Business Briefs

Posted: Thursday, December 06, 2001

Southeast weathering economic stress differently

JUNEAU -- Much of the economic distress felt by Southeast communities from losses in the timber industry had little impact on Juneau, an analysis by the McDowell Group concluded.

Employment rose 18 percent in Juneau between 1990 and 1999 while it fell elsewhere in the Panhandle, said Jim Calvin of the McDowell Group.

Calvin told the Juneau Chamber of Commerce recently that overall employment in the Southeast rose only 4 percent, compared to a 16 percent increase in employment statewide.

Income in Juneau remained flat between 1990-1999 ''but it has escaped the down trends of the timber industry,'' Calvin said Friday.

At the same time, employment fell 2 percent in Sitka; 3 percent in Wrangell and Petersburg; 8 percent in Haines and 9 percent in Ketchikan. Employment fell 17 percent in Skagway, Hoonah and Yakutat, Calvin said.

Downturns in Southeast's timber industry began in 1990 with the shutdown of the Haines sawmill, the community's single largest employer. The sawmill in Wrangell closed in 1994 and the Ketchikan pulp mill closed three years later.

These closures meant the ''loss of hundreds of year-round, high-paying jobs,'' Calvin said.

In the wake of the closures, the number of self-employed people and business owners is increasing. Many of the jobs are in tourism, bed-and-breakfasts and cab driving, resulting in lower incomes, Calvin said.

Quilt shop owner is sentenced for labor violation

FAIRBANKS -- A Fairbanks quilt shop owner has been given a suspended imposition of sentence after pleading no contest to charges she broke child-labor and minimum wage laws.

Mary J. Bruso, 46, owner of the Polar Bear Quilt Shop, was charged with employing a 16-year-old girl without a work permit in 1999 and 2000 and with paying the girl $5 an hour under the table. Federal minimum wage at the time was $5.15 an hour.

Bruso faced a total of 17 misdemeanor charges alleging that she broke child labor and minimum wage laws, failed to keep accurate and complete business records and lied to a Department of Labor investigator.

On Friday she agreed to plead no contest to one count of employing a minor without authorization. The other 16 counts against her were dismissed.

Bruso was given a one-year suspended imposition of sentence, meaning she will be on probation for a year and will receive no further sentence provided that during that time she does not commit an offense that calls for imprisonment. She must also perform 100 hours of community service work.

According to Chief of Labor Standards, Randy Carr, the criminal charges against Bruso came about as a last resort after a series of failed attempts to get her to pay back wages to the employee.

''She refused for about nine months of our attempts to get this thing resolved,'' Carr said in a September interview.

According to Carr, the department asked Bruso to pay the girl $300 in back pay, then took Bruso to small claims court when she refused. Bruso then requested the case be moved to District Court.

Assistant Attorney General Randy Olsen said the case was forwarded to the district attorney's office for possible criminal prosecution.

Banks defrauded by RV dealer collect $623,000

ANCHORAGE -- Federal prosecutors returned a total of $623,482 Tuesday to three banks that were defrauded by former RV dealer Danial Twitchell of Anchorage.

The government claimed the money through a forfeiture proceeding following Twitchell's conviction earlier this year for bank fraud and money laundering.

Currently serving a three-year federal prison sentence in Oregon, Twitchell had owned Alaskan Adventures RV Center in Anchorage.

In September 2000, Twitchell was arrested on the Glenn Highway attempting to flee the state in his luxury motor home, said Michael Thoreson, the lead FBI investigator on the case.

A U.S. District Court jury convicted Twitchell last February of 14 counts of bank fraud and four counts of money laundering. Twitchell is appealing his conviction to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Federal prosecutors say Twitchell got bank loans for vehicles had already been sold and failed to repay banks after selling RVs he had pledged as collateral.

Twitchell closed his business in May 2000, during the peak season for RV rentals and sales. That raised the suspicions of bankers who had financed much of Twitchell's inventory. A complaint was filed with the FBI which investigated and found evidence of fraud.

Agents discovered $425,450 in a safe underneath the stairs in Twitchell's home. Other money was stashed in investment accounts. The FBI eventually seized more than $600,000 during the course of the investigation, prosecutors said.

The money was returned Tuesday to KeyBank, CIT Financial and Deutsch Financial Services.

--The Associated Press

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