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Commissioners who back stadium receive threats

  • Article by: Jim Adams
  • Star Tribune
  • November 9, 2007 - 9:36 PM

Four Hennepin County commissioners who voted for a tax to support the new Minnesota Twins baseball stadium have received threatening letters, and police said Friday that they have identified a suspect.

Commissioner Mark Stenglein said one letter asked "What do you do with someone who steals tax dollars?" The worst letter, he said, was sent to all four about three weeks ago and stated only: "Judgment day is coming."

He said that one was particularly disturbing because none of the commissioners was up for election this fall, leaving open the possibility that the sender had a less democratic judgment in mind.

The three commissioners opposing the stadium have not received such letters, officials said.

Stenglein and Mike Opat said they and two other commissioners -- Peter McLaughlin and Randy Johnson -- who supported the stadium in a 4-3 vote last year have each received about five unsigned, typed letters at their homes in the past year or so. The return address and name typed on the envelopes was that of one of the other commissioners getting the same letters, they said.

"It's creepy when they send it to your house," Stenglein said. He said that it's fine for people to disagree with him but that it's cowardly for them to hide their identity.

Opat, who has three young children, said the letters disturbed his wife. "I know what comes with the territory in terms of my job. But my family didn't sign up for that duty," he added.

The case started when Opat, who lives in Robbinsdale, asked Police Chief Wayne Shellum to look into the threats.

The chief said the suspect, who owns a software company, has refused to talk to Robbinsdale police. He said the county attorney is reviewing possible charges.

County Attorney Mike Freeman said he has seen the letters, which have "caused some consternation to the commissioners' families." He said he will make a public announcement if and when charges are filed.

Shellum said the initial letters were turned over to the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. He was notified in late October that a fingerprint lifted from one letter matched that of a Minneapolis-area man in the state database of offenders.

Police asked to meet the man, who initially agreed but later changed his mind, Shellum said.

Although more than one person may be involved, Shellum said he thinks the threats are from "a person that is totally anti-stadium and has taken it a little bit too far."

Shellum is also looking for two armed men who attacked and robbed Opat of his wallet and Jeep outside his home Tuesday night. The chief said nothing indicates the letters and robbery are linked.

Opat received cuts and bruises while fighting to escape the shotgun-wielding robbers. "It's been a long week," he said. "This week my job looks a lot less attractive than last week."

Jim Adams • 612-673-7658

Jim Adams • jadams@startribune.com

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