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NW Today: Seattle hospital execs well-paid

SEATTLE (AP) — A survey of nonprofit hospitals in the Puget Sound area has found that 19 top executives and doctors earned more than $1 million in 2008.

Seattle public radio station KUOW reports Monday that another 59 employees at the organizations earned at least $500,000 that year.

KUOW says it focused on 2008 because not all of the nonprofit groups have filed information reports with the IRS for 2009. It looked at 16 hospital organizations with annual revenue of $250 million or more.

Hospital officials say the pay is justified because the medical centers are complex organizations that often have thousands of employees and billion-dollar budgets. They say they have to pay that much to attract and retain talented people.

Dogs that mauled Seattle boy returned to owner

SEATTLE (AP) — Three bull mastiff dogs that mauled a 10-year-old Seattle boy who climbed into their yard have been returned to their owner.

Seattle Animal Shelter Director Don Jordan says an investigation found the owner did nothing wrong and there were no unreported incidents involving the dogs in the neighborhood.

The dogs had been held for a 10-day rabies quarantine after the Dec. 4 attack.

The boy used a recycle bin to climb over the 6-foot fence to retrieve a ball from the yard. He suffered bite injuries to his head, throat and an arm and spent a weekend in the intensive care unit at Harborview Medical Center.

Jordan told KIRO Radio the dog owner has put up “no trespassing” and “beware of dogs” signs.

Idaho budget panel to begin taking public comment

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The legislative committee that writes Idaho’s annual budget has agreed to hold public hearings for the first time — at least on some of its spending bills.

The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee has scheduled public hearings in January as it prepares to write the budgets for public schools and universities, and state health and welfare programs.

The committee also plans to hold first-ever budget hearings with the House and Senate Education Committee and Health and Welfare Committee. Those two areas make up the largest parts of the state budget.

JFAC co-chairman Sen. Dean Cameron says the budget challenge facing lawmakers this year requires the committee to make some adjustments in its decision-making process.

“I just felt like it was important for us to give an opportunity for the public to come and express their concerns and share with us their thoughts and ideas,” said Cameron, R-Rupert. “Certainly when you have a budget challenge like we’re facing, I think it requires that we not just do things the way we normally have done them. I think it requires that we look for ways to involve more people and to seek help from more people.”

Getting the public more involved may also be an offshoot of legislation that came close to passing in the 2010 Legislature that would have curtailed JFAC’s ability to set policy or change laws. Some lawmakers claimed making policies and changing laws is reserved for various committees, where the public has a chance to comment.

That legislation, co-sponsored by Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, came after JFAC made sweeping budget cuts and had to temporarily suspend some state laws through budget bills to make the cuts legal.

Anderson cheered the new approach adopted by the budget-writing committee.

“I think it’s a really, really important step forward to basically have better access and a better review,” he said. “Hopefully it runs smoothly. Honestly, I don’t want to make their work any more difficult, but I think it does answer some questions that we raised. I’m very proud of ’em for doing that.”

The school funding public hearing is scheduled for Jan. 21, and the health and welfare hearing is Jan. 28. Each speaker will have three minutes to testify before the committee.

Custer’s last flag up for auction; value up to $5 million

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — The only U.S. flag not captured or lost after George Armstrong Custer’s defeat at the Battle of Little Bighorn sold for just $54 when it first surfaced in the 1890s.

On Friday, the frayed, swallow-tailed 7th U.S. Cavalry flag, known as a “guidon,” goes up for auction at Sotheby’s in New York. Estimated value: $2 million to $5 million.

During Custer’s infamous Last Stand in June 1876, the “Boy General” and more than 200 of his men were massacred by Lakota Sioux and Northern Cheyenne warriors.

Of the five guidons carried into battle by Custer’s men, only one was immediately recovered, pinned beneath the body of a fallen trooper.

The Detroit Institute of Arts has owned the flag since 1895 but it doesn’t fit with the museum’s focus on art.

Former Hanford worker gets 20-months in prison

YAKIMA (AP) - Former Hanford worker Suzie Zuniga was sentenced to one year and eight months in prison after admitting she charged about $564,000 for personal goods to a federal credit card.

She also will be required to pay back the money at a rate of 10 percent of her monthly income, ruled Judge Rosanna Malouf Peterson in Eastern Washington District Federal Court in Yakima.

The prison sentence was less than the standard sentencing range of 27 to 33 months.

Her attorney had asked for a sentence of just one year and four months in prison for the fraud, saying that Zuniga, a single mother, had faced significant hardship in her life, including a knife attack by her ex-husband.

Zuniga, 47, pleaded guilty to 15 counts of wire fraud that happened between October 2004 and July 2008 when she worked as a materials coordinator for former contractor Fluor Hanford. She was responsible for buying materials for Hanford’s Plutonium Finishing Plant.

A former Hanford driver, Pedro Alvarado Jr., who also pleaded guilty to fraud, said he took items to her home in Prosser including a stove, refrigerator, microwave oven and several TVs. He also received items she bought with the federal credit card.

Tommy Honeycutt, a former Hanford worker who had a romantic relationship with Zuniga, said she bought him numerous items, including a lawnmower, pressure washer, rototiller, air compressor, iPod, camera, power tools and two generators.

“Suzie Zuniga made one major mistake in life and this is it,” said her attorney, Rick Hoffman.

Zuniga married at 18 and had five sons, but filed for divorce when her husband abused her and the children, who are now adults, Hoffman said. After the divorce, her husband stalked her and in 1995 stabbed her 17 times, almost killing her, Hoffman said.

He was sent to prison, and she raised their children without his financial support, her attorney said.

She had little education and filed for bankruptcy, but eventually was hired at Hanford, according to court documents.

At Hanford she saw “a lot of waste, a lot of excesses,” Hoffman said. Security and controls were lax, he said.

Before she was tempted to use the credit card — called a purchase card or P-card at Hanford — for herself and her family, she had no criminal history, her attorney said.

“She regrets what she did every single day,” he said. “It won’t happen again.”

Zuniga declined to speak during the sentencing hearing.

However, two of her sons submitted letters to the court.

“Although it was very hard for my mother to raise us, she guided me into the right direction,” wrote her son, Ricardo Zuniga Huizar. “My mother always taught me to be respectful, well mannered, thankful and to stay ambitious.”

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