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Continued: On a collision course

Lt. Mike Keefe wore his title with ease.

High crew cut and tight necktie. Probing eyes. A wiry, powerful frame. He disdained routine calls. Some viewed him as a bit moralistic.

That quality made him an asset -- earning him investigator of the year honors for his work in 2006. But it could also make him an irritant.

Keefe didn't care. His intensity didn't have a shut-off valve. It had propelled his career. He had spent five years as a homicide detective, sometimes working for Lt. Lee Edwards. Now Keefe was commander of the Violent Offenders Task Force (VOTF).

By March 2007, he had been pulled into the tight circle of Minneapolis police and federal investigators probing whether cops were on the take and doing favors for gang members.

Within weeks of the FBI's arrest of informant Taylor Trump, Keefe put himself on a collision course with federal investigators and his chief. He would later tell internal affairs that he had grown skeptical of Trump's story that he had cops in his pocket, even as other investigators compiled evidence that seemed to support it.

He complained to his VOTF officers that the integrity of the investigation was breaking down and that federal authorities were slanting the evidence to gain prosecutions.

The FBI and even some of his men were increasingly annoyed with Keefe.

Their discontent had surfaced a month before Trump's arrest, with a separate federal wiretap case. In the recording, members of the Minneapolis-based Tre Tre gang living in Faribault could be heard threatening to kill any police officer who pulled them over.

Keefe faced a dilemma. Should he honor his oath of confidentiality about the wiretap or follow his sense of duty to protect the lives of fellow officers by warning them?

Restless, he called Faribault police and then drove 50 miles south to meet with them. Officers there knew a little about the gang, but didn't realize its fearlessness. Keefe told them it was in their best interest to contact the U.S attorney's office and federal agents. He wouldn't tell them why.

Their hand forced, federal agents and prosecutors met the next day with Faribault police and Rice County sheriff's deputies. They disclosed details and began collaborating on a separate case that ended with federal prison sentences.

But Keefe's self-appointed mission to Faribault tainted him in the eyes of federal agents. They banned him from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives office in St. Paul. Ultimately, a memo from an assistant city attorney would say, federal agents had come to regard some of his behavior during investigations as "odd" and "inexplicable." Even his own officers complained to Assistant Chief Sharon Lubinski that Keefe was disruptive. Keefe would not comment for this story, but his internal affairs interview detailed his growing disillusionment with the public corruption probe.

Doubting Trump

Within weeks of Trump's June arrest, Keefe was informed by his VOTF officers that Trump was changing his story about which cops were corrupt and on his payroll.

Keefe later told internal affairs that he called VOTF investigators together for a reality check. "Listen, you guys, we are not going to be a part of any subpar investigation,'' Keefe said. "You know this has gotta be by the book.''

He had been chafing since the night of Trump's arrest, when Edwards' name first surfaced. That was when Keefe had asked the FBI to put photographs in front of Trump to test whether he could identify the officers he was naming.

Keefe recounted later to internal affairs that an FBI agent told him no photographs were available for a lineup. "What?" Keefe asked. To him, testing an informant with a lineup was a basic investigative technique.

There was another red flag. Trump told investigators in his first meeting with them that he and Edwards were Gangster Disciples in Chicago. That was not true. Trump was raised in Minneapolis. Edwards was from Detroit and hadn't belonged to a gang there.

Keefe had the utmost respect for Edwards. They had attended the FBI Academy together. It was Edwards who put Keefe at ease about taking time off when Keefe, as a homicide detective, had battled cancer.

"We were originally told the operation would be terminated if Trump lied,'' Keefe later said in a memo documenting his concerns.

The confrontation

The next time Trump was to be interviewed, Keefe wanted to be there.

There had been an initial interview right after Trump's arrest in June 2007. Now, a month later, Keefe met with him in Golden Valley. He was accompanied by his own officers and three FBI agents.

After the FBI agents interviewed Trump, Keefe later told internal affairs, he introduced himself and shook Trump's hand. "Tell me about these cops,'' he said.

Trump claimed that once, during a drug raid on the North Side of Minneapolis, Sgt. Charlie Adams let him walk away from a crime scene with a stash of cocaine hidden in his crotch -- a favor that spared Trump from a long prison sentence. Adams denies the incident ever took place. Trump's attorney said his client was not available for comment on this story.

