Hennepin County charged former Minneapolis parks employee Hashim Yonis with felony theft on Friday for allegedly collecting money for rental of a soccer field and then pocketing the money.
The county attorney's office charged Yonis with theft by swindle for allegedly pocketing more than $5,300 after renting to adults an artificial turf field at Currie Park that was built for youth soccer.
The charges follow Yonis's resignation of his job as a youth specialist with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board in late October, shortly before a Park Board election in which he was a candidate.
Park officials moved to fire Yonis in August after an investigation, but later agreed to let him resign. Yonis, 26, who was also employed by Minneapolis schools, was put on administrative leave by the school district. He worked at South High School.
Yonis could not immediately be reached for comment Friday. In October, when asked about the criminal investigation by park police, he commented: “I believe the county has higher expectations than this petty stuff.”
According to the complaint, Yonis got more than $3,500 in cash from the organizer of an informal weekend soccer league for Latino adults and children. But the largely East African community round the park began to complain to Commissioner Scott Vreeland and other park employees that fields weren't available for neighborhood children.
Afterward, Yonis tried to cover his tracks, according to the complaint filed by park police Sgt. Richard Doll, by telling the soccer organizer not to tell park officials that he had rented the field, or he'd not rent to the organizer. The complaint also alleges that Yonis tried to postdate permits. In addition to the previous rentals, Yonis said he had collected another $1,320 in cash rentals that the complaint said an investigator and supervisor found in a bag on the shelf of the office used by Yonis, hidden in a pile of notebooks.
The organizer asked Yonis for a receipt for the rentals to show to neighbors, but told investigators that Yonis repeatedly refused to do so. The complaint said that that he paid Yonis inside an equipment shed at the field, where Yonis would count it and put it in his pocket.
Yonis finished midway down the list of 10 candidates for three at-large Park Board after the news broke.
A diversion pipe is being installed this week to route water being pumped into of the Calhoun-Isles lagoon, marking the second straight year that step has been taken to protect the lagoon's ice..
Minneapolis public works officials will contract for a 12-inch PVC pipe to be laid to divert water being pumped into the lagoon from an upscale apartment building t 1800 W. Lake St. The city recently sued the building's owner over the discharge of groundwater from the apartment site into a storm sewer entering the lagoon. The city argued that pumping was only temporarily permitted during the building's construction in 2011.
The diversion is an attempt to keep lagoon ice intact, according to Justin Long, an assistant parks superintendent. The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board announced the diversion project on Wednesday but said the city is handling the contracting. It said the work will be completed by Jan. 16, and remain for about eight weeks.
The diversion project will cost about $45,000, according to the city, and extend for almost one-quarter mile.
Long said the diversion of water will follow a different route to Lake Calhoun this year. Last year, the pipe generally followed the east retaining wall of the lagoon before crossing near Lake Street to the north retaining wall of Calhoun, where it was discharged along the north shoreline. The plan this year is to route the pipe across the lagoon to its west retaining wall and follow that to the lake's north retaining wall. That will keep the pipe in a shadier spot during daily peak temperatures.
Last year, the pipe laid on the ice and the 55-degree temperature of the water it carried melted the pipe into the ice. This year, the pipe will be raised a few inches atop spacers to prevent that, Long said.
The main issue with warm water entering the lagoon is that softer ice endangers skaters and skiers, according to the city's lawsuit. It sued to end the discharge and to recover costs of dealing with the issue, including installing the winter piping.
Long said that park officials conferred with representatives of the City of Lake Loppet ski festival about how to include a ramp over the pipe for skiers for event races that use the lagoon and adjoining lakes.
(Photo above: Chace Russell won a heat during ice-biking races held on the lagoon during the City of Lakes Loppet weekend.)
The year 2013 certainly didn't lack for drama in Minneapolis, from a 35-candidate dogpile to replace R.T. Rybak as mayor to an unexpected gusher in downtown, and the standoff so far over the Southwest rail line. Remember the heat wave that forced a quick end to an early school start? The advent of a $1.1 million ash-removal tax?
Here's a top 10 list of 2013 Minneapolis headlines, plus a bonus track, compiled from suggestions by the folks who cover the city beat for the Star Tribune. You may add your comments on other notable events. We also list some notable residents who died this year.
So long, Rybakapolis: In an electoral shift as epochal as 2001, the city is getting a new mayor and a new council majority. Although the shift from R.T. Rybak to Betsy Hodges in the mayor’s chair appears more of a change of style than ideology, the council turnover is more seismic. The council’s median age will drop by 14 years, it will have three immigrants for the first time since 1947, and it brings a more pro-density stance. The massive turnover was sparked by mayoral ambitions, ward development issues, anti-stadium sentiment among some voters and the emergence of Somalis and other ethnic groups as political forces.
Due for a break: Property taxpayers got a break that hasn’t happened in 30 years when the City Council in December cut the 2014 levy by 1 percent at Rybak’s recommendation. The mayor attributed the tax break to the impact of the stadium deal, but the legislature also restored a healthy chunk of the state aid the city lost during the Tim Pawlenty years.
