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Ex-Dakota County worker pleads guilty in breach of legislators-in-parked-car case

By J. PATRICK COOLICAN

Thomas Berry pleaded guilty Thursday to a misdemeanor charge that he violated the state's data privacy laws, his lawyer said.

Berry was charged last year with improperly handling information when he forwarded a confidential Dakota County work e-mail to his home — a message that gave identifying details of two legislators who were cited after a park ranger found them “making out” in a parked car in Eagan.

Berry was one of 33 employees who received via e-mail an Aug. 26 report that detailed the “parks activity.” It included nine incidents and five names and other details such as dates of birth and addresses.

The date of the incident and the initials matched state Rep. Tara Mack, R-Apple Valley, and Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, who were given tickets on Aug. 25 after being found by a park ranger in a car having physical contact. 

Berry printed out the report and also forwarded a copy to his home computer, according to the complaint filed by prosecutor Michael Molenda in Dakota County Court. 

The information eventually made its way to local media, which published the story about the legislators, who were married to other people.

Berry will serve a year of probation and pay a $345 fine, said Philip Villaume, his attorney. If Berry does not re-offend in the next year, his crime will be knocked down to a gross misdemeanor.

Berry has resigned from his job at Dakota County.

Villaume said his client is glad "the matter is resolved and is sorry about what happened."

Escalating battle between Clinton, Sanders to hit Twin Cities

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are swinging through the Twin Cities on Friday just as their fight for the Democratic presidential nomination is intensifying both nationally and in Minnesota. 

Both the former Secretary of State and the Vermont senator will speak at a DFL fundraising dinner at St. Paul's RiverCentre. Clinton and Sanders are not sharing a stage in Minnesota; they are debating on Thursday night in Milwaukee. 

Sanders is also billed as guest of honor at a "Community Forum on Black America" on Friday afternoon at Patrick Henry High School in Minneapolis. Ticket information can be found here. Clinton is not attending. As of Thursday morning, Sanders' campaign had not yet officially confirmed to the Star Tribune that he'll be at the event sponsored by Neighborhoods Organizing for Change. 

Clinton's spokeswoman in Minnesota said the DFL dinner would be her only stop in the state.

Clinton and Sanders both agreed weeks ago to speak at the DFL's yearly fundraising blowout, the "Fifth Annual Minnesota DFL Humphrey-Mondale Dinner." Party chairman Ken Martin said he expects the dinner to raise over a million dollars for the party.

The Democratic presidential race has escalated since Clinton's narrow win in Iowa, followed by Sanders' big win on Tuesday in New Hampshire. With Clinton's status as frontrunner looking more shaky, both campaigns are expanding efforts in a wider network of later-voting states. 

That includes Minnesota, with its March 1 caucus. Clinton and Sanders both have paid operatives working in the state, charged with ramping up get-out-the-vote efforts like phone banks and door-knocking campaigns.

Thursday also saw the first airings of a TV ad that the Sanders campaign is running on Minnesota stations. 

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