2015 Year in Review

By Brian Huber, Freeman Staff (12-30-2015 Waukesha Freeman)

Paul FarrowWAUKESHA — It’s time to recap as 2015 moves into clearer focus in our collective rear-view mirror.

Local personnel changes and crimes dominated the headlines throughout the year, as can be said for many years. The roots of some stories were planted in years past, like Waukesha’s plan to divert water from Lake Michigan, which the state advanced to other states for their review, or the Slender Man case from 2014, which remains unresolved.

But there were plenty of new stories to fill calendars for this year and into the next, be they in Brookfield with The Corners plan, or rebounding home sales, or in Waukesha as the county museum is reborn and GE moves ahead with plans to move jobs out of its Waukesha plant.

A look at the first part of some of the year’s highlights and lowlights:

 

JANUARY

Raising the bar: Waukesha County District Attorney Brad Schimel moved from the basement of the county courthouse to the state Capitol, starting his term as the next state attorney general — a long road from being an intern at the DA’s office 25 years ago. Schimel hit the ground running, declaring heroin Public Enemy No. 1.

To replace him, Susan Opper became the next woman up, making history as the county’s first female district attorney. She was officially sworn in on the job in March.

 

Over and out: For 35 years, Jack Edwards has helped the Delafield Fire Department grow and then merge with Chenequa and Nashotah to become Lake Country Fire & Rescue about five years ago. He retired in January.

“It’s the old cliché — if you find something you love, you never go to work,” Edwards said. “I think it’s time to let others step up.” Kevin Keith was named interim chief and then the permanent successor.

 

New sheriff in town: Eric Severson was sworn in as the county’s 53rd sheriff in January. Severson said there is no need to come in and try to make big changes — if it isn’t broke,don’t fix it, he said. One change he did make, though,was to name James Gumm inspector, the No. 2 man in the department.

Quickly, the sheriff was handed a wee bit of embarrassment when Deputy Paul Eckert was arrested for drunken driving the night Severson was sworn in. Eckert was in a single-car crash in the Town of Genesee.

 

Housing rebound: The number of foreclosures in Waukesha County dropped 31 percent from 2013 to 2014 and has fallen consistently since 2010, which appears to be due at least in part to an economy recovering from the Great Recession.

In 2014, the county recorded 562 foreclosures compared with 812 in 2013, according to court records. Totals were as low as 443 foreclosures in 2005, but by 2009 there were more than 1,400 in Waukesha County and they topped out at 1,569 the following year before a steady decline.

And 2015 saw tremendous gains in housing sales, with month-over-month figures consistently above comparable periods in 2014 until the end of the year. Good news for homeowners was not so good for buyers, though, as prices rose along with demand throughout the year.

 

Three charged in gas station murder: Three people were charged with the Jan. 13 robbery and murder of a clerk at a Citgo station at 1445 White Rock Ave.

Saeed Sharwani, 65, of Brookfield, was shot in the chest and had called 911 at about 10:45 p.m. that night but was unable to communicate the reason for the call. He died at Waukesha Memorial Hospital. Within days, police arrested the alleged shooter and a woman who was the alleged getaway driver.

Kenneth Thomas, 19, was arrested in West Allis as officers executed a search warrant for investigators from the Milwaukee Police Department. Jerica Cotton, thought to be the getaway driver in the robbery, also was arrested. The next month, Darrin Malone, 28, was arrested as well in Sharwani’s murder.

According to the complaint, Thomas told investigators that Malone, a Milwaukee resident, put him up to the robbery because “there was money out in Waukesha,” and Malone supplied Halloween masks. Thomas also told police that during the robbery, he jumped onto the counter and Sharwani started “freaking out,” came around the counter, grabbed Thomas and “the next thing he knew, the gun went off.” Thomas said he didn’t shoot on purpose and he thought the gun’s safety was on.

Police later found the gun in a diaper box in one of the bedrooms of Thomas’ apartment.

Cotton, 23, told police she agreed to give Thomas and Malone a ride in exchange for $50 for gas money. She has been charged with being a party to the crime of felony murder and felony armed robbery.

Ex-clerk stole town funds: Elizabeth Kraus, former clerk-administrator for the Town of Lisbon, was charged with one count each of misconduct in public office and using a credit card with an intent to defraud after she allegedly used town funds for personal shopping expenses, including a dog.

