Local News Archives

Church Immigration Aide Gets Prison For Defrauding People

From the Associated Press — An immigrant who worked for the Roman Catholic Church in Kalamazoo has been sentenced to 33  months in federal prison for stealing fees from other immigrants. The government says Monica Mazei concealed the scheme by failing to open files for certain people and persuading them to give cash or blank checks. Mazei was ordered to pay $59,000 to her victims Monday, four months after pleading guilty to fraud. She worked in the Kalamazoo Diocese’s immigration assistance program. Mazei is a native of Ecuador who became a naturalized U.S. citizen.. ...Read Full Story

Health Department Monitoring Coronavirus Response

The Berrien County Health Department is working to assure local residents that it’s on top of the unfolding situation with novel coronavirus, and that there is no need to worry. Spokesperson Gillian Conrad tells WSJM News as of this Tuesday morning, there were still no confirmed cases of the respiratory illness in Michigan.. ...Read Full Story

Spectrum Health Lakeland Adds Second K9

Spectrum Health Lakeland has a new staff member, but this one is a little different. Hiro is a two-year-old German shepherd from Slovakia who is the second K9 working at the hospital. He’s paired with handler Chris Aungst, who retired from the Berrien County Sheriff’s Department after nearly 30 years and joined the hospital’s security team.. ...Read Full Story

Group Makes Policy Recommendations To Help Low Income Residents

While Michigan’s economy is improving, a new report finds the state could be doing more to help its residents who are living paycheck to paycheck. Holden Weisman, the associate director of policy at Prosperity Now, says Michigan’s “income poverty rate” of 13.4% is higher than many states, and its “liquid-asset poverty rate” has been rising for the past seven years. He recommends the state at least prohibit discrimination for anyone using a Housing Choice voucher. Weisman adds legislation making its way through the Michigan House also could help by providing tax relief for some low-income homeowners.

“There are a tremendous amount of people that are working hard but still not moving up the economic ladder. The EITC is extremely important as an anti-poverty measure, because it puts real cash in the pockets of people that truly need it.”. ...Read Full Story

High Water Could Cost South Haven Millions To Protect Critical Infrastructure

The city of South Haven is looking at some expensive repairs that need to be addressed soon due to erosion from, and high water levels on, Lake Michigan. The city council heard several reports this week, and Assistant City Manager Kate Hosier says the most critical need is to address issues with the wastewater treatment plant caused by the high water level. She says the treated water is returned to the Black River through a gravity-fed system.. ...Read Full Story

Whitmer To Take National Stage To Rebut Trump

From the Associated Press — Democrats are putting Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer on the national stage Tuesday to rebut President Donald Trump’s State of the Union message. By elevating a fresh face and casting an election-year spotlight on the Midwest, the party looks to win back states Trump narrowly captured. The 48-year-old’s ascendance comes as Democrats hope to solidify gains with female voters and as two men in their late 70s, former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, lead national primary polls. Whitmer’s selection has led to increased speculation that she could be a running mate pick, though she says she is not interested.. ...Read Full Story

BH Commissioners Approve Tax Abatement With A Limit

The Benton Harbor City Commission has approved a tax abatement for a developer seeking to turn the building at the corner of Riverview Drive and Empire Avenue into an events center. The action at a Monday meeting granted a Commercial Rehabilitation District exemption to Chicago Industrial Real Estate, LLC, allowing owner Matt Rogatz to have the property taxes frozen at this year’s level while he invests an estimated $1.5 million into the former All Phase electric building. However, there’s a slight catch. The commission granted Rogatz the abatement for seven years instead of the requested ten. The idea was pitched by mayor Pro Tem Duane Seats.. ...Read Full Story

Climate Change Lobbying Group Forms In St. Joseph

A citizens lobbying group to advocate for policies to reduce climate change has been formed in St. Joseph. Citizens’ Climate Lobby officially opened its St. Joe chapter on Saturday. CCL volunteers lobby Congress in support of the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, which would put a carbon tax on fossil fuels to be returned to the public in order to cushion higher energy costs as fossil fuels are phased out. CCL says fossil fuels are a major source of greenhouse gases linked to global warming. St. Joseph Mayor Pro-Tem Laura Goos, a member of the new CCL, says the signs of climate change are all around us here in southwest Michigan, pointing to coastal erosion and flooding along Main Street in Benton Harbor and at Riverview Park in St. Joseph. The CCL will hold meetings on the second Saturday of each month at the Berrien Unitarian Universalist Fellowship on Lincoln Avenue. Each meeting will begin at 12:30 p.m. and run for two hours.. ...Read Full Story

