Thursday, July 12, 2007

US: Fletcher aides appear at grand jury, source says

Fletcher aides appear at grand jury, source says

Two Ramsey County Sheriff's employees facing corruption allegations are now on administrative leave, sheriff says.

By Howie Padilla and Paul McEnroe, Star Tribune

Last update: July 12, 2007 – 9:35 PM
Ramsey County deputies have appeared before a federal grand jury that is investigating allegations of corruption by a top aide to Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher and one of his deputies, said a source with direct knowledge of the case.

The source said several deputies testified this month and several more were expected to testify when the jury resumes in August.

The job status of public information officer Mark Naylon, 47, and Inspector Tim Rehak, 47, has been changed to administrative leave, Fletcher said Thursday.

Fletcher said he could neither confirm nor deny whether a federal grand jury was looking into the case. Nor would he say why the men were on leave, but he said there is always a balancing act between weighing the needs of the employee, the department and the community.

The deputies' appearance before the grand jury is the latest step in an investigation rooted in a 2004 FBI sting to test Naylon's integrity.

Naylon and Rehak allegedly pocketed $6,000 in marked cash during the FBI sting in a St. Paul hotel room. Naylon also has been accused by federal and local law enforcement officers of interfering in investigations and tampering with evidence, sources have said. Those details first emerged in February when the Star Tribune reported that the FBI had confiscated Naylon's office computer files and searched his White Bear Lake home as part of the probe.

Naylon, through his attorney, has denied wrongdoing. Rehak, a former St. Paul police officer who retired from the force in February and was hired by Fletcher, has declined to comment in the past.

Before he became a Ramsey County deputy, Rehak was under internal investigation by St. Paul police for mishandling evidence, sources have said.

Naylon is not a licensed peace officer, but Fletcher had given him wide latitude to develop street sources and work with the office's special investigations unit, which focuses on organized crime cases.

Fletcher has credited Naylon with assisting in "dozens, if not hundreds of arrests" through his connections.

Naylon was Fletcher's best man when the sheriff married in 2004 and, like Rehak, was active in Fletcher's reelection campaign.

Sources say authorities grew suspicious of Naylon during a 2003 undercover case dubbed "Operation Close Cut."

Hoping to bust a large-scale fencing ring involving a motorcycle gang, law enforcement authorities opened a barbershop in St. Paul.

The shop was wired with hidden cameras and microphones designed to gather evidence from suspects who met there to cut deals. The investigation was coordinated by Ramsey County deputies, along with police officers from St. Paul and Bloomington.

A copy of the operation's guidelines was obtained by the Star Tribune. It indicates that the agencies were concerned that suspects would learn about the sting before the barbershop even opened.

Sources say that as they were planning the operation, Naylon bragged that he knew the gang's top leader and could reach him any time.

The task force was angered, sources said, when Naylon's bravado appeared at odds with goal of the investigation. Sources say that at one point Naylon called the gang leader in front of task force members but then refused to provide them with the gang leader's phone number. The sources said Naylon's lack of cooperation only served to increase suspicions that he was interfering with suspects and even possibly tipping them off.

By spring of 2004, authorities had generated only a handful of minor gun, drug and property cases -- far less than they had hoped for. Officers involved told their superiors that they were having difficulty getting close to their main target -- the gang leader who Naylon had boasted about.

Operation Close Cut was shut down soon after, and the FBI's public corruption unit was asked to conduct the integrity test.

During that test, Naylon and Rehak were video-recorded finding $13,500 in marked bills hidden in a duffel bag in the hotel room. While a third man was in the room's bathroom, Naylon is shown pocketing $6,000.

Paul Rogosheske, Naylon's attorney, has dismissed the events recorded on tape, calling Naylon's actions an attempted joke being played on the deputy who was in the bathroom. Fletcher has said that an internal investigation conducted in February of this year showed that the $13,500 found was logged into the property room on the same day as the search.

However, sources have told the newspaper that the $6,000 did not appear in the property room until more than a week later. Fletcher has conceded that the dollar amount on the search warrant inventory list for the hotel room appears to have been altered.

Naylon's status was changed to administrative leave June 7 while Rehak's was changed June 22.

In February, Fletcher said he hoped an internal investigation would show who altered the record and when it was changed.

All the documents needed to conduct that investigation have been collected, Fletcher said Thursday. But interviews needed to complete the investigation have been suspended pending the outcome of the FBI investigation, he said.

pmcenroe@startribune • 612-673-1745 hpadilla@startribune • 651-298-1551

© 2007 Star Tribune. All rights reserved.

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