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Fletcher defends terror probe
- Article by: CHAO XIONG
- Star Tribune
- January 24, 2011 - 11:31 PM
Ramsey County's new sheriff is suggesting that his predecessor exaggerated or falsified his investigation of domestic and international terrorism threats in the east metro.
In 2009, former Sheriff Bob Fletcher claimed in a document to county commissioners that his officers had investigated five domestic and four international terrorist groups and prepared 35 "terrorism information briefs" for 65 law enforcement agencies. But Sheriff Matt Bostrom's spokesman, Randy Gustafson, said Monday there's no proof that Fletcher investigated terrorist groups.
"We can't find existence of these briefs," Gustafson said. "We're not going to say officially that [Fletcher] lied. No, I can't say that."
The allegations came to light when Twin Cities Daily Planet, a news website, sought evidence of Fletcher's terrorism investigations. Fletcher left office in late December after a 16-year tenure as sheriff that was sometimes marred by controversy. Bostrom has said he wants to reform the office.
Fletcher denied Monday that he had misled anybody. He said that his office organized a terrorism task force in 2003 that met monthly with several law enforcement agencies at the Maplewood Community Center.
The "briefs" refer to everything from personal e-mails to crime bulletins to in-person conversations, Fletcher said, explaining that no standard procedure existed to produce or record them. "There was rarely information passed out in paper form," he said. "We didn't want the paper to be left in the wastebasket or to leave the room."
Fletcher cited his office's investigation of the RNC Welcoming Committee and local Somali ties with Al-Shabab, an insurgent and terrorist group, as examples of the briefs. Some investigations relied on information readily available to the public via websites, he said.
He declined to discuss the nature of other briefs, citing ongoing investigations. He also called Gustafson "clueless" about the affairs of the department.
"I guess no one told Randy Gustafson that the election ended on November 2nd," said Fletcher, who lost to Bostrom by a wide margin. Gustafson was Bostrom's campaign spokesman.
Gustafson told the Daily Planet that Fletcher "lied" about the terrorism probes to bolster his sheriff's budget. Gustafson pulled back from those statements Monday.
"The documents don't exist, and it was claimed that they do," Gustafson said. "That's just the bottom line."
Gustafson said that while Bostrom served as chief of the Homeland Security and Support Services Division in the St. Paul Police Department from 2005 to 2010, he never saw any of Fletcher's terrorism briefs. Bostrom did not return a phone message seeking comment.
Maplewood Police Chief David Thomalla said he attends the terrorism task force meetings and confirmed Monday that Fletcher's office presented both written, verbal and photographic information.
"Many of those issues have been discussed," Thomalla said of domestic and international terrorism. "Topics were thrown out and discussions were had. I think it was more than clear at the time if it was a local burglary ring or something with some international ties."
Ramsey County Commissioner Victoria Reinhardt, board chair, said she would not comment on whether commissioners believe Fletcher's terrorism work was legitimately conducted and documented. However, she said that when he presented them with a "critical success indicator and performance measures" document in October 2009 outlining his office's terrorism work, the board asked him to redirect his resources.
"We did not feel that it was warranted," Reinhardt said. The board wanted him to concentrate on the county's general public safety, she said.
Fletcher's subsequent presentation to commissioners in 2010 didn't mention terrorism, but the board still questioned whether the work was continuing, she said.
Fletcher declined to say how many people and how much money were dedicated to the investigations. The briefs are either destroyed or tucked in investigators' files, he said. But Gustafson said that's not the case because no one at the sheriff's office can find them.
"If in fact they were doing that work on terrorism issues ... those reports would exist," Gustafson said.
Chao Xiong • 612-270-4708
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