State Briefs

Posted: Thursday, October 24, 2002

Burned boat may have sunk

JUNEAU - A fishing boat rocked by an explosion and fire that left one man dead and two missing may have sunk in the Bering Sea, the Coast Guard said.

The Coast Guard was unable to find the 180-foot Galaxy on Wednesday after receiving a satellite signal that indicated it might have gone down, officials said. The signal was too brief to show the location of the Galaxy, Coast Guard Petty Officer Jim Barber said.

"The last word we got, we think maybe it's been lost, that the boat has gone down," said John Young, a lawyer for Galaxy Fisheries, the ship's owner. "The wind was blowing 70-plus knots, miserable with freezing spray. Without power, it lays in a wave trough and rolls heavily."

Crew members from the Coast Guard and private vessels quit monitoring the ship when a search for survivors was suspended Tuesday night.

Loss of the boat could pose a major obstacle to the Coast Guard's investigation of the explosion and fire, officials said.

"Recovering a damaged boat is a whole lot better than losing a whole boat," Petty Officer Cory Cichoracki said.

Galaxy Fisheries hired Magone Marine Services in Dutch Harbor to tow the burned-out ship back to port, but the tugboat Redeemer had to turn back early Tuesday morning because of foul weather. By the time the weather subsided Wednesday, the ship's whereabouts were unknown, Magone controller Dick Schacker said.

World Plus head gets more time

ANCHORAGE - A Fairbanks woman who was to be released soon from federal prison was sentenced Wednesday to three more years for running Alaska's largest-ever Ponzi scheme.

RaeJean Bonham, 52, earlier this year pleaded no contest to state charges of filing misleading securities statements in connection with the World Plus scam that bilked investors out of about $15 million. In exchange for the plea, prosecutors dropped a perjury charge that carried a maximum 10-year sentence.

Bonham already is serving a five-year sentence after pleading guilty to federal charges of mail fraud and money laundering in 1998. She participated in Wednesday's sentencing by phone from Geiger Corrections Center in Spokane, Wash.

"This is the type of case that shocks the conscience," Superior Court Judge Larry Card told Bonham. He also placed her on 10 years probation.

Prior to sentencing, Bonham told the judge she was sorry for what she had done and intended to pay restitution ordered by the federal court. She has been ordered to repay $5.7 million.

About 1,200 World Plus investors, many of them in the Fairbanks area, were told their money would go toward buying blocks of corporate frequent-flier airline miles that would be repackaged into tickets and sold at huge profits.

But Bonham actually was operating an illegal pyramid scheme in which early investors were paid with money put in by later investors. The scam collapsed in December 1995.

Ketchikan shipyard wins ferry bid

KETCHIKAN - A Ketchikan shipyard is the apparent low bidder for a $3.37 million upgrade of the state ferry Malaspina. Alaska Ship and Drydock, however, has withdrawn its proposal for another major job, the $12 million- to $13-million project on the federal research vessel Fairweather.

Bids for the federally funded Malaspina project were opened on Oct. 17.

Alaska Ship and Drydock, which operates the state-owned Ketchikan Shipyard, came under a $3.89 million bid from Portland, Ore.-based Cascade General and a $3.91 million bid from Todd Pacific Shipyards in Seattle.

The Malaspina project involves lifesaving equipment upgrades required by U.S. and international regulations. Alaska Ship and Drydock has done similar work on three other Alaska Marine Highway System ferries in recent years.

Ketchikan court runs out of jurors for murder trial

KETCHIKAN - A new round of prospective jurors was called in at Ketchikan Superior Court on Wednesday after the first pool of jurors was exhausted during jury selection in a murder trial getting under way.

The trial for Carl Abhul, who is accused of killing his former roommate, recessed for the day Tuesday with two empty seats in the jury box.

Abuhl, 30, is charged with first-degree murder for the May 7 beating death of Steve Bowen, 49.

Abuhl had also faced charges of cruelty to animals for reportedly injuring Bowen's cat. But Tuesday he pleaded no contest to charges he placed the cat in a microwave oven, turned the oven on while the cat was inside and later beat the cat.

Man pleads innocent to fraud

ANCHORAGE - A man accused of planning to fake his own death so his wife could collect insurance money has pleaded innocent to federal fraud charges.

Jay Robert Darling, 39, made his first appearance in Alaska in U.S. District Court on Monday. Darling's wife, Wanda Wood, 23, fell to her death from a Homer bluff in 1997 under what officials deemed suspicious circumstances.

Darling pleaded not guilty to four counts of wire fraud and one count of mail fraud for scheming to illegally obtain insurance proceeds, prosecutors said.

He was arrested by the FBI in late September in Oregon and is being held at Cook Inlet Pre-Trial Facility until a detention hearing Thursday.

When Wood died, Darling told Alaska State Troopers she fell. Troopers said they continue to investigate the death as a possible homicide but have not charged Darling.

Wood had life insurance for slightly more than $1 million, with double benefits in case of accidental death, according to a federal indictment.

Salmonella outbreak strikes Elim

ANCHORAGE - State health officials are searching for the source of a salmonella outbreak that afflicted 21 people in the village of Elim.

"This is one of the largest salmonella outbreaks that the state has seen in a long time," said Dr. Joe McLaughlin of the state Section of Epidemiology.

A public health nurse in Nome reported the outbreak two weeks ago. Elim has a population of 318.

All of the residents tested showed one or more symptoms of salmonella gastroenteritis, including fever, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. One person was hospitalized for three days and then released, but no one died, McLaughlin said.

Salmonella bacteria can be found in water sources and animals, including humans, poultry, even iguanas and other pets. It is spread through contact with contaminated water or food, McLaughlin said.

Compiled from Associated Press reports.

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