Career criminal's latest effort gets attention of Minnesota Court of Appeals

  • Article by: DAVID CHANEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 26, 2014 - 6:20 AM

Judges cited public safety and an invalid marriage certificate.

Arthur Senty-Haugen has been a fraud artist most of his life. On Monday, his latest stunt got a knockdown from Minnesota’s Court of Appeals.

The 47-year-old career criminal has been indefinitely committed to the state’s sex offender program since 1996, and is confined to its treatment facility in Moose Lake. That’s where he met fellow offender Brandon Benson. The two recently claimed to have married in Iowa in 2012 and asked that the program recognize their union and a legal name change for Senty-Haugen.

But like many things in Senty-Haugen’s life, the request was underlaid with fraud. The court not only pointed out that the claimed marriage was invalid because the men were incarcerated and never even in Iowa, it denied Senty-Haugen’s name change request, citing public safety concerns.

The judges noted that Senty-Haugen has committed theft and fraud in the past and currently faces charges of identity theft and credit-card fraud. Many of his crimes have been committed from behind bars. Taking Benson’s last name would make it more difficult for law enforcement, as well as creditors, financial institutions and other victims, to seek restitution and other court judgments in their favor, the Appeals Court said.

Senty-Haugen has been either in prison or confined in the sex-offender treatment program since 1994, when the civil commitment program began. Abused as a child himself, he first was prosecuted for passing bad checks when he was 14. His criminal history includes sexual assaults on several children, drug-dealing, assault, forgery, credit-card theft and witness tampering, and courts have deemed him mentally ill and dangerous.

In 2004, he was indicted on federal charges that — while behind bars — he submitted dozens of false federal income tax returns and collected about $168,000 in tax refunds. He claimed that he was owed more than $130,000 in refunds when he filed 23 false tax returns for five nonexistent businesses between 1998 and 2002.

Over the years, Senty-Haugen also has been investigated for using a $4,000 computer system to forge state purchase orders and bilking companies out of electronic equipment that he sold to as many as 25 acquaintances. He scammed companies out of rare coins, stamps and other goods.

He created AWD Inc., a mail-order business, to steal cash, credit and computers — including $17,122.81 from an Iowa company he tricked into revealing a bank account number. He also left the National Enquirer on the hook for $2,100 worth of ads.

Iowa ‘marriage’ invalid

Senty-Haugen is part of a recent class-action lawsuit claiming that the civil commitment program for sex offenders is illegal because it keeps people locked up after their prison terms for fear of crimes they may commit in the future.

Last August, Senty-Haugen applied for a name change in Carlton County. He had an Iowa marriage certificate signed by him, Benson, a reverend and two witnesses who were sex-offender-program patients. When notices were sent to the counties where Senty-Haugen had felony convictions, Scott and Carlton counties objected.

Carlton County District Court concluded that the marriage certificate was fraudulent and that the name change would compromise public safety. Senty-Haugen, Benson and the witnesses had never been granted off-grounds or out-of-state travel approval, according to an investigation by the state’s Department of Human Services.

The instructions issued with the marriage certificate clearly state that licenses to marry in Iowa are valid only for ceremonies solemnized within state boundaries. Minnesota law only recognizes out-of-state marriages that were valid at the time of the contract, the ruling said.

Senty-Haugen admitted in court that he and Benson weren’t in Iowa for the marriage. But in appealing to the higher court, he argued that the Carlton County attorney’s office had a conflict of interest because it contracts with the sex offender program to provide legal services for the prosecution of criminal activity involving patients in the program.

His argument failed, the Court of Appeals said, because the county’s objections to the name change were focused solely on public-safety concerns related to pending criminal charges.

 

David Chanen • 612-673-4465

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