The Informant

Word on the street was that some Minneapolis cops were dirty, tipping off drug dealers. Investigators knew one man who could help them figure out if that was true: gang leader Taylor Trump.

hide

Wired and under FBI surveillance as part of a police corruption probe, Taylor Trump walked down this stretch of N. 4th Street in August 2007.

Photo: Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview largerrr

His presence filled a city block.

It wasn't that Taylor Trump was physically huge -- he was 5 feet, 10 inches and 260 pounds. It wasn't even the range of his avocations, the way he could savor discussing Buddhist and Hindu philosophers one day and swing a crack deal the next.

It was that Trump was comfortable in his own skin, even when he had absolutely no right to be. Even on a hot summer night when trouble lay straight ahead.

As he walked down N. 4th Street in downtown Minneapolis, FBI agents focused cameras on him from afar. His underclothing was laced with their surveillance wire. A lot was riding on what he was about to do.

With national standing in the Gangster Disciples gang, Trump was used to maneuvering through dicey situations.

But now he was trapped. It was August 2007, and federal prosecutors knew they had enough pinned on him to send Trump away for more than 20 years. They had forced his cooperation in a complex federal corruption case with serious implications if even half of what Trump and another informant claimed turned out to be true: Minneapolis cops allegedly taking bribes to provide inside police information to gang members, who paid them off with cash and prostitutes.

The Star Tribune, through confidential police and court documents, has retraced the inner workings of that public corruption probe from its origins on the streets of Minneapolis in late 2006. Dozens of interviews were conducted with police officials and sources close to the investigation.

When Police Chief Tim Dolan was sworn in on Jan. 9, 2007, he took over the city's largest department and a budget that has grown to $135 million, vowing to return "pride to the patch" and assure the public that the 900 sworn officers patrolling the city were beyond reproach.

Dolan also inherited the rapidly unfolding corruption investigation, then just a few weeks old.

Now, eight months before Dolan comes up for reappointment, his vision has been put at risk by the probe and a discrimination lawsuit by five black officers -- some also tangled in the investigation. The suit lingered more than a year before it was finally settled 10 days ago. The accusations contained in it and the corruption investigation have laid bare racial discord, petty corruption, cronyism and mistrust in the ranks that have dogged the department for decades.

The FBI, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the U.S. attorney's office and the Minneapolis Police Department spent tens of thousands of hours and public dollars trying to prove the allegations that cops were taking bribes in return for enabling the criminal operations of gangs to flourish. Eighteen months into the probe, some of the investigators believed they were on the brink of proving Trump's claims.

Then, as the case took a few controversial turns, the U.S. attorney's office suddenly shut it down, walking away with the indictment of a single officer, charged in December 2008 with tax evasion and taking two payments of $100 each from Trump in exchange for private police information.

Understanding how the wide-ranging probe unraveled begins with yet another informant, who first focused police on Trump.

The tip

Sheila Haynes is known on the streets as "She Baby."

Life has been rough for Haynes. Her son was a gangster. In 2001, her husband was murdered in drug violence.

For years she had worked as an informant, police said, leading them to large stashes of cocaine, weapons and murderers. When there was a gang killing, her phone would ring and a detective would ask her where to start.

Her handler was officer Scott Peterson, assigned to the department's elite Violent Offenders Task Force (VOTF). The unit, made up of Minneapolis officers and federal agents, deals in high-level felony cases.

In December 2006, Haynes offered up a tip to Peterson that was a smorgasbord of crime: dirty cops, millions in mortgage fraud, cocaine distribution, prostitution. All of it overseen by a man who went by four different names.

Peterson would later tell the internal affairs unit that he listened as Haynes described the man most commonly known as Taylor Trump. She walked him through Trump's multitasking approach to criminal operations. Trump had told her he paid four or five Minneapolis officers money or provided them with prostitutes in return for protecting his operations.

She said she had seen two white cops at either Trump's prairie-style home in Golden Valley or his Minneapolis house on Xerxes Avenue N. She identified one, by photograph, as patrolman Robert Heiple.

Agents hung a photo of Heiple in the office investigators were using. But they wanted the name of that second cop Haynes had mentioned. They pulled photos of every white cop on the force to see if she could identify the second officer. They got nothing.

Yet she didn't waver about Heiple. She said she had seen him at Trump's Minneapolis home, handing Trump documents in exchange for payoffs.

Could Haynes, an informant paid for tips she provided, be trusted this time? As New Year's Day 2007 passed, FBI agents were attempting to verify her provocative tip.

Heiple had spent his 18 years on the force working from his squad car in north Minneapolis. On the side, he worked as a Roseville firefighter. Like so many officers who would be scrutinized in the unfolding public corruption probe, he was going about his job unaware he was being watched.

VOTF and FBI agents scoured Heiple's phone records for connections to prostitution and to Trump's mortgage fraud. They looked at his squad car log to see if he was working on days Haynes said she saw him. Nothing fit. Police couldn't verify her claims about Heiple, who said it was all false. He would never be charged with anything.

"I'm an honest cop,'' Heiple said. "I've done nothing wrong.''

If investigators were going to get Trump and use him to find corrupt cops, they were going to have to go a different route. VOTF officers hooked up with the FBI's public corruption unit known in-house as Squad 7.

The unit had an impressive record: Its agents had built cases strong enough in the past eight years to get convictions against then-Minneapolis City Council Members Brian Herron, Joe Biernat and Dean Zimmermann. All three went to prison -- Herron for extortion; Biernat for mail fraud, aiding a theft and lying to a federal agent; Zimmermann for bribery.

With so many officers and agents involved, the risk of leaks was high. Squad 7 set up a secret, off-site location, away from the FBI's downtown Minneapolis office.

