and Roscoe, both in northern Illinois, according to the alert.

Checks from victims in the Radcliff, Kentucky, area were cashed at the same time by the same woman, according to the alert.

The woman cashing the checks used two vehicles in consecutive days. One of the cars was a dark Infinti QX70, according to the alert.

The term “felony lane gang” refers to the outer lanes of bank drive-up facilities, which often are used by those cashing the bogus checks.

Janesville police Det. Chris Buescher said past theft operations such as this one often targeted health clubs, dog parks and other places where victims are likely to be away from their cars for a fairly long time. He said it’s notable that the thieves in the latest Janesville case struck a car where the driver was likely to be back in a short time.

In the recent case, the woman left her purse on the front seat in the locked car, Buescher said. Authorities advise people not to leave valuables in plain view in their cars because they are more likely to be come victims of smash-and-grab thefts.

“Nowhere is safe anymore,” Buescher said, adding that he’s heard of a non-felony lane gang tactic in which thieves target purses hanging from the backs of chairs at Panera Bread restaurants.

A woman became such a victim at the Janesville Panera Bread last month, Buescher said.

Buescher suspects that in a felony lane gang operation, one person or group of people steal from cars, a different set of people rent the cars, and a third set—all women—use the cars and cash the checks.

The first felony lane gang was identified in Florida, but it has spread around the country. Some officials believe different groups not associated with each other likely have adopted the same tactics.

One tactic is to strike in an area and then move out quickly before law enforcement becomes aware.

Buescher said he recently heard from police in Jefferson County and the Milwaukee area who also experienced felony lane gang tactics.

“I would love to say this group has moved on, but that’s not to say another group is not pulling up on the Interstate as we speak,” Buescher said.


Education
top story
Milton School Board censures Kvapil

Brian Kvapil

MILTON

The Milton School Board censured one of its own members during a special meeting Monday, disciplining Brian Kvapil for his role in a student-involved incident after a board meeting Feb. 12.

The board voted 6-1 for the censure with Kvapil opposed. He was accused of bullying and acting unethically toward a student council representative who participates on the board.

A censure is a “reprimand or admonishment.” It’s a way for government bodies to show displeasure with a member’s behavior without punishing the person further, district legal counsel Shana Lewis said. The move comes as Kvapil seeks re-election in April.

Monday’s meeting was originally supposed to be held in closed session with no public action taken. Kvapil requested before the meeting to keep it open for the sake of transparency, he told The Gazette.

The board obliged and did not vote to move into closed session, allowing the proceedings to take place publicly.

At the Feb. 12 board meeting, school officials gave a presentation outlining athletic facility needs across the district. Kvapil at one point asked to see the district’s criteria for prioritizing such projects.

The student council representative told Kvapil that such information was available on Milton’s website.

When the meeting ended, Kvapil approached the student to say he knew those details were online. The student asked why Kvapil would question the district’s priorities if he was aware, according to a report Lewis read Monday.

The conversation grew heated, with Kvapil calling the student a “hypocrite.” District resident Lance Fena, a fixture at board meetings, also got involved and questioned the student, according to the report.

Technology Director Ed Snow stepped in to defuse the situation, telling Kvapil he shouldn’t talk to a student like that. Several others also intervened, according to the report.

Lewis said while her investigation found reasonable evidence to suggest Kvapil bullied the student and acted unethically, he did not violate the district’s harassment policy. She also found the student did not exceed the authority of a student council representative.

Kvapil turned down multiple requests to speak with Lewis after the incident, saying he was busy and did not understand why there was an investigation. He stood by an email Fena sent to the district that gave their side of the story, he said.

He said Monday that he called one of the student’s comments “hypocritical” but did not call the student a hypocrite. He disputed Lewis’ finding that he raised his voice toward the student or that it ever got out of control, he said.

The entire interaction lasted 45 seconds, Kvapil said. He knows that because his voice recorder caught the conversation.

Kvapil regularly records board meetings and had not yet shut off his recorder. The device was about 10 feet away and picked up the discussion in the background, he said.

Lewis said the recording was done legally.

Though Kvapil declined to speak with Lewis during her investigation, he asked to play the recording before the board took any action. His calm tone of voice would show he did no wrong, he said. The board rejected his motion.

Board members Betsy Lubke and Shelly Crull-Hanke said Kvapil’s tone of voice would not have affected their decision to censure him. Kvapil approached the student and did nothing to step away as it escalated, Lubke said.

Kvapil said he wanted to hear what the student had to say rather than end the conversation.

Following the censure vote, the board voted 6-1 to craft an apology letter to the student and the student’s family. Kvapil voted against the measure and said he did not plan to sign the letter because he did nothing wrong.

The board briefly considered a vote to ban Fena from future board meetings or other district events. It quickly died, and the board decided to invite him for a discussion about his behavior instead.

Kvapil emailed a statement to The Gazette after the meeting, which read in full:

“I conducted myself appropriately at all times, and I provided a detailed response to the district. Unfortunately, the board decided not to review the detailed response and mitigating information I provided them before their vote.”

Board President Bob Cullen declined to comment, saying he had nothing to add beyond what was discussed in open session.

Monday’s agenda did not allow for a public comment period, so nobody from the standing-room-only crowd of about 100 people was allowed to speak. Cullen said he would not tolerate shouts from the crowd.

The public obeyed the request for the most part, aside from one man who yelled, “You need to loosen your tinfoil hat, Kvapil,” before storming out.

The loudest voices at board meetings in recent years have come from those who tend to agree with Kvapil. Two rejected referendums in as many years reflect that. Kvapil maintained both were too costly to support.

But the many people who attended Monday supported the student, and the comments on one woman’s Facebook Live stream of the meeting showed a sizable contingent of residents disagreeing with Kvapil.


Brian Kvapil