In an internal affairs interview, Keefe recalled Trump told him he had given "all kinds of money" to an officer not previously mentioned -- Mike Doran, the former partner of retired officer Craig Stoddard, who was named the night of Trump's arrest. Doran, a member of VOTF, used to moonlight doing security at a downtown nightclub where Trump hung out.

Trump was now mixing up the names of Stoddard and Doran, Keefe later noted in his memo. Doran would not comment for this story.

Originally, Trump had named six Minneapolis officers, saying they were corrupt. Now, in this interview, he added the names of two more cops, telling Keefe they were "corrupt cops who he has knowledge of." This, Keefe would tell internal affairs, appeared to make one of the FBI agents nervous: "The FBI agent who was sitting in the room with me knew that Trump was screwing up, and he tried to stop the interview by saying something like 'oh, we gotta get going.'"

All of it made Keefe more convinced Trump wasn't credible. "You tell the truth, the truth is the truth, but he can't seem to keep his lies straight,'' he told internal affairs.

Back at the office after the interview with Trump, Keefe's phone rang. It was special agent Sean Boylan, supervisor of Squad 7, the FBI's public corruption unit. Boylan insisted on meeting at 2 p.m.

That's when Boylan made it clear the case would remain open. Keefe's gut told him that the FBI was intentionally excluding information that had the potential to sink their case.

Soon, two FBI agents showed up at Police Chief Tim Dolan's office with a complaint. Keefe, they said, had confronted Trump and berated him.

'Promoted' out

Deputy Chief Val Wurster was assigned the chore of giving Keefe the bad news.

It was Aug. 13, 2007, when she told the VOTF commander that he was being reassigned to a job in licensing. Keefe later told internal affairs he viewed it as a demotion, sugarcoated with the offer of a pay raise.

He told Wurster he wasn't interested in the "promotion."

That wasn't an option, Keefe recalled her saying. He had 24 hours to get out of his office. Wurster declined to comment for this story.

Keefe was humiliated but refused to disengage. He started to put his thoughts in order.

"The FBI and the MPD set out to uncover public corruption and actually ended up engaging in public corruption by covering up Trump's lies,'' he wrote later in his memo. He said the FBI and U.S. attorney "wanted to silence me because they were fearful I would expose the truth.''

Asked recently about Keefe's allegation, Ralph Boelter, special agent in charge of the FBI in Minneapolis, said: "The FBI is committed to the highest standards of professional and ethical conduct. The bureau categorically denies the allegation."

After that, as Keefe tried to express his frustration over the situation, the department's racial dysfunction erupted to the surface once again. Keefe leveled charges at the conduct of a supervisor in his own VOTF unit. In a memo to Dolan, he accused Sgt. Pat King of using racial epithets on three occasions.

When the FBI initially asked King his opinion of the six officers labeled by Trump as "dirty," his reactions to the three black officers were "very negative," Keefe recalled later to internal affairs. "Everything short of the "N'' word ... he had nothing good to say about any of them.''

By rule, Keefe's claim of racism was investigated. But 18 Minneapolis officers and federal agents told investigators they had never heard King use racial epithets. King denied the allegations and was cleared. He would not comment for this story.

Internal police politics were engulfing the corruption case. To Keefe, an unethical probe was continuing.

Documents showed he even accused Dolan in writing of not caring whether the investigation was conducted without following criminal procedure. King, for instance, had been kicked out of the department's homicide unit when Edwards was installed there as commander. Now King was influencing an investigation that could ruin Edwards' career.

Dolan said later that the FBI was directing the investigation and that there was no conflict of interest for his own officers to be investigating colleagues for alleged crimes.

"We did not manage the investigation," the chief responded recently to questions. "I was pleased that the FBI had enough trust of the Minneapolis Police Department to ask for our help."

Growing suspicions

Dolan had a mess on his hands, and it was about to get worse.

About four months later, in November 2007, Dolan moved Adams -- a popular black officer with deep contacts on the city's North Side -- out of homicide for publicly commenting on a murder investigation.

In reality, Dolan would say several months later in a deposition, he was also suspicious that Adams might be telling other officers about the corruption investigation. Dolan second-guessed himself: If he hadn't moved Adams out of homicide, he said, the FBI might have caught Adams in the act of leaking information.

"Part of me wanted to frankly leave him in there, give him enough rope to hang himself," he said in the deposition that was part of a civil suit that Adams filed against the department for defamation.

In December 2007, the deteriorating race relations in the department were pushed into the open. Five black officers filed a lawsuit against Dolan and the city of Minneapolis for discrimination.

Among the officers were Adams and Edwards.

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

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.