Petters conspirator nabbed by feds, karma

An attorney claims Michael Catain acted like "the king of the neighborhood"

When law enforcement officials raided the Shorewood home of Michael Catain last month, his neighbors weren't surprised. Catain pleaded guilty last week to a charge of conspiracy to commit money laundering, in connection with the more than $3 billion fraud case of his friend and business partner Tom Petters.

This wasn't Catain's first run-in with police. Neighbors call him a community bully who often yelled and threatened nearby residents. He has filed at least two lawsuits as a result of conflicts; one against neighbor John McMasters is still active. Neighbors say police have been called to the residence more than a dozen times.

"This is a neighborhood dispute on steroids," said McMasters's attorney Ed Cohen. "While building his home here, he decided he was king of the neighborhood, so he started bossing people around, screaming and yelling and calling the police." Catain sued McMasters for causing irreparable distress to his wife, which McMasters denies occurred.

According to the 2006 police report from the incident, Catain was angered after his wife said McMasters was threatening her. When police arrived, Catain was screaming, "You wanna come after my wife? I'll fucking kill you." Later on, he told police he knew state Attorney General Mike Hatch and had contributed enough to his campaign that he deserved a favor. He wanted a restraining order against McMasters and hoped to get him kicked out of Shorewood.

Other neighbors have equally disturbing horror stories about the Catains but wanted to stay anonymous to protect their families and avoid potential lawsuits.

Catain's attorney, Michael Colich, did not return calls, but he might want to offer some advice to his client: Where Catain is going, it's probably not a good idea to make his new neighbors angry. —Emily Kaiser

Checks and Balances

In March 2007, the state of Minnesota accidentally sent Sabrina Walker a check for $2.6 million. Suddenly, the Hopkins High School counselor's life turned into a real-life rags-to-riches story.

She dropped the cash on jewelry, a Chrysler Crossfire, electronics, a $500K treasury bond, a few retirement accounts, and two grand worth of limousine service.

Meanwhile, the state didn't have a clue about the missing money, which was supposed to go to the Hennepin County Medical Center. Officials only got word of the missing funds when Walker called to ask if the check was legit.

Walker was charged with four felonies, including theft by swindle and concealing the proceeds of a crime. Last week she was sentenced to nine months in the workhouse.

But the Walker episode wasn't the state's only mistake. Between July 1, 2007, and June 30, 2008, the state wrote 162 checks to the wrong people—a potential loss of $331,281.

In each case, however, the recipient notified the state of the error or a company complained that a payment never came. "The payments were stopped," says Department of Finance Assistant Commissioner Lori Mo. "None of this money was lost."

Mo does concede that if no one reports a mistake, whoever receives the check could conceivably keep the money. And with around 630,000 checks being cut from the state's central accounting system annually, it's possible that a few folks are walking around with some state-sponsored bling. —Bradley Campbell

Big Promotion for State's Top Heathen

Add one more laurel to Minnesota's already impressive list: We are a national leader in godlessness.

August Berkshire, the president of the Minnesota Atheists, was named the new vice president of Atheist Alliance International, one of the largest groups of its kind in the world. After two weeks on the job, the 49-year-old Minneapolis resident has big plans for the umbrella organization.

Berkshire hopes to help other atheist and humanist groups become more established and to promote AAI as a place to network and exchange ideas. He points to an AAI group in New York that recently held a blood drive on the national Day of Prayer. "That actually benefits humanity, instead of praying, which doesn't actually do anything," Berkshire says.

Minnesota has one of the largest atheist groups in the country, with more than 350 members. "We're not trying to outlaw anybody's religion. People can believe whatever they want," says Berkshire, who also works part-time as a flower delivery driver and has the word "ATHEIST" inscribed on his license plate. "We just oppose anybody using the government to finance their belief."

During Berkshire's tenure with the Minnesota Atheists, the group has focused on the separation of church and state and promoting the right to gay marriage. The organization is now looking for new office space.

"So," says Berkshire, "if you know of any vacant churches, that might work out very well." —Beth Walton

Deer Crosswalks Paying Off

Minnesota motorists, rejoice. The danger of crashing into a deer while driving appears to be on the decline—at least compared to other states. Last week, State Farm Insurance released its annual deer-crashing report and ranked Minnesota 12th in the nation for deer collisions, down from its 7th-place ranking two years ago. State drivers face a 1 in 139 chance of hitting a deer in the next year, which is a lot lower than their chance of being audited by the IRS (1 in 100).

State Farm estimates each state's hazard by tallying its deer collision claims from mid-2007 through mid-2008, then factoring in its percentage of market share and vehicle registration figures for each state. West Virginia drivers have the highest probability of running into a deer, at 1 in 45; Hawaii drivers, not surprisingly, have the lowest chance, 1 in 10,962.

While Minnesota's crash ranking has dropped, State Farm says deer accidents are up nearly 15 percent nationwide from five years ago. As it happens, the latest data on deer-vehicle crashes comes just in time for the opening of hunting season. So if Bambi isn't struck by a car, there's a good chance he'll get shot. —Erin Carlyle

Call of the Wild

The eight-year-old Minnesota Wild hockey franchise finally got around to picking a mascot. We're not sure if the result stems from pure laziness, or just a really confused staff that couldn't interpret what the heck a "Wild" is.

John Maher, team vice president for brand marketing, teased reporters before the official announcement, saying only that the mascot is "from the animal kingdom." Way to narrow down the possibilities!

When the mascot was finally unveiled, it was met with mostly quizzical looks. "Nordy" looks kind of like Huckleberry Hound stuffed inside a Care Bear.

The official line is that Nordy is a hybrid of several animals. We didn't know the gritty team was so progressive about inter-species breeding. Oh, and they gave this freak a mullet, too. Lock up your kids! —Emily Kaiser and Ben Palosaari

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