Crime fighters gone rogue

May 28: FBI joins in probe of Metro Gang Strike Force

  • Article by: RANDY FURST , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 23, 2011 - 2:07 PM

An advisory panel of public safety officials is starting to consider the Strike Force's future.

The FBI has begun investigating the Metro Gang Strike Force, spurred by state Public Safety Commissioner Michael Campion, who said Wednesday that the shredding of documents last week by Strike Force officers was "unsettling" and "disturbing."

The FBI said Wednesday that its inquiry will go beyond alleged destruction of documents. "It's an investigation into the totality of the case," said FBI Special Agent E.K. Wilson.

The announcement came as law enforcement officials from the area met to discuss the future of the Strike Force after the state Legislative Auditor issued a report about missing property and money, estimated at more than $18,000.

After the audit was released, at least two officers with the Strike Force were believed to have shredded materials on May 20, according to an official familiar with the inquiry. Its operations were suspended.

Campion said he called the FBI and asked it to investigate. "There are unanswered questions about the behavior the other night and whether there was criminal activity," he said. "I don't know if it did or did not take place. It is certainly unusual activity. It is unsettling, disturbing."

Wilson said the FBI had monitored the Strike Force issues through contact with Campion's office.

"The FBI does have primary jurisdiction over government corruption matters and government-related fraud," Wilson said. "... It would be logical for us to make a determination ... if there is any criminal wrongdoing or not."

The Strike Force has 34 officers and supervisors from 13 area law enforcement agencies who focus on gang- and drug-related crime. It has been the subject of controversy since October when the state Department of Public Safety did a preliminary audit.

Campion also announced Wednesday that former Assistant U.S. Attorney Andy Luger, a Minneapolis lawyer, will lead a team from Campion's staff to implement the Legislative Auditor's 23 recommendations, create improved protocols and relay to the FBI any potential criminal activity identified by Luger's team.

Campion said that retired FBI agent John Egelhof of Bemidji will assist Luger. The two are expected to meet with Campion today to discuss the scope and timing of the investigation, which should be completed within several weeks, Campion said.

He added that while Luger and Egelhof are experienced investigators, both are citizens, and neither has police powers. A source familiar with the investigation said the FBI was brought in because it can subpoena people and bring matters to a grand jury if necessary.

Innocent shredding?

Meanwhile, Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher said Wednesday that officers who shredded documents had no criminal intent. "They were simply cleaning out their desks," he said.

At a meeting Wednesday of the advisory board that oversees the Strike Force, Fletcher also said that investigators from his office had discovered the disposition of 14 seized vehicles that the Legislative Auditor said last week it could not account for.

Fletcher said that three were given to Cars with Heart, a charitable organization, which then sold them, and five were taken to Twin City Transport and Recovery. Of the five, three were sold, one was scrapped and one returned to its owner, Fletcher said.

"I am going to send staff down to Sheriff Fletcher's office in the morning, and we will ask him to substantiate with documentation how these vehicles were handled and how they were disposed of," said James Nobles, the Legislative Auditor. "So far he is claiming these vehicles were properly handled."

Fletcher told reporters after the Strike Force board meeting that Chris Omodt, the Strike Force commander, had sufficient information on the missing vehicles and should have been able to locate them prior to the auditor's report.

Omodt said that he did not have a complete list until after the report was issued. He said the Strike Force files lacked paperwork on the vehicles, making them difficult to find.

Questioned by reporters, Omodt said "a faction" in the Strike Force had caused some problems. "A couple of people -- they like to stir the pot," he said. It was Omodt who suspended Strike Force operations last week after discovering some Strike Force members had removed files from their office. In an e-mail to board members, he also reported seeing shredded files that night in a dumpster and garbage cans.

The advisory board spent much of its time Wednesday debating the Strike Force's future. Michael Davis, Brooklyn Park police chief, said he wanted the board to consider an "incarnation" of the Strike Force. "I'm not interested in going back to the operations the way they were before," he said.

The Minneapolis Police Department pulled nine of its officers out of the Strike Force last week, citing budgetary constraints. The department announced the move on the same day the state audit came out, although it said the timing was coincidental.

St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington asked how many more departments might leave before the Strike Force became an "anachronism." He said the Strike Force was part of the "fabric" of his department, but it wasn't certain his department would stay in. "Right now, we are in," he said. Fletcher indicated that if the Strike Force reduces its on-the-street enforcement work and focuses more on long-term investigations, he would assign fewer deputies to it.

In the end, the advisory board created a subcommittee to consider the future. Its members are to include Harrington, Fletcher, Davis, Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek, and a representative of the Minneapolis Police Department, even though it is leaving, because board members said it plays an integral part in anti-gang efforts.

The board set its next meeting for 10 a.m. June 30.

Randy Furst • 612-673-7382

  • about this series

  • In 2009, the Metro Gang Strike Force was shut down amid state and federal investigations. It was Minnesota's worst law enforcement meltdown in decades. The Star Tribune broke the first stories about the unit's troubles and the newspaper's dogged reporting ultimately showed what led to its demise.

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