Jurors began deliberations Thursday afternoon on the fate of former Minneapolis landlord Stephen Frenz, who is on trial for perjury for allegedly lying in a court filing.
The second and last day of testimony Thursday centered on the whether Frenz was under oath to the court when he signed an affidavit in 2016 supporting his effort to get a case against him thrown out of housing court.
The jury of five women and seven men received the case about 4:15 p.m., retired for the day about 15 minutes later and is expected to resume talks at 9 a.m. Friday. Frenz faces one count of felony perjury.
Prosecutors told jurors that Frenz knew he was under oath because although the 2016 affidavit did not include the word “oath” or warnings of perjury, it included other language — “being duly sworn,” “I have personal knowledge of the facts attested to in this Affidavit” and “Subscribed and sworn to before me” — that indicated an obligation to the truth.
They noted that Frenz’s educational background (he has a master’s degree in business administration) and approximately 22 years as a landlord by 2016 showed that he understood the legal ramifications of such court filings. Prosecutors also produced three other affidavits in which Frenz explicitly stated he was submitting information to the court “on oath” or “under oath.”
“When you looked underneath that, what you saw were lies, lies, lies,” Senior Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Susan Crumb said in her closing arguments regarding Frenz’s 2016 affidavit. “… There’s no requirement that the oath be spoken or administered.”
Frenz’s defense attorneys argued that Frenz’s longtime notary public, Jeffrey Shields, who signed off on the 2016 document, never gave Frenz an oral or written oath. In testimony earlier that day, Shields said he did not receive training before he was notarized to approve court documents and never administered an oath of any kind to Frenz.
Robert Sicoli, one of Frenz’s attorneys, told jurors in his closing arguments that they could not assume that Frenz was under oath simply because the affidavit was signed off by a notary, who by state law is not required to but can deliver an oath to people signing documents. He also warned them not to presume that Frenz should have known better because of his education and business background.
“Perjury is a technical crime,” Sicoli said. “You have to have an oath … it’s not about whether documents were handed in falsely. You’re not supposed to imply an oath.”
The trial in Hennepin County District Court stems from a January 2016 housing court action filed by a group of tenants at Frenz’s then-property in the 3000 block of 14th Avenue S. They filed a petition for emergency intervention by the court, claiming that the building wasn’t adequately heated, the front door could be opened by outsiders and the premises were “infested” with roaches, bedbugs and mice.
Frenz, who has a troubled track record with tenants and the city, fought back, filing a motion to dismiss the case and filing the affidavit in question to support his grounds for dismissal.
Authorities allege that Frenz used the identities of two real people and a third name that was untraceable to create fake occupancies in three units in the building.
The alleged ruse included staging vacant apartments to look occupied, prosecutors said, and was an attempt to get around a state law that requires a simple majority of occupied units to sign off on such a petition to keep a case alive in court. Crumb told jurors Frenz wanted to quash the other tenants’ petition by convincing the judge that the allegedly fake tenants had not approved the effort.
Attorneys and investigators from Faegre Baker Daniels LLP, representing the complaining tenants, discovered the alleged falsifications.
Testimony began Thursday with a former tenant who in 2016 was living in a different building owned by Frenz. The witness said he had worked for Frenz for 15 years cleaning apartments and that one day in 2016 Frenz asked him to sign a lease for the building on 14th Avenue S. even though he had no intention of moving.
“I thought it was part of my job,” the witness said through a Spanish interpreter. “I don’t know.”
The witness said he spoke little English and did not understand the language. Ramsey County District Judge Robert Awsumb is presiding over the case to avoid a conflict of interest.
Shields also testified, saying that he believed his role as a notary was to verify the identity of someone signing documents — not to administer oaths or verify the contents of documents.