Agents began creating a social network analysis of the characters involved, charting a web of relationships and business connections detailing Trump's criminal empire.

The life

Crime had paid for Taylor Trump.

At 47, he had built a network of influential contacts that included cops, gang members, business people and community leaders. He lived in a $900,000 stucco home in Golden Valley, with an indoor pool, closed circuit security cameras hanging from the eaves and a fleet of collector sedans in the drive. A Rolls-Royce sat riddled with bullet holes.

He touted himself online as an Internet marketing genius. Police would later tell internal affairs they knew of at least one prostitute working for him off a Craigslist directory. As an electronic pimp, he could profit from johns with a click of the mouse.

He still could reach across the country and bring in 50 kilos of cocaine to drop on the streets. But drugs held less allure these days. It was a drug felony hanging over him -- he was caught on tape cooking crack for an informant -- that had given police so much leverage if he was arrested again.

Trump had been in some tight spots before and had beaten the odds more than a few times.

He was born Rodney Keith Taylor to a middle-class family that sent him to a private high school in the suburbs.

As a teen on the city's North Side, he reached the first of several points when his life could have veered away from crime, graduating from Benilde-St. Margaret's, a Catholic high school in St. Louis Park.

Instead, as rival gangs violently clashed in the Twin Cities, he enlisted as a member of the Gangster Disciples, a Chicago-based gang with national reach.

Another chance to choose a different path in life surfaced in 1982, when he enrolled at Mankato State University. Trump made important connections -- associating with two other students who would end up as Minneapolis police officers.

But back in Minneapolis, Trump continued dealing drugs, reveling in being seen on Hennepin Avenue, chatting up beat cops, taking nods from passing hoods. He was known as "V," for Valachi because of the name's mob connotations.

By the late 1980s, he was connected to a $2 million-a-month Colombian cocaine ring that imported hundreds of kilos into the Twin Cities from depots in Miami and Los Angeles. A federal indictment would list him as a courier for the operation.

Then Drug Enforcement Administration wiretaps cracked the network. Trump was quietly picked off and offered the chance to work as an informant in return for a light prison sentence. He took the deal.

Again, he excelled at his new role. His ability to set up high-level arrests so exceeded expectations that the late Tommy Billings, a legendary Minneapolis narcotics officer, dubbed Trump "the Minister of Information.''

Once, Trump literally took a bullet to preserve his cover, telling a suspicious druggie in a bar to go ahead and shoot him if he thought Trump was a narc for cops. The guy took him up on the offer, but Trump never admitted he was an informant.

As others in the Colombian cocaine case got 20-plus year sentences, in 1993 Trump ended up at a minimum security federal prison in Yankton, S.D.

It looked like he might use his prison time to reform. He spent hours studying philosophy, politics and religion. He told friends he wanted out of the violence of drug-dealing.

By mid-1997 he was out of prison. The Internet had exploded, and he wanted to be part of it. By then he had renamed himself Taylor Trump. He launched the Trump Internet Group newsletter, where he dispensed advice on how to be a successful entrepreneur. Enterprises listed to his home address included home health care, commercial landscaping, a property development and leasing company, and a mortgage brokerage service.

But the mortgage business turned into mortgage fraud. Investigators dogged Trump for more than six months, tracking connections between his enterprises. The FBI found Trump was lining up fraudulent buyers for homes. Using Haynes, the other informant, agents caught Trump on undercover video cooking crack.

But they still could not find a connection between Trump and the supposedly dirty cops.

They decided it was time to pull Trump off the street and deliver an ultimatum: Give it up about corrupt cops or go to prison for more than 20 years for that repeat drug felony.

The pickup

On the evening of June 26, 2007, Trump drove away from his Golden Valley home as if on cue. Agents wanted a quiet arrest within blocks of his driveway -- something that looked like a routine traffic stop.

It did not go as planned.

The uniformed deputy assigned to pick up Trump was out of position. Trump drove off. The deputy finally spotted him with three friends just north of the busy intersection of Penn Avenue N. and Olson Highway.

Lt. Mike Keefe, the newly appointed supervisor of VOTF, made the call to take him off the street. Undercover officers swooped in to aid the deputy. Trump didn't resist.

A crowd formed to watch. Word was going to spread that Trump had been handcuffed by undercover officers. That could alert suspected cops that the FBI was looking into Trump's relationships. Agents would need to concoct a smokescreen to camouflage their investigation. But right now, it was paramount to just get Trump out of sight.

He was whisked downtown to a parking garage beneath the towering, white building at 111 Washington Av. S. Officers led him to the elevator. When the doors opened, Trump was staring at the FBI's labyrinth of offices. He was met by agents and VOTF officers who had been trailing him for months.

Two assistant U.S. attorneys stepped forward and introduced themselves. One was Chris Wilton. The former schoolteacher was built like a bulldog. He had a military haircut and a direct gaze.

In a large conference room, the prosecutors outlined the evidence behind Trump's arrest. After hours of questioning, Wilton got to the heart of the matter.

"Do you know dirty cops?" Wilton asked Trump.

Without hesitation, Trump replied, "Yes, you know I do.''

tonyk@startribune.com • 612-673-4213 pmcenroe@startribune.com • 612-673-1745

  • related content

  • Who's who

    Wednesday April 22, 2009

    A look at the key players involved in the investigation.

  • Sources for this series

    Wednesday April 22, 2009

    This four-part series on a public corruption investigation of the Minneapolis Police Department is based on public and confidential documents, interviews and audio recordings of federal wiretaps.

  • Taylor Winthorpe Trump booked by Hennepin County Sheriff in 2005

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Grade the All-Star Game experience

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close