An undercover FBI informant in a high-profile criminal case in Ramsey County against eight members of an anarchist group faces charges himself for assault and burglary.
Andrew C. Darst, 30, who spied on anarchists planning disruptions at the Republican National Convention in September, attended a Hennepin County District Court hearing on Tuesday for a Jan. 11 incident in Minnetrista in which he allegedly broke into a house and struck two men. He is charged with two felony counts of first- and second-degree burglary as well as fifth-degree assault, a misdemeanor.
The hearing was postponed until March 16 because he had obtained a new lawyer.
Darst was a member of the RNC Welcoming Committee, an anarchist group that organized disruptive protests outside the convention. Eight of its members face charges in Ramsey County District Court for criminal conspiracy to commit riot.
Bruce Nestor, one of the attorneys representing the eight activists, said that based on FBI documents the prosecution gave to the defense, he "would confirm that Andrew Darst was a confidential informant" working for the FBI inside the Welcoming Committee.
The Ramsey County attorney's office, which is prosecuting the case against the anarchists, declined to talk about Darst. Nestor said, "It is my impression that the government believes he is an important witness."
Darst was involved in the Welcoming Committee's "action faction," which discussed plans for street disruptions, other group members have said. He had more access to internal plans than three undercover operatives for the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office.
Darst declined to comment. FBI Agent E.K. Wilson said it is FBI policy "not to comment on informant matters." In court papers, Darst's attorney, Patrick Flanagan, stated that Darst will plead not guilty in the Minnetrista case, claiming self-defense. Flanagan declined to discuss the case or Darst's involvement with the FBI.
Tom Foley, a former Ramsey County attorney, said in an interview that "potentially" such an incident could "undermine his [Darst's] credibility as a witness" at the trial of the anarchist group. "I am certain the defense will want to bring it in and the prosecution will want to keep it out," he said. If Darst testifies that he was law-abiding and did not encourage violence, the defense might use the Minnetrista incident to show "his propensity for violence," said Foley.
The RNC Eight case is assigned to Ramsey District Judge Teresa Warner. Paul Gustafson, a Ramsey County attorney spokesman, said it appears the earliest any of the eight will go to trial is September.
According to court documents, Minnetrista police were dispatched to a home on the 800 block of County Road 19 at 2:18 a.m. on Jan. 11. They found the door of the home had been ripped off its hinges.
A woman told police she was Darst's wife and that she had had an argument with him earlier that night. She went to a party at the home where she got "really drunk," she said. She told police that Darst came to the house, broke down the door, yelled at everyone and knocked one man to the floor.
Police said the man had a cut over his left eye that Darst inflicted. Another man said Darst hit him on the head. Darst "appeared to be full of rage and anger," the police report stated. Another female said Darst pushed her down several times. Darst had a blood-alcohol level of 0.035, well below the DWI impairment limit of 0.08.
The police report said Darst admitted going to the house because "he wasn't comfortable with the people his wife was with there." There is a mug shot of Darst on file at the Hennepin County jail, and though such photos are generally available to the public, a clerk said they were not releasing Darst's photo on instructions from the FBI.
Darst was listed as a potential prosecution witness but never testified in the federal court trial of David G. McKay of Austin, Texas, charged with making Molotov cocktails during the RNC, said Jeff DeGree, McKay's attorney. Earlier this month a mistrial was declared after a Minneapolis jury could not agree on a verdict in McKay's trial.
Reports of undercover operatives for the Ramsey County sheriff indicate that Darst attended various Welcoming Committee meetings. One report, from March 16, 2008, says he urged the committee to block four activists from attending meetings "because he knew one of them had a history of working with cops."
Darst's nickname in the Welcoming Committee was Andy Panda, or Panda. Celia Kutz, 27, a committee member said, "He seemed to be a nice guy and really sensitive."
"He was a person who tried to be involved in as many things as possible," said Andy Fahlstrom, 27, another committee member. He said Darst created "sector maps" for the Welcoming Committee. The maps broke St. Paul into sectors where various groups were to carry out disruptions and confrontations during the RNC.
Randy Furst • 612-673-7382