Tenacious Andy Luger returns to public eye as top prosecutor

  • Article by: RANDY FURST , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 13, 2014 - 10:07 PM

He brings a strong sense of justice to job as top federal prosecutor.

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Andy Luger, a New Jersey native, replaces B. Todd Jones, who is director of the ATF.

Photo: CARLOS GONZALEZ • Star Tribune,

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He loves Bruce Springsteen and makes a mean bowl of chili, but Andy Luger’s real claim to fame is what he just became: U.S. attorney for the state of Minnesota.

Luger’s confirmation by the U.S. Senate Wednesday makes him arguably the most powerful federal law enforcement official in the state. He replaces B. Todd Jones, who became director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) in August.

“My parents instilled in me a commitment to justice,” Luger said Thursday. “I am excited to take on a position that allows me to work with an office of talented professionals to fulfill that commitment.”

A New Jersey transplant, Luger grew up across the bridge from ­Manhattan, and he has a New Yorker’s style that can be both deadly serious and disarmingly personal. He is well-known in Twin Cities legal and DFL Party circles, but has been mostly out of the public eye since a stinging loss to Mike Freeman in the 2006 race for Hennepin County attorney.

Political observers said Luger was shaken. He’d run a well-organized campaign, secured the DFL endorsement and was confident he’d win. He never saw the Freeman landslide coming.

“I did not expect the result,” he said, but after a couple of weeks he says he got over it. He and his wife, Ellen, sent out a holiday card that winter, picturing the family in a convertible with a headline that said, “We had a great ride.”

After that he turned down appeals to run for the state Senate and House of Representatives. He said no to a run for Congress in the Third District in 2008 when there was no incumbent.

Instead, he set his sights on the U.S. attorney’s office and waited for his chance.

U.S. attorney positions are wrapped up in politics, nominated by the president, recommended by the highest ranking elected state official from the president’s party, in this case Sen. Amy Klobuchar. She and Sen. Al Franken created a bipartisan advisory committee that recommended Luger, but he had the inside track from the start, says one insider.

Luger will supervise 55 attorneys who prosecute white-collar crimes including tax evasion and international terrorism, as well as drug violations and crimes with exclusive federal jurisdiction such as bank robberies and crimes on Indian reservations.

Luger brings experience in white-collar crime, both as a prosecutor and a defense attorney. He also will be a regular presence in the office, which has not had a full-time U.S. attorney for two years, when B. Todd Jones began splitting his time between Minneapolis and the ATF in Washington.

“People are very excited because he will be full time,” said one assistant U.S. attorney. “He has indicated he is not running for higher office, he just wants to be U.S. attorney.”

Twin Cities power couple

In the days before Super Bowl Sunday, Luger got to work in his kitchen in ­Minneapolis. He and Ellen host a gameday chili feed every year that draws big political names and old friends. About 80 people showed up for the latest one, for which Luger cooked up three large pots of chili — regular, spicy and vegetarian.

It’s one example of the busy social life led by one of the Twin Cities’ power couples. Ellen Luger is executive director of the General Mills Foundation and a vice president of the company.

They met at Georgetown Law Center in Washington, D.C. When they became engaged, college classmate David MacLennan, now president and CEO of Cargill, said he smirked at the irony of Luger marrying an Edina woman. MacLennan had grown up in Edina and said Luger used to make fun of his hometown’s wealthy reputation.

Football captain, fan of the Boss

The youngest of three children from a middle-class family, Luger grew up in Cresskill, N.J. That may help explain his obsession with New ­Jersey singer-songwriter Bruce Springsteen. He has attended about 70 Springsteen concerts.

Luger was captain of his high school football team and delivered pizza as a part-time job, according to his sister, Lorraine Luger, of Waterbury, Conn. He went off to Amherst College in Massachusetts, where he earned high academic honors and a reputation for getting involved in causes.

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  • Ellen Goldberg Luger and Andy Luger photographed at their home in Minneapolis.

  • The Luger file

    Age: 54

    Born: Cresskill, N.J.

    Education: Cresskill High; B.A. in political theory, Amherst ­College; J.D., Georgetown University Law Center.

    Career: Assistant U.S. attorney in Brooklyn and Minneapolis; private practice at Townley & Updike, and Stillman, Friedman & Shaw, in New York City, and Greene Espel in Minneapolis.

    Family: Wife, Ellen, children Stephanie, 23, and Josh, 20.

    Religious involvement: Led a fundraising campaign at Temple Israel in Minneapolis. “He takes his Judaism extremely seriously,” says the temple’s senior rabbi, Marcia Zimmerman.

    Fun fact: Rye Restaurant, 1930 Hennepin Av., named a sandwich after him. “The Luger” has “handsliced roasted turkey, swiss, slaw and Russian dressing on house-baked rye.”

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