Pokagon Fund Hires New Director

The Pokagon Fund has announced the hiring of its new director. Dan Petersen started on Monday. The 38-year-old Petersen was previously the president of EightCAP, Incorporated, a community action agency in Ionia County. WSJM News asked him what attracted him to the Pokagon Fund.. ...Read Full Story

Niles Steel Tank Announces Expansion

A Niles manufacturing company is celebrating the completion of an 85,000 square foot expansion. Niles Steel Tank has added that space for Alloy Works, which makes stainless steel products for several industries including hydronics, chemical and petrochemical, and dairy and food processing. In a statement, general manager Jeremy Waller calls Alloy Works “one more step in a journey that started in 1898, when Niles Steel Tank began offering America’s best tanks and pressure vessels.” He adds the industries they serve are constantly changing, and they also have to keep adapting and expanding to meet their customers’ changing needs.. ...Read Full Story

Stamp Farms Owner Michael Stamp Withdraws Guilty Plea

Trial will start in October for former Stamp Farms owner Michael Stamp. MLive reports he has withdrawn his guilty plea from April 2019 to charges of conspiracy to commit crop insurance fraud and conspiracy to commit bank fraud. The plea was pulled after a federal judge rejected the sentencing agreement for Stamp on the day the Decatur farm owner was scheduled to be sentenced in late January to no more than five years in prison.. ...Read Full Story

Upton Seeks To Prevent Wildfires

Congressman Fred Upton is urging leaders in Washington to discuss ways that wildfires can be prevented. He addressed a meeting of the House Energy Subcommittee this past week, telling members better forest management and electrical infrastructure improvements would prevent wildfires.. ...Read Full Story

Library Presentation To Focus On Researching Ancestry

Anyone interested in learning something about their ancestry is invited to attend a workshop at the Van Buren District Library’s Decatur branch this month. Local History Clerk Karen Jenson tells WSJM News the library can let visitors use its Ancestry.com service for free. Normally, an Ancestry account could run you $24 to $50 per month. At her February 8 workshop, Jenson will show everyone how it works. For example, you can look through immigration records.. ...Read Full Story

Berrien Districts May Start School Year Before Labor Day This Year

Berrien RESA this week filed a waiver with the Michigan Department of Education to ask if school districts in the county may start their school years before Labor Day for the next few years. RESA Superintendent Kevin Ivers tells WSJM News they are not seeking a permanent change. The waiver would only be for three years. The reason has to do with when Labor Day will fall on the calendar for 2020 and 2021.. ...Read Full Story

Auction For Lakeshore Schools Starts Today

An online auction starts today to raise money for Lakeshore Public Schools. Lakeshore Excellence Foundation Chair J.C. Anderson tells WSJM News up for bids will be items including Disney passes, high-end Whirlpool appliances, spa treatments, gym memberships, destination golf vacations, restaurant certificates, and more.. ...Read Full Story

Lawmakers Consider Shoreline Protection Efforts

State Representative Beth Griffin of Mattawan is working with other west Michigan lawmakers to help address shoreline erosion issues along Lake Michigan. She tells WSJM News she took part in a round table discussion last week with several members of the state House. Griffin wants to help make it easier for property owners to respond.. ...Read Full Story

Planning Commission Wins Awards For Website, Video

The Southwest Michigan Planning Commission has received some recognition for a couple of websites it created to educate the public on local resources and how they can be protected. The Association of Marketing and Communications Professionals has honored the commission with a Gold Award for production of a website for BetterBeachesSWMI.org. It also gave the association a Gold Award for an animated video on the site. Southwest Michigan Planning Commission Senior Planner Marcy Hamilton tells WSJM News  BetterBeachesSWMI.org was launched to educate the public about how runoff contaminates local beaches.. ...Read Full Story