She racked up some $19,300 in charges during the first nine months of 2014, encompassing groceries, restaurants, department and home improvement stores, cellular accounts and $600 for a dog, the complaint against her said. In May, she was sentenced to a year in jail, but was allowed a release to attend her father’s funeral.

 

In with the new: The Waukesha Plan Commission has agreed to change the zoning and land use plans for a former bowling alley and nightclub site, which would eventually make room for a developer to build an industrial building with multiple tenants.

According to a business plan from HSA Commercial Real Estate, crews plan to demolish the former AMFLanes/Rooters Night Club building at 901 Northview Road to build a 175,000-square-foot multitenant “light industrial building.” The bowling alley closed in 2014 amid financial woes after more than three decades of operation. When the building is fully leased, about 175 jobs would be created, according to an HSA plan.

 

Muskego safe stolen: Jealousy was the motivation for two brothers and a woman who allegedly burglarized a Muskego home and stole a safe containing up to $400,000 in cash Nov. 7, 2014, according to a criminal complaint.

Tiffany Kapitanski, 23, and Javier Rizo, 30, both of West Allis, and Rizo’s brother Dario Rizo, 29, of Milwaukee all were charged with one count each of burglary and theft.

According to the criminal complaint, a resident of the Muskego house returned home Nov. 7 to find the back door ajar and a safe containing about $400,000 missing from his mother’s closet. The resident had been summoned to meet a potential client regarding a landscaping job, but found it suspicious when the client did not show up and the phone number given could not be tracked down later.

A person who wished to remain anonymous called police Jan. 7, saying he or she knew of the burglary before its occurrence and identified the suspects. Shortly thereafter, the three bought cars from a Nissan dealership in Milwaukee. A dealership representative recalled that the Rizo brothers and Kapitanski bought a 2014 Nissan Altima for $15,600, a 2013 Nissan-Rogue sport utility vehicle worth $28,857, and a 2013 Nissan Pathfinder worth $39,800, taking cash from Kapitanski’s purse to pay for them, the complaint said.

The informant added Javier Rizo and Kapitanski bought a house in West Allis with some of the money.

Kapitanski allegedly admitted she was upset with her friend, the ex-girlfriend of the son of the Muskego home’s owner, who was frequently flaunting new clothes, cars and cash. She told Javier Rizo “about how frustrated she was with the situation that (the woman) was getting all this money and she didn’t have to work or do anything for it,” the complaint said.

Dario Rizo was sentenced to a three-year prison term and four years on supervision. In December, his brother was sentenced to five years of initial confinement and five years of extended supervision. Kapitanski is to be sentenced next month.

 

FEBRUARY

Citizen of the Year: Habitat for Humanity in Waukesha County Executive Director Diane McGeen was named The Freeman’s 2014 Citizen of the Year. In addition to running Summit Realty, the mother of five has demonstrated devotion to her community, volunteering her time to numerous nonprofit organizations, musical ministries and business groups.

 

Coach charged after possessing pot: New Berlin West High School boys varsity basketball coach Christopher Foley was arrested and charged for allegedly possessing marijuana and drug paraphernalia after the team returned to the school following a game.

Foley, 29, was charged in Waukesha County Circuit Court with one count each of possession of THC — the active ingredient in marijuana —possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia. Foley pleaded no contest to the second count and was given a nine-month sentence of probation, with judgment deferred and the possibility of having the matter erased if he successfully completes the sentence. A review hearing was set for June 22, 2016.

 

Accused bank robbers nabbed: Two men accused in a robbery at an Associated Bank in Waukesha used the money to gamble at Potawatomi Casino and pay for various shopping trips, according to a criminal complaint. Jason D. Barnhill, 33, was charged in Waukesha County Circuit Court with one count of robbery of a financial institution and one count misdemeanor bail jumping. And 26-year-old Lance A. Keota also was charged with robbery.

 

Museum metamorphosis: In late February, Historic Prairieville Limited Partners, of which developer Alan Huelsman is a partner, announced plans to purchase the museum’s property at 101 W. Main St., raze two buildings on the site and build a 42-unit luxury apartment complex in their place with underground parking for residents and museum employees. Museum Interim Executive Director Tom Constable said, “This is a major gain for the community.”

