The drug case involving Aaron Schnagl, the last known person to have seen Danielle Jelinek before she vanished Dec. 9, reveals a wider circle of suspicion: Authorities believe that three of his friends might know more about her disappearance.
Schnagl, 28, has not been charged in connection with the disappearance of Jelinek, who lived in Oakdale with her sister and nephew. Investigators, however, have described Schnagl as a person of interest in the case, and inconsistencies in his account of the last hours they spent together have led them to believe he hasn’t shared all he knows.
That is also the case with the trio of Schnagl’s friends, said Chisago County Sheriff Rick Duncan. Investigators say the three scrambled to remove and hide a valuable cache of drugs from Schnagl’s house while Schnagl was being questioned about Jelinek at the Sheriff’s Office, and before a search warrant could be executed.
“We believe they know more than they’re telling us,” Duncan said. “Hopefully, we’ll get more out of them.”
The three are not in custody, nor have they been charged, but Duncan said they are under investigation. They will be charged for their role in the Schnagl drug case, “and for more than just what happened that night,” he added, without going into specifics.
“We’re working a lot of different angles,” he said. “They are still being questioned.”
The search for Jelinek and the investigation have been all-consuming for Duncan’s department. In the days immediately after Jelinek’s disappearance from Schnagl’s Chisago Lake Township home, after an intensive effort by law enforcement agencies, hundreds of volunteers also responded to her anguished family’s pleas for help and scoured knee-deep snow around the rural subdivision where she was last seen.
Dive teams have since searched nearby Moody and Bone lakes. When ice depths ease on Green Lake in coming weeks, Duncan said, divers will search there, too. “Our main focus right now is on bodies of water,” he said.
Chisago County District Judge John McBride sentenced Schnagl to 78 months in prison last week after pleading guilty to a charge of second-degree cocaine possession. As part of a plea agreement, two lesser charges of possessing and selling marijuana were dismissed, said Assistant Chisago County Attorney Jennifer Santoro Bovitz, who prosecuted the case.
The sentence will run concurrently with an 86-month jail term to which Schnagl had been sentenced after another drug conviction in Anoka County. In that 2006 case, Schnagl had been sentenced to 30 years of probation, and the prison term was stayed as long as he complied with the conditions. The Chisago County charges violated that probation, putting the prison term into effect.
Since Jelinek’s disappearance, Schnagl had been held in the Anoka County jail for the probation violation. He has since been transferred to the state prison in St. Cloud.
The drug charges filed against Schnagl last December stemmed from searches of his home in the 11200 block of 261st Street in the hours after Jelinek’s family reported her missing, then another search a few days later at a Ham Lake residence linked to one of Schnagl’s friends.
About 12 pounds of marijuana, packed and sealed for sale, were found in a BMW parked in Schnagl’s garage, according to the complaint, prompting the two lesser charges. A few days later, a cache of drugs that included 23 grams of cocaine worth about $2,500 was found at the Ham Lake residence.
Jelinek, who grew up in Cottage Grove and worked as a manager at the Wells Fargo branch in Maplewood, last spoke to her sister, Cory, the afternoon of Dec. 8. Jelinek said she was going to see a girlfriend, but instead went to meet Schnagl. Cory Jelinek has described their relationship as an on-and-off friendship, though Schnagl allegedly had physically abused her on several occasions and admitted to investigators he had struck her at least once.
After shopping and dinner, Schnagl would tell investigators, they drank heavily and went to bed about 2:30 a.m. on Dec. 9. When he woke up seven hours later, he said, she was gone, so he went looking for her in his sport-utility vehicle, which was found in a nearby ditch after a heavy snowfall.
Deputies arrived at Schnagl’s home after a call from Jelinek’s family about 1:30 p.m. and, after some initial questions and detecting an odor of marijuana, began to investigate.
Even as Schnagl was being questioned at the Sheriff’s Office, but before his arrest, he called at least two of the three friends on his cellphone when he had the opportunity to do so in private, documents show. Schnagl was enlisting their help to remove a duffel bag full of drugs from his garage. He told one of them, a friend who admitted to investigators he sold drugs with Schnagl: “I e-mailed you the list so don’t erase it. … That’s all we got,” an apparent reference to customers and other drug dealers.
A second friend, also an admitted drug dealer, told investigators he went to Schnagl’s house on Dec. 9, retrieved the duffel bag, and brought it to the home of the third man. That friend then put the duffel bag inside several plastic garbage bags and buried it in a snowbank next to his home.
After a couple of days, as the search for Jelinek was intensifying, the third man told investigators he brought the bag to the home of his sister-in-law in Ham Lake, where he put it under her bed — without, he said, anybody there knowing about it.
Investigators from several agencies, including the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, found the bag containing the cocaine, nine pounds of marijuana and assorted other drugs while executing a search warrant. The marijuana was labeled similarly to that found at Schnagl’s house.