Goodbye Dome, hello park:: The largest city-assisted development deal since the razing and rebuilding of the north Minneapolis projects won year-end approval from the outgoing City Council. The $400 million project includes two office towers to be owned by Wells Fargo, apartments, retail, a parking ramp and a nearly two-block public park. Much of that will be on land to be sold by the Star Tribune, which plans to shift its offices to rental quarters. The city is on the hook for up to $65 million to build up to a 1,600-stall parking ramp, plus a basic park. And we hear a new stadium is being built nearby.
Target Center makeover: Target Center is headed for a makeover to the tune of $97 million, with the city’s share coming from a shift in the use of city-generated sales taxes. The money will improve the building’s public spaces, upgrade technology and overhaul the facade. The city, which purchased the building in the mid-1990s, also is committed to $50 million in ongoing capital costs. The Timberwolves contribute $43 million and the arena’s operator another $5 million.
Hear that lonesome whistle blow: The fight over routing of trains through the Kenilworth corridor of Minneapolis set off alarms from the suburbs to the governor’s office. Minneapolis wants existing freight trains to be re-routed out of the corridor and through St. Louis Park, while Kenilworth residents have raised questions about the routing of the Southwest light-rail line through their area. There’s a city-suburban split, with debate over the impacts of the project on the lagoon connecting Lake of the Isles and Cedar Lake. Gov. Mark Dayton endorsed a 90-day halt to further study impacts on the lakes and lagoon and to exhaust other alternatives for re-routing freight.
Deadly decisions: Terrance Franklin decided to flee when police responded to a call of a suspected burglary on May 10, and the results were deadly. Police shot and killed Franklin in an Uptown basement where he hid after a 90-minute chase. Police said Franklin charged at them and used one of their guns to shoot two officers, before two others fatally shot him. A Hennepin County grand jury found no evidence to indict the officers involved. A motorcyclist also died when he collided with a late-responding police officer using lights and siren to cross against a red light at a busy intersection. Franklin’s parents question police conduct.
Costly cops: Police conduct continued to be an issue aside from the Franklin case. The Star Tribune reported that none of the 439 cases alleging police misconduct filed in the first year of a new oversight office resulted in discipline for an officer. The department was defending itself against 61 lawsuits alleging police used excessive force, including 53 filed from 2011 to 2013. The department at mid-year had paid nearly $14 million in payouts to settle misconduct allegations in the previous seven years, including $3.075 million to the family of a homeless man who died after police climbed on him while he was acting strangely at the downtown Minneapolis YMCA.
Attention, class: Minneapolis schools now have a five-year plan for handling an enrollment boom that it hasn’t seen in years. The plan adds some 4,500 seats, with additions pending at Southwest High School, Seward Montessori, Sanford Middle School and Cooper school. The plan affects almost one-third of district enrollment, but few will switch schools. Some will see new programs in their schools or follow new paths to high school. It’s still the biggest change since a 2009 shift in school boundaries when the district was still shrinking.
New North Side doorway:The opening of a new link between the downtown and the North Side didn’t get much attention, but the bridge completing Van White Boulevard was freighted with symbolism. It marks a major checkmark in the dwindling to-do list for completing the master plan for redevelopment of the former housing projects straddling Olson Memorial Highway. The boulevard connecting Dunwoody Boulevard/Hennepin Avenue with N. 7th Street was conceived to be a new front doorway to the North Side, while symbolically connecting that under-employed area to downtown jobs. It’s also the first direct north-south connection between Lyndale Avenue to the east and Cedar Lake Parkway to the west, build to withstand the valley’s poor soils. Although the bridge has only two of the planned four lanes, there are walk and bike paths.
Water, water everywhere: Just how much Minneapolis relies on an infrastructure we take for granted was forcefully brought home on Jan. 3 when a water main was breached downtown. The nick by a sub to a subcontractor working on an apartment project flooded the Gateway district with 14 million gallons, forcing water-less employers to send workers home early, impeding commuters and turning the area into a skating rink. The city estimated that it spent at least $325,000 for workers to address the leak and clean up; more than 50 private and postal vehicles were ruined in a nearby ramp. City lawyers are still dealing with the multiple parties involved in the construction project on recovering costs.
A streetcar desired: There’s no clear point when the streetcar line the city proposes for Nicollet Avenue can be said to have irresistible momentum, but hopes for a 3.4-mile starter line made considerable progress, even though polls show the public is split on the proposal.The city completed an alternatives analysis and committed $4 million for starting preliminary engineering next year. That’s still a long ways from landing state and federal funding needed for the $200 million project, but it will better position the city to compete for the money.
(Photos from top to bottom: Mayor R.T. Rybak takes one last dive; illustration of post-renovation Target Center; the late Terrance Franklin; middle schooler Hani (Sabrina) Muridi at Sanford Middle School; flooding from the Gateway district leak.)