Fundraising Effort For Splash Pad Reaches $10,000

The Greater South Haven Area Community Foundation has passed the $10,000 mark in its effort to raise funds for the new splash pad being constructed near South Beach in South Haven. Foundation board member Roger Beglin tells WSJM News the group has a fundraising goal of $25,000 that it will then match, bringing its total contribution to the splash pad up to $50,000. Beglin says the Greater South Haven Area Community Foundation supports the splash pad project because of what it will mean to young people.. ...Read Full Story

USDA Urges Food Safety At Super Bowl Parties

Millions of American will get together this weekend in front of their televisions to watch Super Bowl 54, and that means a lot of food will be consumed. An estimated 1.8 billion chicken wings will be eaten as football fans watch the Big Game. USDA spokesperson Janell Goodwin tells WSJM News you should follow four rules of food safety. They are clean, separate, cook, and chill. Let’s start with cook.. ...Read Full Story

Berrien RESA Superintendent Finalists Announced

Three finalists will be interviewed Tuesday for the job of Berrien RESA superintendent. Dr. Kevin Ivers is retiring at the end of this school year, and 11 candidates applied to succeed him. The Berrien RESA Board of Education will interview Lapeer Public Schools superintendent Matthew Wandrie, Berrien RESA assistant superintendent Eric Hoppstock, and Lakeview Public Schools superintendent Blake Prewitt on February 4. The interviews will be at the Berrien RESA Administrative Conference Center starting at 1 p.m. Board president Cathy Bair says they are planning to have Ivers’ successor hired by the middle of February “in order to provide a smooth transition of leadership for the new school year.”. ...Read Full Story

Register Of Deeds To Speak At Senior Centers

Berrien County Register of Deeds Lora Freehling will spend part of this year going around the county speaking at senior centers. She says her talks will focus on the role of the Register of Deeds and the importance of a properly-worded deed. Freehling says making sure your document is correct before filing it with the Register of Deeds can save a lot of time and money. She will first speak at the Buchanan Area Senior Center on March 4 at 11 a.m. After that, she’ll be at the Benton Harbor Senior Center on March 5 at 10:30, the North Berrien Senior Center on March 11 at 1, the Niles Senior Center on March 19 at 1, and the St. Joseph-Lincoln Senior Center on April 2 at 10 a.m. Anyone with questions can contact the Berrien County Register of Deeds.. ...Read Full Story

Volunteer Events Coming Up At Warren Dunes State Park

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is planning several volunteer stewardship days at Warren Dunes State Park throughout February. It says you don’t need experience when it comes to helping remove invasive plants from the park. This Sunday, volunteers are invited out to Warren Dunes from 1 to 4 p.m. for a match up against invasives. There will also be volunteer days on February 9, 16, and 23. The volunteers get training beforehand, and on various days they’ll be removing common privet, Japanese barberry, non-native honeysuckle, and other misfit plants. You can find out more about the volunteer opportunities right here.. ...Read Full Story

Dowagiac Hunter’s Rendezvous Next Month

Coming up in February will be one of the biggest events for lovers of the outdoors held in southwest Michigan each year. It’s the 23rd annual Dowagiac Conservation Club’s Hunter’s Rendezvous on Saturday February 8 at the club grounds in Dowagiac. Club Vice President Craig Lyons tells us the event is a fundraiser for the youth programs the organization runs. Everyone is welcome to come and display trophies.. ...Read Full Story

Bridgman Schools Close Due To Flu

All activities at Bridgman Public Schools are canceled this weekend and buildings will be closed Friday due to the flu. The district says on its Facebook page it’s been hit hard by influenza this year. District administrators held an emergency meeting Friday, and the decision was made to shut everything down from 4 p.m. Thursday to 7 p.m. Sunday. In the meantime, the district says it’s been monitoring the situation and has been in constant contact with the Berrien County Health Department.. ...Read Full Story

Michigan Panel Authorizes $3.5B In Road Bonding

A state panel has authorized borrowing $3.5 billion to roughly double spending on state road and bridge construction over five years, hours after Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced the plan in her State of the State speech. The State Transportation Commission unanimously approved the Rebuilding Michigan program on Thursday after hearing details from the state Department of Transportation. Spending will rise from nearly $3.9 billion to $7.3 billion over the five-year period. It will allow for 73 new projects in high-traffic areas and enable the state to covert other planned projects to reconstruction, rather than resurfacing.. ...Read Full Story

