Two members of Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher's Special Investigations Unit flunked when they took money planted in an FBI integrity test, a jury decided Wednesday.
A U.S. District Court jury convicted officer Timothy Rehak and Fletcher spokesman Mark Naylon of theft and conspiring to deprive someone of their civil rights. The men were seen on an FBI videotape stealing $6,000 during a November 2004 "integrity check."
They were acquitted of four wire fraud charges. The two men, both 48, are friends of Fletcher. Naylon was best man at Fletcher's second wedding. Rehak is a former St. Paul police officer hired by Fletcher despite reprimands in Rehak's police personnel file.
Fletcher declined to be interviewed Wednesday but issued a brief written statement. He said Naylon and Rehak, who have been on paid administrative leave, both submitted resignations after the verdict and their employment was terminated effective Wednesday.
U.S. Attorney Frank Magill issued a statement praising Fletcher and St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington for their cooperation in the prosecution.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys John Marti and Joe Dixon say the convictions each carry sentences of up to 10 years in prison. U.S. District Court Judge Patrick Schiltz, who oversaw the weeklong trial, did not set a sentencing date and no one was predicting what the sentences would be.
Former Assistant U.S. Attorney Doug Kelley, now a defense lawyer, said he doubts the men will get off easy. "The system is not very forgiving on law enforcement who abuse the process," he said.
Family members of both defendants cried in the hallway outside the Minneapolis courtroom after the verdict was read. Rehak's lawyer, Kevin Short, and Naylon's lawyer, Paul Rogosheske, declined to comment other than to say they would appeal.
"The core of the case is: Did officer Rehak and Mr. Naylon steal the $6,000?" Dixon said after the verdict. He said the conspiracy conviction relates to a person's right not to have their property stolen by others.
Video was star witness
The star witness for the government was an FBI video from the integrity check that started when an informant said the men were interfering in drug investigations.
To test the men, the FBI planted $13,500 in marked bills at the Kelly Inn near the State Capitol. An informant, Shawn Arvin, called his longtime contact Rehak and told him a drug dealer named "Vinny" had been arrested in Wisconsin and left drugs and money in the hotel room. The FBI wired the room for video and camped out in another room as well as kept watch outside the hotel.
Rehak is heard on an FBI recording saying he was going to go over to the Kelly Inn and see if he couldn't "scarf up" what Vinny left behind.
Once in the room, Sgt. Rollie Martinez, the men's supervisor, searched the bathroom as Naylon and Rehak searched the rest of the room. Naylon and Rehak found a duffel bag of cash in a dresser. The video shows Rehak handing a wad of bills to Naylon, who stuffed them in his jacket pocket.
It was a joke, men said
The men didn't dispute that Naylon put what turned out to be $6,000 in his pocket, but they said it was intended to be used as a practical joke on Martinez.
The practical joke, according to the defense, was to call Martinez at home in his "footy pajamas" and get him to come back to work late at night. The jury apparently didn't get the joke.
Prosecutors said the joke was a cover story concocted after the men realized they might have been set up. Although Rehak denied it when he took the stand, prosecutors said the men could have become suspicious because they found money and no drugs in the room.
Also, they claimed the men had databases searched for the faux drug dealer whom the FBI called Vincent Pellagatti of Illinois. The searches came up empty because the FBI failed to create a history for the man. The empty searches further aroused suspicion in the men, the government contended.
Those searches were the basis of the wire fraud charges. Defense lawyers argued the government failed to prove the men initiated the searches.
Late at night after the search, Rehak and Naylon called Martinez to tell him about the additional $6,000 they found, then illegally returned to the hotel to change the search warrant receipt to $13,500 instead of $7,500.
In his testimony, Martinez said he didn't press for answers because he didn't believe the men would be truthful.
After seeing the two take the money, FBI Special Agent Timothy Bisswurm was perplexed the next day when Arvin called Rehak and found out the cop claimed to have found $13,500.
Both men have been on paid administrative leave.
Rehak, a St. Paul police officer who was assigned to Fletcher's investigative unit in 2004, was later suspended by the Police Department for 10 days and reprimanded once for hindering an investigation against Rehak's son and once for endangering the life of an informant.
Despite the disciplinary actions, Fletcher hired Rehak in February 2007, saying Rehak had been caught in a bureaucratic tangle with St. Paul police regarding the informant case.
Staff Writer Mary Lynn Smith contributed to this report. Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747