Thursday, December 30, 2010

Did 'You Can Run But You Cannot Hide' get caught up in IRS crackdown on sham ministries?

Annandale-based anti-gay hate ministry led by 'Bradlee Dean' was tied to a religious tax-avoidance scammer in Washington who was prosecuted for peddling 'sham ministries' in 2005. But why did it take until 2008 to begin to sever ties with him?

By Karl Bremer

The Annandale-based homophobic hate ministry You Can Run But You Cannot Hide International (YCR) was organized as a self-described “sham” ministerial trust in 2005 by a bizarre religious group in Washington state that ran afoul of federal tax authorities for setting up such tax-avoidance trusts. Yet the controversial Wright County nonprofit, which paid thousands of dollars to have trusts created for itself and its mysterious sister nonprofit Old Paths Church, continued to operate as a “sham” trust until 2008, when it initiated legal action to sever its ties from the Washington group and its leader, IRS scofflaw Glen Stoll.

What YCR thought it was getting when it signed up for Stoll’s tax-avoidance program—and what drove the organization to take such drastic steps to remove itself from his trusts four years later—is unknown. YCR declined to comment for this article.

Details about YCR’s finances and real estate gleaned from property tax records and court filings raise more questions than they answer about the group’s tax status and its relationship with Stoll, his trust-creating business Remedies at Law, and the Embassy of Heaven, a fanatical religious cult in Oregon.

You Can Run But You Cannot Hide International is run by President Bradley Dean Smith of Annandale, who is better known to his followers as “Bradlee Dean,” and Secretary Jacob McMillian MacAulay, a/k/a "Jake McMillian," the only two paid members on the organization’s board. Other directors include Nicole Bengston, vice president; Heather MacAulay (Jake’s spouse), treasurer, Ron Stone, director; and Todd Bergren, director.

The group describes its charitable purposes and major program activities in its 2009 State of Minnesota Annual Report as “to reshape America by redirecting our youth morally and spiritually through education, music, radio, and street teams.” Much of the organization’s activities seem to revolve around Smith’s “Bradlee Dean” personna and the punk-metal-Jesus band he leads and drums for, Junkyard Prophet.

The group has come under fire in the past for bringing religious proselytization masquerading as anti-drug programs into public schools. More recently, however, YCR has become widely known for the controversial, homophobic on-air rants of Dean and his sidekick Jake on their weekly “Sons of Liberty” radio show, broadcast by local conservative talk station WWTC-AM. It’s through his “preaching” from that pulpit, which cost YCR $35,054 in radio time in 2009, that Smith has garnered the attention and scorn of everyone from Rachel Maddow to Anne Rice.

According to YCR’s 2009 IRS Form 990, Smith was paid $51,303 in compensation and $45,887 in housing allowance last year for a total of $97,190. Not bad for a “minister.” That’s nearly double his 2008 reported compensation of $27,433 (it’s not clear from its tax filings whether Smith received a housing allowance in 2008).

MacAulay was paid $42,028 in compensation and $24,869 in housing allowance for a total of $66,897 in 2009. That’s also nearly double his 2008 reported compensation of $21,522. MacAulay also received a $12,976 “minister’s housing allowance” in 2008. Four other “ordained ministers” with the group received a total of $41,555 in housing allowances.

An independent audit of YCR’s 2009 books stated that the “expected commitment” for ministers’ housing allowances in 2010 is $124,600.

Housing allowances for YCR’s “ministers” have come under scrutiny before. Whether “ministers” such as those employed by YCR would qualify for tax-free housing allowances in the eyes of the IRS is murky at best. The use—and abuse—of this special tax exemption for ministers has been the subject of considerable debate.

The IRS defines “ministers” as “individuals who are duly ordained, commissioned, or licensed by a religious body constituting a church or church denomination. They are given the authority to conduct religious worship, perform sacerdotal functions, and administer ordinances and sacraments according to the prescribed tenets and practices of that religious organization.”

The lofty salaries and housing allowances of YCR’s top two directors/“ministers” were fueled by soaring revenues for the controversial “ministry” from 2008 to 2009.

