A Republican challenger to freshman Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar was arrested on suspicion of shoplifting more than $2,000 in goods from a suburban Target earlier this year.
Danielle Stella launched her campaign against Omar in June. The 31-year-old special education professional has made crime rates in Minneapolis part of her pitch to voters in Minnesota’s Fifth Congressional District.
But Stella has faced criminal charges of her own. In January she was arrested on felony shoplifting charges after she allegedly stole 279 items valued at $2,327.97 from an Edina Target. According to a criminal complaint, Stella scanned only $50 worth of items at a self-checkout before leaving the store. She told officers she remembered “arriving at Target to purchase items but nothing else due to her PTSD,” the complaint said.
Just over three months later, Stella was arrested again. On April 28, security staff at a Cub grocery in Bloomington called police after witnessing Stella steal $40 worth of cat food and supplies at a self-checkout, according to the police report. Stella told an officer she forgot to pay for the food.
The campaign did not immediately respond to requests for comment from the Star Tribune. Stella denied the allegations in text messages sent to British newspaper the Guardian, saying “in this country I am innocent until proven guilty and that is the law.”
“If I was guilty of crimes, I would never run for public office, putting myself in the public eye under a microscope to be attacked by all political sides,” she wrote.
Stella, a first-time candidate, gained attention in conservative circles for her vocal support for President Donald Trump and a number of social media posts referencing QAnon, a far-right conspiracy theory spread through online message boards.
Stella is one of five candidates who has filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission to challenge Omar, a first-term Democrat who won election with 78% of the vote in 2018.
A series of controversies and an ongoing feud with Trump have made the freshman a national political figure and the subject of fierce ongoing attacks from Republicans.
But so far, none of the five candidates who filed paperwork to run against Omar have demonstrated support or fundraising prowess that would be needed to unseat a well-funded incumbent in a heavily Democratic district.
Backlash to Omar’s past comments on the influence of Israel’s supporters in American politics sparked rumors of a Democratic primary challenger earlier this year. So far, no such candidate has emerged.
Chris Kelley, a former Minneapolis police officer and U.S. Army veteran, became the latest entrant in the race this week. Kelley, a former GOP candidate for state Senate, is running as a member of the Independence Party.
“Minnesotans like to lead the way in solutions. Our current representative has become too embroiled in Twitter wars, attempting to achieve personal agenda goals and has gotten caught up in celebrity when she was elected to serve the people,” he said in a statement. “She has abandoned the problems that have grown exponentially during her current term.”
Star Tribune staff writer Liz Sawyer contributed to this report.