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Morning Brief - Sept. 20, 2023: Pequot Lakes dog rescue founder faces tax-related felonies

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Plus an agreement to reduce plastic pollution in the Mississippi River, new water regulations on the White Earth Reservation and more time to haul storm debris in St. Louis County.

PEQUOT LAKES — The head of a Pequot Lakes dog rescue organization and her husband are facing multiple felonies for filing false income tax returns and failing to pay their taxes.

The Crow Wing County Attorney's Office filed charges against Shannon Steele and her husband Russel Steele for tax years 2017 through 2021.

According to the complaints, Shannon Steele was the only person with access to Northern Lakes Rescue's bank accounts.

She allegedly withdrew thousands from the nonprofit's accounts for personal expenses such as including airfare and jet ski rentals.

Collectively, the couple avoided paying taxes on more than $300,000 in taxable income, the charges say.

Shannon Steele also faces a probation violation as part of a previous theft by check conviction.

In that case, while working at a painting business in Garrison, Steele wrote checks to herself totaling $62,000 and charged more than $16,000 in unauthorized purchases to company credit cards.

Agreement to prevent plastic pollution in the Mississippi River

Mayors from numerous states and tribal leaders from Northern Minnesota gathered in Bemidji last week to announce a first-of-its kind partnership to protect the Mississippi River.

KAXE/KBXE Reporter Larissa Donovan found out how these partners intend to take action.

Mayors from Minnesota to Louisiana converged in Bemidji last week for the annual meeting of the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative to announce a new project aimed at preventing plastic pollution.

White Earth water regulations

The White Earth Band is one of a growing number of Native American tribes exerting their authority to protect reservation water reserves.

In the wake of a recent New York Times story highlighting the overuse of groundwater in Northern Minnesota attributed to agriculture, a new report from nonprofit news organization Circle of Blue highlights White Earth's regulatory efforts.

Band leadership are in the midst of developing regulations and a permitting program that sets mandatory standards of environmental performance for farm operations.

White Earth recently set a two-year moratorium on the development of large livestock and dairy operations within the reservation boundary.

A second ordinance establishes a tribal review and permitting process for high-capacity water wells.

Tribal Chairman Michael Fairbanks says the state of Minnesota's own practices around groundwater protections do not go far enough to prevent negative impacts, in the band's view.

Circle of Blue says the tribal rules are a clear rebuke to farm states and the federal government, which have advocated voluntary participation in pollution prevention and water conservation programs that have cost taxpayers billions of dollars.

Tree debris drop off site to remain open two extra weeks

The tree debris drop-off site opened by St. Louis County following the powerful windstorm that knocked down hundreds of trees in and around Gilbert, Aurora and Hoyt Lakes will remain open through Oct. 9, two weeks longer than originally announced.

The extended schedule is to assist residents still cleaning up following the Sept. 5 storm. The South Gravel Pit in Makinen is open from dawn until dusk, seven days a week.

The county is not offering curbside pickup of debris.

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Chelsey Perkins spent the first 15 years of her journalism career as a print journalist, primarily as a newspaper reporter and editor. In February 2023, she accepted a role as News Director of KAXE in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, where she's building a new local newsroom at the station.
Larissa Donovan has been in the Bemidji area's local news scene since 2016, joining the KAXE newsroom in 2023 after several years as the News Director for the stations of Paul Bunyan Broadcasting.
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