Oakland County Man Arrested For Threatening Secretary Of State Benson

A 72-year-old Oakland County man is under arrest and facing possible terror charges for alleged threats against the Secretary of State. Michigan State Police Lieutenant Mike Shaw says there were two threats made against Democrat Jocelyn Benson. One was left on a voicemail, anther phoned in to a worker at Benson’s Lansing office. Shaw won’t reveal exactly what the threat was or what was said, but he says it was against Benson personally and over the suspect’s dislike of her politics.. ...Read Full Story

Cass County Man Gets New Sentence For Murder Committed At 16

A Niles man found guilty in 1997 of the 1993 murder of his 15-year-old girlfriend has a chance at being free within the next year. Robert Leamon was sentenced to life in prison without parole for the crime, but because he was 16 when he killed Rebecca Stowe, his sentence was tossed out earlier this month due to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling. That decision found mandatory life sentences for juveniles is unconstitutional. Leamon’s new sentence was handed down Thursday of 25 to 60 years in prison, with credit for the 24 years, 3 months already served. That makes him parole-eligible this fall. If Leamon is not granted parole, he will be free in 2055.. ...Read Full Story

Buttigieg Endorsed By Major California, Nevada LGBTQ Group

(South Bend, IN – AP) – Democratic presidential candidate and former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg has won the endorsement of one of the nation’s largest LGBTQ membership organizations. Equality California and its Nevada partner organization have more than 900,000 members. Buttigieg is the only openly gay candidate in the race, but he wasn’t the only candidate in the running for the endorsement. The groups also considered backing Elizabeth Warren or Tom Steyer. But the endorsement committee believed Buttigieg had the most in-depth plans for protecting LGBTQ youth in schools and ending the HIV epidemic in the next decade.. ...Read Full Story

Group Clears First Steps For Anti-Discrimination Ballot Drive

From the Associated Press — A group organizing a Michigan ballot drive to protect LGBT people from discrimination says it will begin collecting signatures after state election officials approved the format and wording of the petition. The Fair and Equal Michigan campaign secured the optional approvals from the Board of State Canvassers Tuesday. It has until late May to gather about 340,000 valid signatures to put the initiative before the Republican-led Legislature. If lawmakers didn’t approve the bill, it would go on the November ballot. The proposal would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations.. ...Read Full Story

BH Commission Appoints Ellis Mitchell City Manager

It’s official. Ellis Mitchell has been appointed the city manager of Benton Harbor. At a meeting on Wednesday night, the Benton Harbor City Commission interviewed Mitchell. He’s been serving as interim city manager since July. During his interview, Mitchell said he moved to Benton Harbor before even getting the interim job as he values the community. He also said it’s important to delegate, evaluate staff, and train staff.. ...Read Full Story

New Resident Inspector At The Cook Plant

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has named a new resident inspector for the Cook nuclear power plant in Bridgman. The NRC says Paul Zurawski will serve in the post. He joined the NRC in 2006 as a Region III reactor engineer, and has since been a senior resident inspector at the Monticello nuclear in Minnesota, and a resident inspector at the Prairie Island plant, also in Minnesota. Prior to those NRC jobs, Zurawski worked in the private nuclear industry overseeing activities like steam generator replacements and dry fuel storage projects. Each commercial nuclear power plant in the United States has at least two resident inspectors who monitor day-to-day operations. Zurawski joins NRC resident inspector Joe Mancuso at the D.C. Cook facility. Together, they’ll will serve as the NRC’s eyes and ears, conducting inspections and monitoring projects.. ...Read Full Story

Governor Whitmer Shifts Gears On Road Funding, Will Issue State Road Bonds

Governor Gretchen Whitmer is shifting gears when it comes to her pledge to fix Michigan’s roads. During her second State of the State address on Wednesday, she announced plans to ask the State Transportation Committee to issue state road bonds. Whitmer says doing so will “save time, save money, and save lives,” and also will not come with any increase at the gas pump unlike what she proposed last year with a 45¢ per gallon hike that never came to be. Her administration says the plan is to raise $3.5 billion through the bonds so that the work on fixing Michigan’s infrastructure can begin immediately. Whitmer’s State of the State address was shorter than most in the past, something she addressed early on as she focused the remarks her plans for roads, education, jobs, and health care.. ...Read Full Story

