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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Sheriff's Staffers Sentenced in Corruption Case

Judge scolds, sentences two Ramsey County sheriff's staffers in corruption case

TwinCities.Com by David Hanners - February 7, 2009

Cops don't flinch, even when being sent to prison.

After getting a stern lecture from a federal judge for his "staggering" abuse of trust, former St. Paul police officer Timothy Rehak refused to give up even a hint of emotion Friday as he was sentenced to 35 months in prison on his conviction in a police corruption case. Moments later, his co-conspirator in the case, former Ramsey County sheriff's spokesman Mark Naylon, showed similar stoicism as the judge lectured him and then sentenced him to 30 months for taking $6,000 in an FBI sting operation.

"This isn't about the money. It's never been about the money," U.S. District Judge Patrick Schiltz said. "What this is about is an egregious, shameful betrayal of the trust placed in you. You weren't some junkie who stole copper pipes out of a federal building. You were a police officer." Society endows "staggering" powers on police officers, the judge said, "and when they abuse those powers, the harm is staggering." "That makes the job of all the good cops that much harder, and that makes all of us less safe," the judge said. Schiltz gave both men a chance to speak before he sentenced them; both men declined. As they were sentenced, family and friends — who filled the St. Paul courtroom and overflowed into an adjoining courtroom — remained quiet, except for the occasional sound of a sniffle amid tears.

Attorneys for both men had asked for probation, while prosecutors had sought the harshest sentences federal guidelines allow for the crimes; in Rehak's case, that was 41 months, in Naylon's case, 33 months. Rehak and Naylon, both 48 years old and close friends and confidants of Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher, were convicted last summer of taking money they'd been told had been left in a St. Paul hotel room by a drug dealer. They were part of the sheriff's special investigations unit (even though Naylon isn't a licensed peace officer) and were following up on a lead from one of the informants Rehak had developed in more than two decades as a St. Paul street cop. In reality, the informant was working for the FBI, and agents had placed the money in the room as part of an "integrity test" to see whether the men were honest. There was $13,500 in the room, and the two men took $6,000 of it, leaving the rest to be recovered by their supervisor. Later that night, Rehak and Naylon called the supervisor and reported they'd gone back to the room and found an extra $6,000 under the mattress.

At trial, Rehak testified they were playing a practical joke on the supervisor, who they said had a reputation for leaving work early. The joke: They'd let the man get home and in bed, then call him and force him to trudge down to the office to inventory the newfound money. Instead, according to testimony, he told them to log in the money in the morning. Prosecutors painted a different picture of the men's behavior. They said they'd grabbed the money with the intent to steal it, but when they couldn't find the drug dealer's name in any law enforcement databases (the FBI had forgotten to create a record for the fictitious dealer), they began to suspect they were being set up. Only then did they turn the money in, prosecutors argued. Jurors didn't buy the practical-joke story and convicted them of theft of government funds and conspiracy to violate civil rights. Schiltz made clear he didn't buy the practical joke defense, either, saying that no policeman "in his right mind" would mishandle evidence the way Rehak and Naylon did.

Rehak's attorney, Paul Engh, made an impassioned plea that his client had been convicted of violating a law that doesn't exist. In a lengthy legal argument, Engh argued there had been no theft because the FBI's bait money was returned, and that, because the money didn't belong to anyone, nobody's civil rights had been violated. Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Dixon retorted that Engh was missing the point. "This is not a theft case," he told the judge. "This was a law enforcement officer, a police officer, who was using his position to do what he was sworn to protect against." Dixon's colleague, Assistant U.S. Attorney John Marti, had harsh words for Naylon when it came time for his sentencing. He noted that Naylon often engaged in police work but lacked a license.

"Mr. Naylon exercised police powers, but at every step, he worked to avoid accountability," Marti said. "Mr. Naylon wanted to operate outside the law. He wanted the power. He did not want the accountability." Both men resigned from the sheriff's office on the day they were convicted. A spokesman for Fletcher did not return a call for comment Friday. Schiltz also fined both men $7,500, and each must spend two years on supervised probation after they're released from prison. The judge allowed both men to remain free, and they are to turn themselves in to the U.S. Marshals Service on March 9. Schiltz said he would recommend that both men serve their time at the federal prison in Duluth. David Hanners can be reached at 612-338-6516.

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