The Whistleblower blog was started in 2008. Look for posts by these contributors: James Eli Shiffer, Jane Friedmann, Brandon Stahl, Eric Roper and Alejandra Matos. | Check out the Whistleblower archive.

Find us on Facebook and Twitter. Find our watchdog and investigative work at The Investigators.

The Star Tribune's journalists need your help blowing the whistle in Minnesota. Contact us here.

Posts about Government spends your money

Businesses groan when streets disappear

Posted by: James Eli Shiffer Updated: August 30, 2010 - 9:53 AM


Don Belawski of Alex Used Cars (photo by David Joles)

Don Belawski of Alex Used Cars (photo by David Joles)


My Sunday column explored an eternal question, at least in public policy circles: what should the government do to ease the pain for merchants who lose business as the result of infrastructure projects? We all know the cost of ignoring our infrastructure, but governments face a real dilemma when businesses that depend on a street suddenly lose that street, if only for a few months. Here's more information on the city's Chicago Avenue reconstruation, as well as the Minnesota Department of Transportation's bridge project.

Bait, tackle, Social Security number

Posted by: Updated: July 29, 2010 - 12:33 PM

A Minneapolis man was disturbed when his grandchildren told him they had to turn over their Social Security numbers to get a fishing license. He called the state Department of Natural Resources, which told him that federal and state laws require it.

The DNR gives the numbers to the state Department of Human Services to assist in child support enforcement. Other state-authorized workers also could have access to Social Security numbers, the DNR’s website said.

"Others who may have access to your SSN include individuals whose work assignment require access and persons authorized by state or federal law or pursuant to a court order, or by your written consent," according to the website.

The grandfather was also told there are more than 1,000 places in the state that sell licenses.

“The state doesn’t have any jurisdiction over who these places hire,” he said. "They're able to see this information. They're able to copy it."

If the state has to use Social Security numbers, he suggests only using the last four digits.

Do you think this grandpa has a reason to be concerned?

The taxman takes a stand against unmarried sex

Posted by: James Eli Shiffer Updated: July 28, 2010 - 9:43 AM

A Farmington woman who wanted to claim her boyfriend as a dependent on her tax form was warned that she might be violating a state law against fornication, according to this report from Fox9's Tom Lyden. The state Department of Revenue eventually backed off its claim that her tax declaration was violating state law - but only because the tax people assumed that she and her boyfriend were having sex. Confirming that fact probably goes beyond the scope of your average tax audit.

The fornication law dates to 1967 and consists of one line:

"When any man and single woman have sexual intercourse with each other, each is guilty of fornication, which is a misdemeanor."

A misdemeanor carries a maximum of 90 days in jail.

Married women, by contrast, who have sex with men outside marriage are covered by the more extensive, and harsher, 1963-vintage adultery law:

When a married woman has sexual intercourse with a man other than her husband, whether married or not, both are guilty of adultery and may be sentenced to imprisonment for not more than one year or to payment of a fine of not more than $3,000, or both.

There's an insanity clause, and a one-year get-out-of-bed free provision:


No prosecution shall be commenced under this section except on complaint of the husband or the wife, except when such husband or wife is insane, nor after one year from the commission of the offense.

Finally, there's the "she wasn't wearing a ring" excuse:

It is a defense to violation of this section if the marital status of the woman was not known to the defendant at the time of the act of adultery.


The city's bumpiest street, in words and video

Posted by: James Eli Shiffer Updated: July 6, 2010 - 10:04 AM


The street, pre-patching. (Photo by McKenna Ewen)

The street, pre-patching. (Photo by McKenna Ewen)


My colleague McKenna Ewen bravely taped his iPhone to the license plate of the company car to capture the full drama of driving down 33rd Avenue Southeast in Minneapolis's Como neighborhood. Only video could truly capture the essence of a street that has ceased to be a street, by most American definitions. It does ride better today, thanks to 17 tons of asphalt poured by city workers the day after our visit. The city says it's a coincidence, and indeed, one angry property owner alerted me that the week before, he had escorted a city official into the potholes to make his point.

Since we published this story, others email me with contenders for the worst pothole street. I'll let you know whether they're worth a ride. Meanwhile, if you want to know more about the city's plan for 33rd Av. SE and an adjacent sidestreet, Talmage Avenue SE, read this.

Lawyers can rack up discipline

Posted by: Updated: June 21, 2010 - 10:55 AM



We often hear from people who want to complain about their lawyer - usually it's after they lose their case. In Sunday's column, I wrote about Jack Frestedt, who didn't know that his lawyer had a long disciplinary history. When I checked out Frestedt's lawyer Bill Paul on the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility website, I only found two disciplinary actions. One was a reprimand/probation from 2000 and the other entry only said pending. I had to call the office to get more information about the pending action. Even though the state's petition to discipline a lawyer is a public document, it can't be posted on the office's website until after the case is resolved. Once I got that document, it showed all of the other times that Paul had been disciplined privately by state regulators.

My colleague Jane Friedmann wrote up some helpful tips that accompanied my story. Pursuing a complaint with the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility can be a long, arduous process so it's good to know what to expect.



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