Two ex-Ramsey County sheriff's employees called the theft a practical joke; the judge called it "a shameful betrayal of trust."
Two former Ramsey County sheriff's employees were each sentenced to nearly three years in federal prison Friday for what one of their attorneys continued to insist was a practical joke gone bad.
"It was a joke, clear and simple," said Paul Rogosheske, the attorney for Mark Naylon, a former Sheriff's Office spokesman sentenced to 30 months in prison.
A jury in August found Naylon and Timothy Rehak, a former St. Paul police officer and member of the sheriff's special investigations unit, guilty of theft and conspiracy to deprive someone of their civil rights after the men were caught pocketing $6,000 in planted money during an FBI integrity test. Rehak was sentenced to 35 months behind bars.
U.S. District Judge Patrick Schiltz told the men that their actions were no laughing matter, but a violation of the public trust.
"This is an egregious, shameful betrayal of the trust that has been placed in you," he said before imposing the sentences. "This makes the job of a good cop that much more difficult and dangerous. And that makes us all less safe."
The FBI launched the integrity check in November 2004 after an informant said the men were interfering in drug investigations. FBI agents planted $13,500 in marked bills in a room at the Kelly Inn in St. Paul. An informant then called his longtime contact, Rehak, and told him that a drug dealer had been arrested and had left drugs and cash in the hotel room.
Naylon and Rehak were seen on videotape finding a duffel bag of cash in a dresser. The video showed Rehak handing a wad of bills to Naylon, who put them in his jacket pocket.
Naylon, it turned out, pocketed $6,000 of the planted cash. The men said later that they were playing a practical joke on their supervisor, who had searched the bathroom. Prosecutors said the practical joke story was concocted as a cover story after the men realized they may have been the target of an integrity test.
Friday, after the sentences were handed down, Rogosheske and Paul Engh, Rehak's attorney, said they will appeal both the conviction and the sentence.
Engh said his client is going to prison for conspiring against a person who never existed and for taking money that he never kept and didn't belong to anyone. When asked if Rehak, a police officer for more than 20 years, made a mistake in risking his career and his freedom for a purported practical joke, Engh said: "He didn't risk his career. He never risked his career. He didn't do it."
Before Schiltz issued his sentence, Engh had argued for probation only. That would be the presumptive sentence in state court for a theft of so little money, he said.
Schiltz, however, disagreed.
"This isn't about the money," he said. "It's never been about the money."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Joe Dixon called the sentences appropriate.
"We are grateful, although saddened, by the sentence today, which reflects a serious violation of the public's trust," he said.
Both men had been close associates of Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher. Naylon had been best man at Fletcher's second wedding. Although he was not a licensed peace officer, Naylon often carried a gun and participated in investigative work. Rehak, a longtime St. Paul police officer, joined the Sheriff's Office after the FBI had begun its investigation. They resigned on the day they were convicted, and Fletcher has acknowledged that case has hurt the credibility of his department.
At the time of their indictment, Fletcher issued a statement calling the men good cops. "These charges are serious, however, like any citizen they deserve an opportunity to have an impartial trial of the facts," he said.
Fletcher has been largely silent on the case since then. When reached Friday, he declined to comment.
Assistant U.S. Attorney John Marti said at the sentencing hearing that Naylon liked to wield the powers of a peace officer without accepting accountability. For instance, he would participate in searches, but not put his name on reports, Marti said.
Friday's sentence, he said, finally held him accountable for his actions.
"Certainly, Judge Schiltz's words were direct and clear," he said.
Schiltz recommended that both men serve their sentences at the federal prison camp near Duluth, provided their safety there can be assured. They were not taken into custody after the sentencing, but must report to U.S. marshals on March 9 at 10 a.m.
James Walsh • 612-673-7428