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Company tied to van crash could be fined $132,000


By Gazette Xtra

Thursday was the first time Monica Forgues saw her old boss, Choan Lane, since the van crash that crippled her and killed seven of her friends.

"It's not too good of a feeling, but you can't do anything about it," Forgues said from the seat of her electric wheelchair. "I just want to try and shut down the company and him before anybody else gets hurt."

Prosecutors have likened Lane and his traveling magazine-selling company, called YES, to a "modern sweatshop on wheels." A YES van crashed north of Janesville on Interstate 90 in March 1999, killing seven young people and seriously injuring five others.

Forgues, 16, of Madison was among the injured. She had expected to testify Thursday against Lane, who is charged with two felonies--delivering marijuana to a minor and contributing to the delinquency of a minor--and a misdemeanor charge of conspiracy to obstruct an investigation.

But Lane, 31, of Iowa waived his right to a preliminary hearing, eliminating the need for Forgues to take the witness stand.

Nobody showed up in court to represent YES, which the Wisconsin Department of Justice has charged with 13 felonies and four misdemeanors. Although Lane is listed in Oklahoma incorporation papers as an agent of YES, neither he nor his attorney, Bridget Boyle of Milwaukee, represented the company in court Thursday.

So neither objected when Assistant Attorney General William Hanrahan asked Court Commissioner James VanDeBogart to find the charges against YES to be true. VanDeBogart found the company in default but stopped short of finding YES guilty, leaving that to Judge Richard Werner, who is assigned to the case.

If convicted, YES could be ordered to pay a fine of up to $132,000 plus restitution. Any fine not paid would lapse into a civil judgment against the company collectible for 10 years, Hanrahan said.

The prosecution of Lane and his company follow the conviction of the van driver, Jeremy Holmes. He pleaded guilty to 12 felonies and was sentenced in June 1999 to seven years in prison.

Running parallel to the criminal cases against YES and Lane is a civil suit filed by the Wisconsin Department of Justice. The suit is against YES, Lane, Subscriptions Plus and its owner, Karleen Hillery--also known as Kay-- of Illinois. Subscriptions Plus processed the orders sold by YES, and Lane and Hillery once were married.

The suit seeks more than $475,000 for a variety of alleged violations of child labor and wage laws and for reimbursement to the state fund that provides benefits for workers whose employers fail to carry the required worker's compensation insurance. YES did not have the required insurance, according to the suit.

Forgues and her family have filed their own lawsuit. Their attorney, Victor Arellano of Madison, said Thursday that the court's default finding against YES in the criminal case should help their civil case.

Lane is free pending his next court appearance on the criminal case at 8:30 a.m. Monday, June 5. If convicted on all counts, he faces 11 years and nine months in prison and a $70,000 fine.

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