The museum closed during the summer months except for limited hours to begin the transition, even as plans were changed throughout the year.

Their business is our business: A program that loans up to tens of thousands of county taxpayers’ dollars to local small businesses was renewed by the Waukesha County Board on Feb. 25, but with an added three-year stipulation about the program’s time frame.

County supervisors voted 23-2 for an amended ordinance that keeps the Waukesha County Small Business Leverage Loan program alive. Since its inception in 2012, it has closed and funded $440,000 to nine separate businesses, helping them retain 243 full-time and 60 part-time jobs. It is also expected to create 75 new positions to be filled within the next one to two years.

 

HUSCO the big cheese: HUSCO International, Inc. was recognized by Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce with a Manufacturer of the Year Award for its business operations and commitment to education. HUSCO was chosen for the Grand Award in the mega category.

During the past five years, HUSCO tripled its global sales and grew its earnings by more than seven times.

 

Little return: Governments from Waukesha and other members of the so called “WOW counties” would likely not benefit from a new source of public funding to support their provision of culture and recreation services, according to a report from the Public Policy Forum.

The Milwaukee-based group concluded that county governments in Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington counties do not have a pressing need for culture and recreation financing as the three already combine to spend roughly $9 million in local tax dollars on such ventures each year. The report specifically mentions the Retzer NatureCenter, as well as Waukesha’s three countyrun golf courses, which operate at varying levels of financial stability, but are not enough of a financial drain on the county’s budget to be in need of additional outside funding.

But while the publicly funded venues are surviving, the report mentions that some private cultural organizations could need some extra resources. The Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts in Brookfield was highlighted in the report as one such group. Annual operating revenues for the Wilson Center have averaged $2.3 million between 2010 and 2014, the report states, with a majority of that coming from contributions.

 

AHS locker room: The unveiling of recently renovated locker room facilities at Arrowhead High School sparked debate in the community regarding whether the upgrades are too extravagant.

The renovations cost $662,602 and include wooden lockers, wall graphics and a large, customized light fixture. Commentators were quick to weigh in on the impressive facilities, with many comparing the high school basketball locker rooms to those more commonly seen at the college or professional level. School administrators said the upgrade, in fact, saved taxpayer dollars. Initially a private donor planned on contributing $275,000, but the cost eventually escalated to just over $360,000. Based on estimates the district received, a bare-bones renovation would have cost about $560,000, Superintendent Craig Jefson said, making the donor’s offer to cover half of the project attractive.

 

MARCH

Spring winds of change:

Spring brought the winds of change for downtown Waukesha, as several prominent businesses closed or changed hands.

■ After some 18 years downtown, Sprizzo Gallery Caffé closed its doors for good in March. Owner Karla Harper cited a second year of road construction as an insurmountable challenge for the business.

■ Jon Archimede took over the Jest For Fun Joke Shop at 265 W. Main St. in March, 11 years after first going there as a Central Middle School student. Longtime owner Jeff Campbell decided it was time to hang up his top hat and spend more time with his family, and Archimede realized there was a chance the shop would close for good. “It’s been around for 43 years — to me it would’ve been like an old icon disappearing,” Archimede said.

■ After nearly 11 years of owning popular downtown coffee and lunch spot The Steaming Cup, Kerry and Terry Mackay announced their plans to retire in March and turn the reins over to the next generation of coffee lovers.

■ Generations at 5 Points owner Jeff Oberholtzer sold the business to Llazar Konda and Nicko Sifnaios to spend more time on his family, and on his food truck, Smokey O’s.

■ Also in March, John Roots bought Poppin’ on Broadway, 260 W. Broadway, from owner Kathy Garcia, moving from the customer side of the counter to the operator side. Roots promised he wouldn’t change the product, instead focusing his efforts on growing the business.

■ Later in the year, The Spoon on Hartwell Avenue closed and was replaced by Mama D’s Coffee.

 

Woman charged in bank thefts, burglary: A Dousman woman was sent to prison in the fall for crimes dating back to the summer of 2014 in which she stole money from customer accounts at Waukesha State Bank and was caught stealing drugs at an Oconomowoc pharmacy.

Stephanie J. Butler, 30, was charged in the first case with 11 counts of misdemeanor theft and 15 additional counts of identity theft after she stole money from bank customers while working there starting in August 2014. Bank staff located approximately $21,150 in fraudulent activity, according to a complaint. Butler told investigators she was addicted to the opioid Percocet and had been buying $300 to $400 worth of pills in Milwaukee each week, the complaint states.

