Jonathan Aanestad is a longtime Minnesota political consultant with a past he’d like to put behind him.
Aanestad wants to wipe away nearly $1.3 million in debt, a sizable portion of which is owed to lawyers who have represented him over the years on civil matters stemming from a neighborhood feud. He has said in court filings that the dispute cost him a job in the administration of former Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
He’s now working with a lawyer in an effort to seal portions of his turbulent legal history that he contends portray him in an unfair light.
Mike Russin, a neighbor who has battled Aanestad in court, won’t let go. He called the bankruptcy trustee managing Aanestad’s petition for debt relief about possible hidden assets. The court recently put Aanestad’s bankruptcy petition on hold while the trustee investigates.
Aanestad has been “a pretty major activist” within the Minnesota Republican Party, according to Tony Sutton, a former chairman who tapped him as party spokesman in 2009. Aanestad quit after just one day and worked instead as a consultant for several years through Strother Communications Group. Last year, he was a GOP delegate for Senate District 33 and the Third Congressional Convention. And he has worked as a consultant to former state Rep. Connie Doepke of Wayzata, R-Wayzata, and on the steering committee for the campaign of U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen, R-Minn.
More recently, Aanestad was a member of an advisory committee for Minnesota Expo 2023, which is trying to bring the World’s Fair to Minnesota. The committee includes a who’s who of civic leaders and former Minnesota politicians. Its chairman, former Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, a DFLer, said Aanestad was part of a 19-member Expo delegation that visited the World’s Fair in Milan, Italy, in September. Days after the Star Tribune began asking questions about Aanestad, he resigned from the committee. Ritchie said Aanestad cited “other pressing commitments.”
Aanestad, 61, of Orono, declined requests for an interview but said through attorneys that he was too busy to work on the committee, and that any mistakes made in his bankruptcy petition were inadvertent and would be corrected.
“Mr. Aanestad does not profess that he is a perfect man. However, he is a man of good character who has done many good things to serve his family and community,” said Derek Chrysler, a lawyer Aanestad hired to try to seal and expunge parts of his legal history.
Where’s the Porsche?
John Stoebner, a Minneapolis attorney appointed as an impartial administrator to oversee the bankruptcy petition, said he has received tips that Aanestad might be hiding assets.
“There are allegations that he ran a lot of money through one or more of his business entities, so we’re asking for bank accounts, or bank statements, and canceled checks for various entities,” Stoebner said.
Stoebner said he discovered an Audi A6 registered to Aanestad that he had not declared. After Stoebner’s inquiries, Aanestad filed an amended statement of financial affairs Oct. 9 showing that he had totaled the car and that the insurer paid him $9,580.
Stoebner also is checking tips that Aanestad had a Porsche that he failed to list as an asset. The trustee’s office found a current registration for a 1989 Porsche 911 Cabriolet convertible. Stoebner said that Aanestad claims through an attorney to have sold it for $35,000 in 2011, but kept up the registration because he wants to keep the vanity plate — PORSCHE — in the hope that he can afford another one.
A spokesman for the Department of Public Safety said it is not legal to maintain registration on a vehicle that one no longer owns, and the right to the plate is terminated.
After Stoebner questioned other disclosures, Aanestad filed more papers correcting misstatements about his daughters’ ages, their status as dependents, and the existence of a safe-deposit box.
Stoebner says his job of documenting Aanestad’s financial situation has been confounded by his claims that he’s paid for his consulting work in cash, and that neither he nor his companies have bank accounts.
Patrick Strother, owner of Strother Communications Group, said in an e-mail that he paid Aanestad by check, and sent him 1099 income-tax statements in 2009, 2010 and 2011.
Stoebner says he has demanded bank records, tax records, mortgage documents and refinancing records going back a decade. Records show that Aanestad had no debt on his home when he divorced eight years ago, but he has since refinanced it.
“To me, the two big issues is what happened to the $925,000 in mortgage money, and how much money did he take and use of his father’s?” Stoebner said. “If you add that up you’ve got about $1.1 million in an 8-year period.”
In a sworn affidavit filed in 2014, Aanestad’s brother, Christopher, accused Jonathan of fraud over the handling of their late father’s estate and his use of their father’s credit card for cash advances and personal expenditures. Christopher Aanestad declined to comment, noting that their settlement was sealed by the court. In his affidavit, however, he alleged that Jonathan Aanestad had been hiding his assets from creditors. Christopher Aanestad said his brother also asked him to set up a bank account “to hide his money,” and that when he refused, Jonathan Aanestad became enraged and “threatening.”
Christopher Aanestad’s affidavit states that Aanestad’s third wife, Catherine, left Jonathan Aanestad in 2005 with their two daughters, alleging that “he was abusive to her.”
Catherine Aanestad declined to comment but did not dispute the abuse allegation in Christopher Aanestad’s affidavit.
Cynthia Aanestad, his second wife, said in a telephone interview from her home in Washington that she took her daughter and left him for similar reasons.
“During our marriage he was violent — hitting, shoving, hair pulling,” she said, adding that one fight resulted in her breaking her collarbone.
Two of his former girlfriends also have alleged in court and police records that he was abusive, most recently in September 2014.
In the first case, Aanestad pleaded guilty in 1992 to 5th-degree assault. Most of his jail sentence was dismissed, but a judge later refused Aanestad’s request to expunge the conviction.
Aanestad was charged last year with assaulting another former girlfriend and interfering with an emergency call. She declined to comment, other than to ask that her name not be published. Details of the alleged incident remain secret because the case is pending. A special prosecutor in Orono, Minn., said Aanestad did not admit guilt but agreed to a deal suspending prosecution unless he’s involved in an assault before next August. The agreement says the record may be expunged if the charges ultimately are dismissed.
Aanestad’s neighbors have filed numerous police complaints against him.
Russin and his wife have obtained several restraining orders against Aanestad. They have alleged in numerous court filings that he frequently taunted and harassed them, their children, and even their dog over the years. A judge ordered Aanestad to stop using an easement across their property to access Lake Minnetonka, based on the parties’ agreement.
Aanestad denied the accusations in court and sued the Russins and another neighbor couple, James and Paula Mandel, for slander. A judge sanctioned Aanestad and his lawyer for filing the defamation lawsuit in bad faith. As part of a settlement with the Mandels, Aanestad agreed to relinquish his use of the lake-access easement. The Mandels have the option of paying him $75,000 for it when he sells, or it could be restored as part of the sale, increasing the home’s value.