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cops042009

Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

Taylor Trump got to know Kelvin Pulphus and Lee Edwards at Mankato State University­, which Edwards attended on a football scholarship. In 2007, as an informant in the corruption probe, Trump called both men, now Minneapolis police officers, to see whether they would look up confidential police information for him.

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Putting cops to the test

When informant Taylor Trump identified cops he alleged were corrupt, investigators decided to see if they could catch the police officers in the act.

Last update: April 23, 2009 - 7:42 AM

Puzzled faces stared back at Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Wilton from around the FBI's conference room.

The informant under interrogation in their probe of police corruption was naming names, all right. They just weren't the ones Wilton and investigators expected to hear.

The first name Taylor Trump had offered up was a big one: Lt. Lee Edwards.

"Who's he?" Wilton asked.

Officer Scott Peterson and Sgt. Grant Snyder from the Minneapolis Police Department knew exactly who he was. They listened as this gang member trying to avoid a harsh sentence for drug dealing, mortgage fraud and prostitution gave investigators the names of cops he alleged were taking payoffs in return for tipping him off to investigations.

Edwards was no ordinary cop. Then 48, he was one of the most prominent officers on the force -- a former homicide commander directing operations in the violent Fourth Precinct covering the city's North Side. The 18-year, decorated veteran had mentored some of those who would now be investigating him. His résumé included a stint supervising internal affairs, the unit that investigates police misconduct. His achievements had made him a finalist for the Northfield police chief job.

But then, Trump was no run-of-the-mill gang member. One of the highest-ranking Gangster Disciples in Minnesota, he hosted social gatherings for visiting national overlords.

Trump hesitated a moment before engaging Wilton. Then he let loose with five more names: Sgt. Kelvin Pulphus, patrol officer Mike Roberts, retired officer Craig Stoddard, detective Charlie Adams and Lt. Rick Thomas, who headed narcotics, Snyder later told internal affairs.

Asked recently about Trump's claim, Thomas said his only possible contact with him might have been in passing during a 1993 drug raid.

None of the other officers, except Edwards, would directly address Trump's claims for this story. "I'm not going to dignify Trump's allegations by even responding to them," Stoddard said. Pulphus' attorney, Kevin Short, said, "It's my position he didn't violate any law."

The Minneapolis cops working on the investigation would later tell internal affairs that as they sat in the interrogation room listening to Trump offer up those names, it was an astonishing development. From January to June 2007, their probe had operated on the premise that informant Sheila (She Baby) Haynes had outlined at the start: that crooked white cops were working for Trump, taking payoffs or prostitutes in return.

But except for Stoddard and Thomas, Trump was naming black officers.

No one had seen this coming. A racial component would doubtless make a probe of Minneapolis police even more controversial -- although both the FBI and the U.S. attorney later said in official statements that race wasn't a factor in decisions about investigations.

The Minneapolis officers assigned to the probe would beg to differ, later telling internal affairs that at that moment, race changed how the investigation was viewed. Edwards saw the case as entirely about race. His attorney, Andrew Muller, said targeting his client was an act of reprisal.

Wilton and fellow prosecutor Tim Rank continued the interrogation, pressing Trump about Edwards, working deep into the night.

Trump alleged that Edwards knew all about his drug dealing and his prominent position in the Gangster Disciples. He described how they traded information about snitches and ongoing investigations.

Snyder later told internal affairs that Wilton then asked Trump, "Have you ever paid for this information?"

"Yes," Trump replied. At a busy car wash, across from the garbage burner on the west edge of downtown, Trump alleged, he had been meeting Edwards to pay him off -- about $5,000 over the years.

Attorneys for Edwards say Trump's story about payments was false. Internal affairs found no evidence of payments. Trump's attorney said his client would not comment for this story.

During a break in the interrogation of Trump, Snyder walked down the hall to fill in the FBI's lead agent and Snyder's supervisors in the Violent Offender Task Force (VOTF), Lt. Mike Keefe and Sgt. Pat King.

He delivered a bombshell: There were police involved, but not the ones they had been looking at for six months.

Stunned, Keefe went straight to Chief Tim Dolan, outlining Trump's story.

Dolan threw a cloak over the investigation. Keefe's unit was to keep working with the FBI. But no one, not even the top command staff, was to know a corruption probe was underway. "The circle doesn't get any bigger,'' Keefe recalled that Dolan had ordered.

Snyder headed back to the conference room. The interview with Trump would last until nearly 3 a.m.

The setup

The VOTF office was intensely focused the next morning, even though some of the unit's members had been up half the night with Trump.

They had begun working on a plan hatched by the FBI and the U.S. attorney's office to verify Trump's allegations.

Investigators concocted a back-dated police report littered with cop jargon, entering it into the department's secured computer system. It featured an imaginary crack dealer dubbed Tyrone Wilkins, age 23. After his arrest, he bragged he could entrap "someone huge,'' a man known on the streets as "V'' -- one of Trump's street names -- who directed a vast North Side cocaine and mortgage fraud operation.

The bogus report would serve as bait to test the integrity of officers named by Trump. If anyone called it up at Trump's request, the computer would trigger a footprint tracing who did it and when -- lending credence to Trump's claim that corrupt police shielded him.

The betrayal

Lee Edwards loved the HBO television series "The Wire." He called the gritty portrayal of Baltimore's police the best cop show on television.

"There are no clear winners in this show, everyone has an angle and the good cops and citizens struggle. ...'' the lieutenant said six months earlier to the Camden Community News in northwest Minneapolis. Now, courtesy of Trump, Edwards' own life was about to take a turn worthy of a script for "The Wire.''

