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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Let's Go to the Videotape for Police Corruption

Two videos at corruption trial of Minneapolis cop show informant handing over money in return for information
Defense says officer was victim in FBI trap
The Pioneer Press by David Hanners - May 11, 2009

As the Minneapolis policeman logged onto his squad car's computer to look up a case report, his passenger mentions in passing that he's a Disciple — as in the Gangster Disciples street gang — and the subject of the report being looked up is in a rival gang, the Family Mob. And after the officer, Michael David Roberts, looks up the report and shares it with the man, Taylor Winthorpe Trump hands the officer five $20 bills. As jurors watched on a large TV screen, prosecutors in the opening day of Roberts' corruption trial saw a pair of videos taken by Trump, who was working as a government informant. The government claims the videos show Roberts accepting money in return for handing over confidential police information.

Monday was the first day of Roberts' trial in U.S. District Court in St. Paul. In opening statements, Assistant U.S. Attorney Tim Rankin explained that the veteran policeman was the target of an FBI "integrity test" meant to find out if officers were honest. "Mike Roberts was given a test. A test of his integrity. A test that Mike Roberts failed," Rankin told the nine men and five women who make up the jury and two alternates. He said Roberts was guilty of "some of the oldest kinds of crimes there are, selling information for money." But Karen Mohrlant, one of two attorneys defending Roberts, said the officer was just trying to help someone he knew, someone who told the officer he'd been the victim of a crime. She told jurors the evidence would show Trump induced and entrapped Roberts, and therefore Roberts wasn't guilty of the crimes he is charged with — wire fraud and unauthorized access of a protected computer. "We believe the evidence will show that he acted in good faith," she said of her client. The government began its case with testimony from two FBI agents. The government claims Roberts met twice with Trump in August 2007. The meetings took place outside Pizza LucĂ©, the Minneapolis restaurant where Roberts worked off-duty. FBI agents had equipped Trump with a tiny camera, and they also set up a surveillance post in a building across the street. Videos from both meetings were shown in court Monday. In the first meeting, Aug. 9, 2007, Trump asked Roberts to find the owner of a license plate number he'd written down. He claimed the guy had robbed him.

In the video, Roberts can be seen and heard using his radio to ask a police dispatcher to look up the information. A few moments later, the dispatcher calls back with the name and address, and Trump overhears it as it comes over the officer's microphone and speaker, attached to an epaulette of his uniform shirt. The officer asked for no money, but Trump handed him $100. Roberts resists, but Trump perseveres and Roberts finally takes it. Jurors also saw the video of the second meeting, which lasted about 45 minutes. Trump had called Roberts beforehand, asking to see a police report about a man he claimed was snitching on him. But it was a set-up. Trump had been arrested by federal agents two months earlier, and he told them that in return for leniency at his sentencing, he could help them make arrests in cases involving drugs, prostitution, mortgage fraud and police corruption. The investigation began in the Minneapolis Police Department, but officials there decided to hand it over to the FBI, allegedly to avoid the appearance of conflict of interest.

A federal grand jury later indicted Trump for wire fraud and conspiracy to launder money in a mortgage-fraud scheme. Victims lost as much as $2.5 million in the scam. He was later sentenced to 20 years in federal prison on the drug charge, to be followed by 10 years on supervised release. FBI Special Agent Andrew Mento testified that Trump claimed he could provide the name of six Minneapolis officers who would sell information for money. Although Trump named the officers, he couldn't remember Roberts' first name, Mento said. Two of the officers Trump named were white; the other four, including Roberts, were black. Roberts' lead attorney, F. Clayton Tyler, has claimed racial overtones in the investigation. In pretrial motions, he said he wanted to show his client was the victim of "selective prosecution." U.S. District Judge Richard Kyle ruled that he'd allow Roberts to introduce "evidence of racial bias only when impeaching government witnesses" on cross-examination, but could not introduce such evidence directly. David Hanners can be reached at 612-338-6516.

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