Man With Pot Shops Around Michigan Gets Long Prison Term

From the Associated Press — A Lansing man who owned medical marijuana shops around Michigan has been sentenced to nearly 16 years in federal prison. Marijuana has been legal in Michigan to ease the effects of certain illnesses, long before recreational marijuana was approved in 2018. But federal investigators said Danny Trevino operated outside the medical marijuana law. The government says Trevino can possess small amounts of marijuana with his own medical marijuana card, but that his criminal record prevents him from being a registered caregiver who can grow pot for others. He was convicted of a marijuana conspiracy, among other crimes. Defense attorney Nicholas Bostic says Trevino “thought he was legal.”. ...Read Full Story

Volunteers Sought For Boys Health, Education Program

An effort is underway to bring a program to southwest Michigan to help boys grow up healthier and with more respect for themselves and others. Al Mussman, who used to run Zoup and Biggby Coffee in St. Joseph, tells WSJM News he’s working to open a local chapter of Let Me Run. It’s like Girls on the Run, but for boys. Mussman says the great things Girls on the Run has done for girls around the country can be done to help boys as well.. ...Read Full Story

Two Arraigned In Dowagiac Murder

Arraignment has been held for two suspects in the murder of a Dowagiac man this week. The Cass County Prosecutor’s Office says Justin Carlton and Jay Penar both face open murder charges in the death of 40-year-old Michael Kenneth Collins. The two were arrested Monday, one near Three Rivers and the other in Kalamazoo Township. Police say the two broke into a home in the 700 block of Louise Avenue on Monday, tying up three residents. Collins was shot and killed. Both defendants have been denied bond. Their next court dates are February 6 for a probable cause hearing and February 12 for preliminary examination.. ...Read Full Story

GateWay Services Names Interim Executive Director

Berrien County nonprofit agency GateWay Services is under new leadership. The organization has been working since 1972 in the area to help people with disabilities with job coaching, job development, in-home care, and more. Tami Gould has been named the agency’s interim executive director. A lifelong Berrien County resident, Gould has been the director of services for GateWay since 2010 after first joining the organization in 2008 when Hope Network ended services in the county. GateWay is located in Benton Harbor and Niles with a staff of more than 60 and provides services to more than 200 county residents.. ...Read Full Story

Michigan Senate Votes To Require Study Of Highway Tolls

From the Associated Press — The Michigan Senate has voted to require that a study be done to assess the feasibility of tolls along the state’s highways. The bill was sent Tuesday to the House for future consideration. It’s among several road funding-related measures that cleared the Republican-led Senate. Democrats voted against bills they said would seek to shift funds so higher union-level wages
would not have to be paid on local road projects. Under the tolling legislation, the state Department of Transportation would have to hire an outside consulting firm to conduct a feasibility study within 18 months.. ...Read Full Story

Benton Harbor Home Destroyed In Fire

A home in Benton Harbor is a total loss after a fire on Tuesday. The Benton Harbor Department Public Safety says it was sent to 1297 Superior Street just after 3 p.m. on reports of heavy smoke pouring out of the home’s windows. Firefighters found the smoke so thick there was no visibility in the yard. A haze of smoke also spread out for blocks. Due to what public safety calls a large amount of contents in the home, it was impossible to battle the flames from inside. As a result, City Manager Ellis Mitchell authorized an emergency demolition order to allow firefighters to extinguish the blaze. Meeks Construction arrived around 5 p.m. to conduct the demolition. Tearing out the back portion of the building enabled firefighters to get at the flames. The home was ultimately razed to the ground and the fire put out. The sole occupant of the home was not there at the time, and is unhurt. However, his dog was killed in the fire. The Red Cross has been called in to help him. The Benton Harbor Department of Public Safety cleared the scene after 6 p.m.. ...Read Full Story