They were not recent acquaintances. Edwards and Trump had known each other since the early 1980s, when they were at Mankato State University. Edwards knew Trump then as Rodney Keith Taylor, the loudmouth younger brother of a friend and fellow student.

Edwards, from Detroit, came to Mankato on a football scholarship. He majored in chemistry, minored in African-American studies, tended bar at R.J. Noodles and made the dean's list.

Trump came out of north Minneapolis and graduated from Benilde-St. Margaret High School in St. Louis Park before enrolling at Mankato.

Now, 25 years later, Trump was about to try to implicate Edwards to save himself.

At 11:33 a.m. on June 29, 2007, Trump called Edwards on a phone where the FBI could eavesdrop.

"Hey, man. What's going on, man?'' Edwards could be heard saying on the FBI wire, a transcript would show.

"Nothing, man. I'm just trying to make sure I ain't in no hot water, man. I don't know who else to call that I trust,'' Trump said.

"What you do?" the lieutenant asked.

"I ain't did shit ... there's some shit about a shootin' over North ... This cat's name is Tyrone Wilkins,'' Trump said. The fictitious Wilkins had now surfaced, and the FBI listened in.

Edwards said he had never heard of this Wilkins who Trump claimed was following him. "I don't know if he's trying to set me up or what he's trying to do,'' Trump said, offering a license plate number that he wanted Edwards to check.

Later, Edwards' attorneys would say he responded with textbook curiosity. He knew the players on the North Side, but not this guy. He ran the plate, his keyboard strokes audible on the FBI wiretap.

As part of the integrity test, the plate was registered to a city-owned car. Snyder would later say he had used it at least once for an undercover drug buy. Edwards' attorneys, however, would later say it was not an undercover vehicle, just an unmarked city car.

"Owner is the city of Minneapolis Equipment Division,'' Edwards told Trump. "Yeah, it's like a Minneapolis truck or something like that.''

Trump didn't stop at Edwards. That same day, Sgt. Matt Wente later told internal affairs, Trump called Sgt. Kelvin Pulphus, another Mankato State acquaintance. He asked for the same fake report. Pulphus called it up the next day, but never passed it along to Trump.

Instead, a mutual friend of Pulphus' and Trump's showed up at Trump's Golden Valley home. A report by police about their surveillance showed that Pulphus had instructed the friend to let Trump know he might be under investigation for narcotics and that his phones might be tapped.

The blunder

Two weeks later, Capt. Mike Martin and Edwards were seated next to each other at a high-level meeting of commanders. Martin was fuming.

He had not been informed about a Star Tribune story describing a raid on a brothel. What Martin -- and the newspaper -- didn't know was that the story had been planted by police as a smokescreen. Authorized by Dolan and endorsed by the FBI, it was publicized intentionally to confuse cops who may have been on the take that a rumored corruption probe was really about prostitution, not cops taking bribes, Snyder later told internal affairs.

Snyder said that Martin demanded to know why he and his partner, Wente, were involved in the brothel raid. They were supposed to be working on the Trump probe, the captain groused.

With Edwards in the room, Martin had just inadvertently warned him that his old acquaintance Trump was poison. In the eyes of federal officials, any chance of the FBI witnessing Trump paying off Edwards had just evaporated. Martin later declined to discuss the incident for this story.

Trump was still left on the streets as an informant. In August 2007, amid the flashing neon of the Warehouse District, a handful of FBI agents secretly watched and filmed from an abandoned building facing the Pizza Luce restaurant.

Trump strode down N. 4th Street with bribery on his mind. He walked as if nothing was wrong, like he owned the block.

He slid into the tight confines of officer Mike Roberts' squad car. Earlier that week, an FBI report showed, Trump had persuaded Roberts to accept $100 for information. Now Trump was about to administer the FBI's integrity test to see whether Roberts would do it a second time.

Moonlighting as a security guard outside of Pizza Luce, Roberts had time to do a favor. A federal grand jury indictment would recount that Trump was sitting in the front seat, speaking freely about belonging to the Gangster Disciples (Roberts later declined through his attorney to comment for this story). The indictment details Trump telling the 27-year veteran of the force that he feared a police informant was snitching on his drug dealing. Trump told Roberts he feared for his life. Could Roberts help him out?

Soon, Trump was peering into the screen of a police computer lodged into the console of the squad, reading confidential information. Again, Roberts later confessed to the FBI, he took a $100 payment for the information. The gangster had gotten three cops to cross the line drawn in the integrity test.

The aftershocks

Learning that Edwards had served up the fake confidential police report to a gang leader had gone way over the line, Snyder and Wente told internal affairs. What Edwards had done, they believed, could get an undercover officer killed.

"Egregious ... violation,'' is how Snyder would describe it to internal affairs. "Not only of policy and state law, but just of our code, of, you know, officer safety and looking out for each other. ...''

"Absolutely great risk," Wente concurred. "We work undercover, and we are only as good and as safe as our covers will maintain us."

To some investigators, Trump seemed to have sustained his boast from the night of his arrest, that a gang leader dealing drugs and running weapons could get Minneapolis cops to watch his back.

But Trump hadn't convinced everyone. Lt. Mike Keefe doubted whether he was telling the truth. The VOTF commander was willing to put his 16-year career on the line trying to prove his suspicions.

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

The Informant

He dangled a tantalizing tip: that some Minneapolis cops were corrupt, enabling the criminal enterprises of a major drug dealer and gang member, in return for cash and prostitutes. Was it true? That tip in 2006 sparked a massive public corruption probe that reverberates to this day.