In May, she was charged with burglary, four counts of possessing narcotic drugs, child neglect, misdemeanor theft, possession of a controlled substance and bail jumping. A criminal complaint said Butler’s parents discovered her child inside her car at the Kmart in Oconomowoc at about 9:50 p.m. May 6, after Butler had been missing for several hours. The child was safe. Butler was seen by officers carrying 18 bottles of drugs, including morphine, hydromorphone, oxymorphone and more.

She was believed to have climbed a ladder into a ceiling crawl space and made her way through an opening in the ceiling to the pharmacy after it had closed, the complaint said.

 

Changes in Brookfield:

Demolition of the buildings that occupied the future space of The Corners development in the Town of Brookfield began last winter, and through the year work continued on the project, which will see Von Maur anchor the development for at least 10 years.

The city of Brookfield moved forward with plans to erect The Corridor on the Ruby Farms site on Calhoun Road as well. And at Brookfield Square, the mall broke ground on a project to add 12,000 square feet of retail space in front of the Sears department store and a Jason’s Deli, Blackfinn Ameripub and Mooyah Burgers, each with its own entrance. A second phase, planned to start in 2016, would add a two-story parking structure.

But Brookfield also had plenty of business success to tout this year, with Stan’s Fit For Your Feet named as one of nine family-owned businesses to receive a Wisconsin Family Business of the Year award, and the return of a popular restaurant, the Ground Round, to the metro area.

Fraud suspect caught in Thailand: Ten years after he was charged for his role in a pyramid scheme the defrauded investors out of thousands of dollars, a Canadian man was arrested in Thailand in March.

Antonius Ceulen was charged in January 2005 with engaging in a pattern of racketeering activity in a scheme that saw two other men convicted: Terry Cattell of Arizona and local accountant Nathan Genrich. Genrich solicited loans from investments ranging from $2,500 to $100,000 from area residents in the 1990s, promising very high rates of returns in a matter of weeks to cover costs associated with Ceulen landing a business transaction involving banks in Ghana and Amsterdam, according to records.

The investors were told they would receive returns as high as 25 to 50 percent, sometimes within days. But they were never repaid, nor were they told of other investors who were not repaid, complaints in the case said. Genrich was convicted of six counts of securities fraud in a 2001 plea agreement that dismissed seven other counts. He was sentenced to serve 11 years on probation after spending 925 days in the county jail as the case was pending.

Cattell was charged with seven counts of securities fraud. He evaded the charges for more than a year in Hong Kong but was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2003.

Ceulen entered a plea to misdemeanor theft in October and was sentenced to the maximum of nine months, which amounted to time served in the county jail while his case was pending after his arrest, with good behavior time factored in. His defense attorney said a person working with Ceulen had given him assurances he was not authorized to make on behalf of the Ghanaian government.

Superintendent resigns: Arrowhead Union High School District Superintendent Craig Jefson announced in March his intent to step down over the summer after eight years as the district’s leader.

Jefson said his resignation will allow him to relocate to the Gulf Coast, closer to family, and pursue new job opportunities in the private sector.

 

5 Diamonds takes inside tack: 5 Diamonds owner Tom Kelenic, won approval from the Waukesha Town Board for a NX Level Sports Performance indoor facility planned for the southeastern corner of 5 Diamonds youth baseball park on Les Paul Parkway.

 

Three charged in Sky-Zone robbery: Three Milwaukee residents were charged with robbing Sky Zone Trampoline Park in the City of Pewaukee after a witness provided a license plate number and a hat left at the scene matched the DNA profile of one of the suspects.

Joshua Gonzalez, 23, Deja Nunn, 23, and Ramon Rivera, 28, all were charged with being party to the crime of armed robbery.

According to the criminal complaint, four suspects — at least three of them armed — entered Sky Zone at about 10:45 p.m. Dec. 27, 2014, with one pointing a gun at an employee and ordering her to open the cash registers, the complaint said. A witness got the license plate number of the getaway car, which police found in a tow lot Dec. 30 and towed to Waukesha County. Inside the car, deputies found two bags labeled “Sky Zone” that contained a total of $2,250, the complaint said. A Sky Zone manager said there was still between $11,000 and $12,000 missing from the robbery.

