Wyoming News Briefs
March 2, 2023
Man charged after $22K in fraudulent disability benefits
GILLETTE (WNE) — A Gillette man is accused of defrauding the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services out of more than $22,000 by continuing to file temporary disability claims for about a year after returning to work.
Klaus G. Paugsch, 49, waived his preliminary hearing Jan. 31 and was bound over to District Court on five felony counts of making misrepresentations or false statements in violation of the Wyoming Workers’ Compensation Act.
Paugsch qualified for temporary disability benefits through the department of workforce services after suffering a work-related injury in September 2020, while he was a Wyoming Lawn Pro employee, according to an affidavit of probable cause.
Based on Paugsch’s application, he qualified to receive $1,835.16 in benefits each month.
As a condition of the claims, Paugsch was required to report to the department of workforce services when returning to work of any kind, including part-time or temporary, and report the gross earnings when applicable.
The agency learned that Paugsch began full-time work with Walmart on Oct. 20, 2021, about a year after his initial claims. He didn’t notify the agency of his employment and continued to apply for and collect temporary disability benefits, according to the affidavit.
The five charges against him stem from false reports he is accused of making from Jan. 5, 2022 through April 27, 2022.
In that time, he worked for Walmart, then picked up work with Manpower U.S. Inc. and became a Thunder Basin Coal Company employee in June 2022.
Paugsch was paid $45,995.08 throughout the 726 days he was approved to receive benefits, of which he fraudulently received $22,189.52 between Oct. 2021 and September 2022, according to the affidavit.
Each count carries a maximum penalty of up to 10 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.
USNS Cody christened; Cody mayor attends ceremony in Alabama
CODY (WNE) — When he first got a call six years ago from then Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer, Cody Mayor Matt Hall was initially taken aback by the secretary’s suggestion to name a new Navy vessel after the town.
A small landlocked Wyoming town 1000 miles from the nearest ocean isn’t necessarily the first place someone thinks of when naming a naval vessel, Hall told attendees at the USNS Cody christening ceremony Feb. 25 in Mobile, Ala.
But the more Hall talked with Spencer, the more he saw the connection between his hometown and the Navy’s newest expeditionary fast transport.
“As Secretary Spencer and I waxed about politics and our Wyoming culture, why my town was being chosen surfaced,” Hall said. “The Cody community embodies the same virtues and values embodied by our friends at [USNS Cody builder] Austal USA…as well as the values of our protectors and saviors who put themselves in harm’s way.”
Hall was one of the guests of honor who gathered to celebrate the completion and christening of the Navy’s newest vessel and its indelible connection with the city of Cody.
Cody joins Casper, Cheyenne, Laramie and a few other communities as Wyoming cities chosen as U.S. Navy ship namesakes. The USNS Cody will be one of nearly 100 U.S. Navy ships operating globally each day, according to a U.S. Navy press release.
As an expeditionary fast transport, the USNS Cody will be able to transport personnel, equipment and supplies, and will also have enhanced medical capabilities.
“This is a platform that truly represents a quantum leap forward for Navy medicine’s ability to care for our shipmates,” said Rear Admiral Bruce Gillingham, Surgeon General of the United States Navy.
Crash claims lives of Powell sisters
POWELL (WNE) — A Friday afternoon crash on U.S. Highway 14A claimed the lives of two young Powell women.
Shannah Nelson was 22. Wendy Nelson, her sister, was 20.
The two-vehicle crash occurred shortly before 1 p.m. on an icy portion of the highway, east of the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center. The Nelsons had been heading east toward Powell in a 2006 Chevrolet Silverado. After crossing an icy bridge, the driver of the Silverado lost control, said Wyoming Highway Patrol Lt. Lee Pence, and the truck rotated and crossed the center turn lane, entering the oncoming, westbound lanes of traffic.
While in the outside, westbound lane, Pence said the pickup was hit in the rear bumper area by an oncoming tractor trailer. The Cody resident driving the Sysco semi-truck did not appear to suffer any physical injuries, Pence said, but the Nelsons died at the scene.
Authorities temporarily closed the highway’s westbound lanes while they worked the scene.
Shannah Nelson — who leaves behind her husband, John, and their toddler, Jesse — worked in farming and as a cattlewoman. Wendy Nelson worked at George Farms and baked for her mother’s restaurant, the Rest Awhile Cafe in downtown Powell.
A Nelson Family Benefit account has been set up at Bank of Powell to help the Nelsons’ family members — including the sisters’ parents, Brenda and Larry Nelson — with any financial needs.
Friday’s fatal crash on U.S. Highway 14A marked the 23rd and 24th deaths on Wyoming’s roadways since the beginning of the year, according to state data. That’s double the number of fatalities that had been recorded at the same point in 2022 and represents the deadliest start to a year in some time.
Cheyenne man gets 7-9 years in prison for stabbing mother
CHEYENNE (WNE) — A Cheyenne man was sentenced Friday in Laramie County District Court for stabbing his mother with a kitchen knife in her apartment in January 2021.
