September 13, 2009 in Idaho Voices

Federal court nails four for passing phony bills

By The Spokesman-Review
 

On the Web: For more news from Boise, go to www.spokesman.com/boise.

BOISE – Four counterfeiters have been nailed in federal court in Boise, all for making or passing fake $100 bills in Idaho.

One of them, Brian Mercier, 34, of Salt Lake City, pled guilty this past week to counterfeiting; he’ll be sentenced in November. Mercier turned $5 bills into fake hundred-dollar bills by bleaching them and then re-printing them. He brought the counterfeit hundreds from Utah to Idaho in January and passed a number of them at Idaho businesses.

Another, Jonna Cheyenne Monge, 34, of Jerome, pled guilty to counterfeiting in August after she received a shipment of fake hundreds from California and passed them at a grocery store where she worked and at several businesses and a mall in Twin Falls and Jerome. Like Mercier’s fakes, Monge’s were created by bleaching and reprinting $5 bills. She also faces sentencing in November.

Another Jerome resident pled guilty after passing the fake hundreds in Twin Falls, and a California resident was sentenced in August for passing counterfeit $100 bills from Peru at stores throughout southeastern Idaho, while another woman was indicted in Pocatello for receiving fake hundreds from Peru. So watch out for those $100 bills …

Luna praises Obama speech

Idaho state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna watched President Barack Obama’s back-to-school speech last week with a classroom full of eighth-graders at Fairmont Junior High School in Boise, and afterward Luna called the president’s speech “appropriate and timely.”

“I thought the message was very similar to messages that we hear public officials give to students often – it’s definitely something that I say every chance I get in front of students,” he said, “that students need to be responsible for their education, they need to come to school every day ready to learn.”

Luna said the kids he watched with paid attention and took notes, then answered questions from their teacher and from him afterward.

“I had a number of kids tell me that they were going to try a little bit harder this year … that even if they encounter obstacles or challenges, they were going to keep trying and do a little bit better every day.”

Luna, a Republican, said he was puzzled by the outcry from some quarters over the president addressing school kids, “because I remember when I worked for the Bush administration … the president was always at a school the first day talking to students. That’s why he was at a school Sept. 11 reading to students, because it was the first day of school in Florida.”

How bad it is …

Gov. Butch Otter’s chief economist, Mike Ferguson, whose recent revised state tax revenue forecast has lawmakers and state officials debating whether to make more painful budget cuts in the current year or tap into the state’s remaining budget reserves, offers some startling comparisons. In forecasted tax revenues, he said, “We’re lower than the last four fiscal years.”

Actual revenues in fiscal year 2009, which ended June 30, were below the preceding three years in both individual income tax and corporate income tax, Ferguson said. “We’re basically dropping from there. So we’re now between 2005 and 2006 (levels) for income tax, below 2005 for corporate income tax, and we’re below ’05 or ’06 in sales tax. That’s amazing. It’s not like we just fell below the year before – we’re dropping below three or four years ago. So that’s a lot of lost ground.”

Said Ferguson, “It does lend, I think, a little bit more substance to just how serious the fiscal meltdown is that states are experiencing. … Idaho has not been left out of the economic downturn by any means, in fact we’ve been relatively hard-hit, but from a fiscal standpoint, I think one could fairly say that Idaho’s done a really good job of managing the fiscal challenges, and consequently we’re in better fiscal shape than many states. We … do a pretty darn good job of managing things, even with this type of ugly external situation.”

Idaho shares in drug settlement

Idaho is getting $658,528 from a multistate health care fraud settlement with drug maker Pfizer Inc., for offenses including paying kickbacks and illegally marketing certain prescription drugs for off-label uses, according to state Attorney General Lawrence Wasden.

The full settlement, which is being shared by states and the federal government, is $1 billion in civil damages and penalties.

Idaho’s share will be split in half, with $329,624 going to the state’s Medicaid program to compensate for the illegal activity, and the other $329,624 going to the state general fund, for the Legislature to appropriate as it wishes. It’s the biggest health care fraud settlement in U.S. history.

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