Mall Narrowly Avoids Closure Over Water, Sewer Bills

The Orchards Mall narrowly avoided being shut down this week when its owner paid a water bill to Benton Township in the eleventh hour. Benton Township Treasurer Debbie Boothby tells WSJM News the mall as of Tuesday morning owed nearly $46,000 in water and sewer bills. It had to pay about $7,700 by the end of the day to avoid a water shutoff, which also would have resulted in the entire mall closing. The payment was made shortly before the close of business. She tells WSJM News the mall failing to pay its water and sewer bill is “nothing new for us.” Meanwhile, the possibility of tax foreclosure on the property has been eliminated for the time being. Berrien County Treasurer Bret Witkowski tells us the owner paid off the last of the mall’s 2017 property taxes on Monday. That means it won’t be foreclosed come March. However, the mall still owes the county $220,000 for 2018, and $166,000 for 2019.. ...Read Full Story

Berrien School Districts Ask To Start School Before Labor Day

Berrien RESA has filed a waiver with the Michigan Department of Education to ask if school districts in the county may start their school years before Labor Day for the next few years. RESA Superintendent Kevin Ivers tells WSJM News they are not seeking a permanent change. The waiver would only be for three years. The reason has to do with when Labor Day will fall on the calendar for 2020 and 2021.. ...Read Full Story

Life Saving Awards Presented By St. Joseph Public Safety

Life Saving Award presentations by police can sometimes get emotional. That’s just what happened Monday night at the St. Joseph City Commission meeting when Deputy Public Safety Director Steve Neubecker honored Vedette Cordes for saving the life of Jaden Smith in July 2018 after he wizzed by her car on a skateboard down Park Street hill and crashed into the window of Outpost Sports.. ...Read Full Story

Southwestern Michigan College President: Enrollment Trending Up

Enrollment looks to be on the increase at Southwestern Michigan College. SMC president Dr. Joe Odenwald made the announcement during his first President’s Report to the college’s Board of Trustees, noting enrollment contact hours are up eight-tenths of a percentage point over last spring, and fall applications are up 20%. Odenwald says if the trend is maintained, SMC can expect a roughly 5% increase in students this fall. He says the college was up 11% in first-time students this past fall over the year prior. Odenwald adds enrollment was down 10% in the fall of 2018, and the school has “weathered that.” When he was interviewed for the job, he told the Board of Trustees SMC needed to grow enrollment by at least 3% “to survive.”. ...Read Full Story

Two Arrested In Dowagiac Murder

A murder investigation is underway in Dowagiac, with both suspects in custody. Police say a 40-year-old Dowagiac man was found dead from a shooting just before 2 a.m. Monday at a home in the 700 block of Louise Avenue, and also found three other residents of the home had been tied up by two suspects who broke in and robbed the house. The three were not hurt and had managed to free themselves before police arrived.. ...Read Full Story

MI Supreme Court To Review Law That Pays Wrongly Convicted

From the Associated Press — The Michigan Supreme Court is interested in a dispute about whether people who were wrongly convicted of crimes should be paid for time spent in custody before trial. The court said Friday it will hear arguments in the months ahead. State law grants $50,000 for each year spent in prison because of a wrongful conviction. The Michigan appeals court said the law makes no reference to compensating people for being locked up without bond before trial. Davontae Sanford was paid $408,000 for his prison time but wants more money for 198 days spent in a teen detention center.
. ...Read Full Story

Three, Including St. Joseph Mayor, Receive Life Saving Awards

Three people now have Life Saving Awards from the St. Joseph Department of Public Safety. Deputy Director Steve Neubecker on Monday presented the first two to Mayor Mike Garey and Christopher Martin for their response when they witnessed a man crash his vehicle on the Blossomland Bridge last October 25. They found the man slumped over the wheel and not breathing, and broke out the window to pull him out and perform CPR.. ...Read Full Story

Van Buren District Library To Hold Ancestry Workshop

Anyone interested in learning something about their ancestry is invited to attend a workshop at the Van Buren District Library’s Decatur branch next month. Local History Clerk Karen Jenson tells WSJM News the library can let visitors use its Ancestry.com service for free. Normally, an Ancestry account could run you $24 to $50 per month. At her February 8 workshop, Jenson will show everyone how it works. For example, you can look through immigration records.. ...Read Full Story