How did the Gang Strike Force go bad? Today's report explains.

  • Article by: Nancy Barnes
  • Star Tribune Editor
  • December 12, 2009 - 11:26 PM

In April, veteran reporter Randy Furst broke a story about how members of the Metro Gang Strike Force attended a six-day conference in Hawaii, using nearly $17,000 in forfeited money that had been seized by the Strike Force in the course of its work.

That turned out to be the first of many exclusive stories that Furst reported this year examining questionable practices within the Gang Strike Force. His reporting ultimately contributed to the decision to shut the organization down.

Furst reported, along with Lora Pabst, how officers seized $4,500 in cash from Dagoberto Rodriquez Cardona in 2008 when Cardona went to claim a car from an impound lot, without ever documenting that the money had been seized. Cardona later filed suit, illustrating that the cash was money he and three others had earned through work, not drugs.

We learned, through Furst's reporting, that seizing cash, cars, TVs and other property without proper documentation had become common practice on the force, first to help fund the work during tough days, and occasionally to enhance the lifestyles of some police officers.

Furst also broke the story, ahead of everyone else, that Strike Force commander Chris Omodt had closed the unit in late May after discovering that officers had been shredding documents prior to an investigation into Strike Force activities.

Today, Furst and Paul McEnroe take you behind the scenes to explain the meltdown of this organization, one of the biggest failures of crime enforcement in recent Twin Cities history. Their exhaustive reporting shows how something that began as a successful, upstanding crime-fighting organization eventually went rogue.

I'm proud of the work these reporters have done this year because it exemplifies the mission of our newsroom. We have many goals, of course: to inform, entertain, enlighten and engage our readers. But I believe that we are not truly succeeding unless we are bringing you news you won't find anywhere else and are making a difference in the lives of our readers and our communities.

In addition to the Gang Strike Force reporting this year, reporter Tony Kennedy brought you the story of how charter schools are using junk bonds and paying excessive fees to help construct buildings that may or may not be needed in the state. Pam Louwagie and Glenn Howatt showed how hundreds of elderly residents were dying after falls in nursing homes and how there was little effort to document why this was happening. Chris Serres and Jennifer Bjorhus told why so many banks in Minnesota have failed this year. James Shiffer helped some residents break free of state guardianship laws and go home after their doctors had declared them well.

These stories, in ways small and large, have produced change in the lives of individuals, in organizations and in our greater society. In my mind, they stand out as some of the best work we have done all year to fulfill our mission to make a difference.

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A reminder to readers: USA Weekend will disappear from the Sunday paper at the end of the year, having been replaced by Parade Magazine. Meanwhile, today's paper contains a free sample of On TV Magazine, available by subscription starting next week. Details are available on the cover of the magazine.

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