Antonio Landeroz, 21, pleaded guilty on Nov. 23 to aggravated assault and battery with serious bodily injury. As part of a plea agreement, he will serve a sentence of seven to nine years in prison.
A request from the defense for Judge Thomas Campbell to consider probation for the charge of aggravated assault was denied due to the “incredibly violent nature of [Landeroz’s] act.”
For one count of felony theft, Landeroz was sentenced to an additional five to seven years in prison, suspended in favor of five years of probation.
“Since the time I’ve been in this facility, I’ve been doing a lot to push myself mentally and make sure I don’t end up in the same situation again,” Landeroz said Friday. He said he would work to “fix relationships with my family as best as I can and as soon as I can.”
Brandon Booth, Landeroz’s court-appointed attorney, said his client had a difficult childhood, saying he first used marijuana at age 8 and alcohol at age 10. Booth also attested to observing signs of experiencing mental and physical abuse.
He noted that both of Landeroz’s parents served prison sentences during his youth. Booth also emphasized his client’s remorse and the fact that he took responsibility for his actions, denying any influence of drugs or alcohol in relation to the crime.
A significant portion of Friday’s sentencing hearing also covered ensuring rehabilitation opportunities were available for Landeroz while he serves his prison sentence.
The victim, Gloria Landeroz, also spoke at the sentencing.
“I pray he’s not punished. He’s so young,” she said.
Secretary of State found no wrongdoing after investigating complaint on former county clerk
GILLETTE (WNE) — The Wyoming Secretary of State investigated a complaint made against the former Campbell County Clerk and found she did nothing wrong.
In early December, the Coal Country Conservatives political action committee filed a complaint with the state against then-County Clerk Susan Saunders for her “biased and unethical statements and actions.”
This was a response to Saunders filing a complaint with the state in the fall because the PAC did not file reports with her office about where it was getting its money from or how it spent its money. Due to a loophole, the PAC was not in violation of any state laws.
Laura Cox of the PAC said Saunders was in violation of state statute because she didn’t notify the PAC of the complaint before filing it.
The Wyoming Secretary of State initially passed on investigating the complaint, Cox said. She submitted the complaint again in late January, and the Secretary of State ended up conducting an investigation.
“I asked for an answer, they gave me an answer, and it wasn’t exactly the answer I’d hoped for,” Cox said. “I’m all right with it.”
It determined that the Wyoming statute cited did not apply to the situation, because it involved a complaint and not a criminal charge. This means Saunders was not required by law to notify the PAC that she was filing a complaint.
If civil or criminal charges were pursued, the statute would apply, Cox said.
“Unless you intend to go to the sheriff and press charges, nothing is to be done,” she said.
That’s not a route that the PAC wants to go down, Cox added.
“It’s not something that we’re going to pursue,” she said. “That’s the end of it.”
Bipartisan Barrasso bill would boost U.S. uranium production
CHEYENNE (WNE) — U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., ranking member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, has joined ENR Chairman Joe Manchin, D-West Va., and Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, in introducing the Nuclear Fuel Security Act.
The bill is designed to ensure a domestic supply of nuclear fuel for America’s existing and advanced reactors. It is nearly identical to the Fission for the Future Act that passed the Senate by voice vote in December 2022.
“It’s time for America to ramp up uranium production so we can eliminate our dependence on Russia,” Barrasso said in a news release. “We are stronger and safer as a nation when our nuclear fuel supply chain starts at home.”
The Nuclear Fuel Security Act directs the Secretary of Energy to establish a program to increase U.S. commercial production of low-enriched uranium needed for existing nuclear reactors and high-assay, low-enriched uranium needed for advanced nuclear reactors.
WyoTech seeks nominees for new alumni hall of fame
LARAMIE (WNE) — WyoTech, an automotive, diesel, and collision trade school in Laramie, is seeking nominees for its newly established WyoTech Hall of Fame.
The WyoTech Hall of Fame will feature inductees who have significantly impacted their fields, including successful business owners, industry innovators and standout technicians, according to a news release from the technical school.
Hall of Fame inductees will be honored at a ceremony at the WyoTech Laramie campus on June 2 and will continue into June 3 in conjunction with the school’s annual car show.
Candidates can be nominated at: WyoTech.edu/HOF. March 1 is the deadline for submitting entries.
Six members will be inducted into the first hall of fame class, whose names will be announced in April. Inductees will be chosen by a committee of academics, staff and administration, Ashley Chitwood, vice president of marketing for WyoTech, explained.
To be eligible for the WyoTech Hall of Fame, nominees must be a graduate of any WyoTech campus. Nominees must be established in their career, with at least five years of work post-graduation.
“They have to have been in the career for at least five years, in the industry. It doesn’t matter if they are business owners, inventors, shop owners, a part maker; anyone who took their skills from their training at WyoTech and are doing great things,” said Chitwood.
Inductees will have made a personal impact, she said.
“They may have the only automotive shop in a town in Nebraska, keeping automobiles going; or someone who spent the last ten years of their life keeping farm equipment going in Kansas, and that’s their business,” Chitwood said. “They’re making a big impact with what they’re doing.”