Here's a roll call of some of the notable Minneapolis residents who died in 2013, along with the fields in which they made their mark:
John Wing Ackerman, 80, minister and activist
Ed Brandt, 81, legislator and political scientist
Sage Fuller Cowles, 88, dancer and philanthropist
John B. Davidson, 81, co-founder of Children’s Theatre Company
Tom Dickinson, 78, fire chief
Mary Betty Douglass, 87, Romper Room’s “Miss Betty”
Richard Estes, funeral home owner and philanthropist
Lou Gelfand, 91, newsman and public relations
Keith Gunderson, 78, philosophy professor and poet
Al Haug, 64, folk musician and radio host
Burton Joseph, agribusinessman and Jewish activist
Sue McLean, 63, concert promoter
Hussein Samatar, 45, school board member and lender
Pat Schon, 86, champion of World War I vets
Muriel Simmons, 73, neighborhood activist
Phyllis Wiener, 91, painter and feminist
Minneapolis police are warning residents of a spate of violent robberies that are targeting Hispanics in neighborhoods roughly along Interstate 35 W, south of downtown.
Police said five robberies took place between Dec. 20 and Dec. 23rd in areas that include parts of Whittier, Phillips West, Lyndale and Central neighborhoods.
In one case, a gun was shown, in another a knife. Police are advising residents to be aware of their surroundings, walk with someone else at all times and try to get a good description of the robber.
Here’s the five incidents. In all of them the victims were Hispanic:
Dec. 17 at 7:40 p.m.: A man forcibly took a woman’s purse as she walked at 1st Av. South and 28th St. E.
Dec. 20: 8:10 p.m. A man robbed a man in a parking lot at 38th and Nicollet Av. No weapons were involved.
Dec. 21 at 2:30 a.m.: Two men punched a male who was walking at Franklin Av. E and Clinton Av. S. They stole his backpack.
Dec. 22 at 2 a.m.: Two men approached a male, showed a knife and took his wallet and cell phone in the 27XX block of Nicollet Av. The victim was not hurt.
Dec. 23 at 12:38 a.m.: A male was leaving a city bus when a man displayed a handgun at 1st Av. S and 33 St. E. The suspect fled before taking anything from the victim.
The two teenagers accused of beating a Minneapolis mayoral candidate after a cohort stole his iPhone at the Mall of America had cased the Starbucks ahead of time, according to authorities.
Mark Andrew, also a former Hennepin County commissioner, was beaten on the head with a metal baton after a juvenile male snatched his phone as he sat in Starbucks.
Andrew received nine stitches at Fairview Southdale Hospital, where an ambulance took him after the attack around 7 p.m. Thursday.
One of the women arrested, Letaija Shapree Cutler-Cain, 18, of Brooklyn Park, was charged with second-degree assault with a deadly weapon. The other woman was not identified because she is 17. The male who stole the phone was not identified.
In the complaint, police said the male took off with the phone. When Andrew gave chase, the two women confronted him and kept him from leaving the store. The complaint said Cutler-Cain jumped on his back and the younger teen struck him repeatedly on the head with the baton. As Andrew struggled with the women, Cutler-Cain gouged his face with her fingernails, yelling at him: "I'm going to kill you, Let me go or I'm going to kill you!"
Police said Andrew was struck with a metal baton and was bleeding profusely from a large cut on the top of his head and from his mouth. He also had bruises and abrasions on his face.
“I was targeted because the phone was out and I’m 63 years old, and I’m sure they thought that I was easy pickins,” Andrew said by phone Friday morning, while on painkillers and on his way to give statements to the Bloomington Police Department.
The complaint said Cutler-Cain told police that the trio had checked the Starbucks several times that afternoon to determine if it was "sweet." Asked to explain what she meant, she said they were seeing if any customers had items they could steal.
Andrew placed second to Betsy Hodges in November’s most competitive race for mayor in a generation, when voters chose between 35 candidates in the city’s first major test of ranked choice voting. He continues to work as an environmental marketing consultant.
He said he was working at a table alone at the Starbucks when someone – he thinks it was a man – whisked his phone away and ran out the door. As Andrew ran after the thief, two young women waiting outside the coffee shop tackled him, and one began beating him on the head and face with a club.
Andrew said he jumped back to his feet and physically restrained one attacker while the other continued striking him. They yelled, “We’re going to kill you! We’re going to kill you!”
No one at the packed Starbucks intervened.
“They were too afraid,” Andrew said.
He guessed the police came after about five minutes. Upon their arrival, Andrew said the women told police that he had assaulted them first, but a witness inside the shop confirmed his account. Even after authorities detained the attackers, the women told Andrew they would have him killed.
The hospital treated and released him the same night.
The person who swiped the phone apparently dropped it after seeing the commotion, and a passerby later returned it to Andrew.
“I’m not going to let someone take my phone,” Andrew said. “I’m not going to let that pass. They thought they wouldn’t get chased.”
As Andrew walked back into his south Minneapolis home, he recalled, he lifted his fist in the air and told his adult children, “We won.”
He vowed to stay involved in the case.
"“They’re damaged kids, and maybe they’re too far gone, but I think there’s redemption for everybody," said Andrew. "So we’ll try to find a way for them to get in a place where they can turn their lives around.”
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