 

Body cameras: The village of Pewaukee in March authorized funding for up to 18 body cameras to be worn by its police officers. Police Chief Tim Otto said there would be limits on when they are used and not all encounters with the public would be recorded.

City OKs bid on sports complex: In March, the City of Pewaukee approved a $2.76 million bid for a sports complex near Lindsay Road and Highway 74, with R.A. Smith tabbed as construction manager, 10 years after the city bought the land for the project.

 

Executive succession: Waukesha County Executive Dan Vrakas attended his last County Board meeting in late March, wrapping up a career that saw him serve 10 years at the helm of county government, which came after 15 years of service as a state representative.

Vrakas was succeeded by former state Sen. Paul Farrow, who defeated Thomas Schellinger in the spring election for the post.

 

APRIL

Hard CORE: Two weeks after winning a Wisconsin regional competition, the Waukesha CORE 2062 Robotics team took first place at a Midwest regional competition in Chicago in April, advancing to the FIRST Robotics World Championship in St. Louis, Mo. on April 22-25. There, they finished 29th out of 76 teams in their division; overall, there were 18,000 students competing from 11 countries and 48 states.

The team also won its third Underwriters Laboratories Industrial Safety Award for using innovative ways to eliminate or protect against hazards.

 

Spring elections: New Berlin attorney Paul Bugenhagen Jr. defeated incumbent Circuit Court Judge Linda Van De Water in the spring election for Branch 7, and Michael Maxwell defeated Ron Sonderhouse for Branch 8. Also, Brookfield’s Maria Lazar and Mike Aprahamian, appointed to succeed Judge Donald Hassin Jr. in fall 2014, both ran unopposed for judicial seats.

More changes came around the county, as Tom Stefanowski defeated Ruth Ann Nicoson for the Mukwonago Town Board, longtime Mukwonago School Board member Rodell Singert fell to Erika Conner, and Village Trustee Joseph Helm defeated fellow Trustee Stephen Raymonds for Menomonee Falls village president.

Incumbents safely re-elected included Patricia Madden, Patrick McCaffery and Kurt O’Bryan on the Waukesha School Board, Town of Waukesha Chairman John Marek and town supervisors Larry Wolf and Brian Fischer.

 

Sober servers: Waukesha has joined the list of cities around Wisconsin that require bartenders to remain sober enough to drive home legally, after the Common Council approved such an ordinance in a 7-5 vote.

Alderman Steve Johnson said the ordinance isn’t about not allowing bartenders to have a drink with the customers, and he doesn’t understand why bar owners would be opposed to the regulation. But some citizens said it was government overreach and a solution in search of a problem.

 

Ahead of the curve: Waukesha School District leaders approved a new high school grading scale as part of an effort to simplify what some say is a convoluted grading and reporting system.

Some parents have said they were confused by their child’s report card, with schools using various frameworks, including letter grades, numbers, and “yes” or “no.”

The scale was to include an end-of-the-semester letter grade, description of the student’s proficiency — ranging from “advanced” to “not met or incomplete progress” and corresponding GPA points on the standard 1-4 point scale, as well as AP weighted points.

 

In it together: Waukesha County and the city of Milwaukee went into the recycling business together, opening a shared Material Recycling Facility in the Menomonee Valley, the result of an intergovernmental agreement that will save both sides millions of dollars over the life of the contract.

The 75,000-square-foot facility, located at 1401 W. Mount Vernon Ave., began production in March. The two sides collectively spent $16 million on the building itself, along with new equipment and site improvements. A switch to a single-sort system of recycling is part of the partnership.

 

Friday Night Live lives on: The popular Waukesha street festival returned in 2015, under the care of new organizers Susie Taylor and her brother-in-law, Dan Taylor.

Susie Taylor credits the original downtown business organizers of the event, Norm Bruce, Kerry Mackay and Roger Igielski, for growing the annual summer event to the size it has become. But, she said, they were ready for a break. The project remains a Downtown Business Association event.

 

Large fire, minimal damage: Firefighters spent hours fighting a blaze at Waukesha Iron and Metal on April 29, a fire so large that thick, black smoke could be seen for miles around.

However, business representatives said later there was virtually no loss from the fire, as it was not hot enough to melt the metals on the site.

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