YCR reported a deficit of $41,478 on total revenues of $385,670 in 2008, according to the group’s IRS Form 990. By the end of 2009, YCR reported net assets of $197,081 on total revenues of $985,319—despite the fact that the group stated on its Form 990 that it did not “undertake any significant program services during the year which were not listed on the prior Form 990 or 990-EZ.”

YCR lists the source of its income on its 2009 Form 990 as follows:

• $473,789 from “contributions, gifts and grants” ($238,338 in “noncash contributions” of vehicles and equipment)

• $444,126 from contributions collected by Street Teams. It claims its street teams “shared the gospel six days per week through the year” and “shared the message of Christ with over 250,000 individuals.” Street team members, each of whom is either a “certificated, licensed or ordained minister,” distribute CDs, DVDs and printed materials from tables set up at gas stations and special events, such as the Michele Bachmann-Sarah Palin rally in Minneapolis April 7 and the 2010 GOP State Convention.

• $29,787 from its annual reception for guests and donors (offset by $17,542 in expenses).

• $18,471 from five school assemblies, where issues including “drugs, alcoholism, suicide, sex, media, our country, our veterans and the Constitution” are covered (offset by $16,778 in expenses).

• $10,684 from contributions at a State Fair booth.

• $8,492 from training or church services conducted “at various churches in and outside the state of Minnesota.”

Bradley Dean Smith first set roots in Annandale on November 17, 2004, when he bought a lot on County Road 3 NW from Stephen B. and Barbie Jo Kalash on a contract-for-deed for $160,000. That same day, Smith assigned the contract-for-deed to an entity called “Old Paths Church,” which currently shares the same address as YCR and was registered with the State of Minnesota by Jake MacAulay, YCR’s secretary. The 2005 property tax statement lists “Old Paths Church, c/o Bradley Smith” as the property taxpayer.

Meanwhile, according to 10th District Court documents filed in Wright County, Smith and MacAulay attended classes offered by Glen Stoll of Edmonds, WA, who operated a business called Remedies at Law. There, they were promised they could buy what Stoll said were “established, exclusive, perpetual, irrevocable and assignable ministerial trusts” that would allow them to operate as a ‘free church’ that would be invulnerable to state regulation and control.”

For a fee of $6,500, they were told, Stoll would create three trusts that would give them “absolute tax-exempt status,” eliminate all federal tax return filing requirements, allow donations to the organization to be tax-deductible, and allow the organizations to retain control and enjoyment of all assets of the ministries. They would also be assigned a trustee to deal with all federal, state and legal systems.

According to court documents, Stoll advised his customers to transfer all assets to these trusts, and these asset trusts would be used to issue “grants and other disbursements.” Customers also were advised to stop paying all income and employment taxes and stop filing federal tax returns.
Stoll would assist his customers in creating “corporations sole,” entities established by law in some states for churches to hold title to property used in association with church activities. These ministerial trusts then would be created under the corporations sole.

Stoll advised his customers to complete a “Political Profession of Faith” that he claimed would enable anyone to create their own personal ministry. And he would assist customers in getting such things as ID cards from the “Embassy of Heaven Church” in Stayton, OR, which Stoll said helps people sever all ties to government and become “Citizens of Heaven.” The Embassy of Heaven Church, which describes itself as “God’s Government on Earth,” at that time already had a long and controversial history of clashes with government authorities.

But Smith’s own “Kingdom of Heaven” ID card, a copy of which was found in court filings, indicates he didn’t need any help from Stoll to get introduced to the Embassy of Heaven cult. His ID card states he was “baptized” on 11-17-02, the ID was issued on 9-30-03 and expired on 9-30-10.

Smith’s official record at states:

“On file is a signed statement by Bradley Smith renouncing allegiance to the world and declaring citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven.

“We are fellow citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, the Government of God, which was handed to the Apostles by Jesus Christ at the Last Supper (Luke 22:29), We fulfill the Great Commission by traveling from place to place using old and modern conveyances. Our government is not of this world, and we expect to be held accountable to the laws from which we come. Our conduct is not an offense if it not an offense in the Kingdom of Heaven.”


By April 2005, Bradley Dean Smith began the unusual transfer of property to the new trusts being created by Stoll. Stoll claimed to be a lawyer, but according to the Justice Department, he was not a member of or licensed with any state or federal bar.

A new warranty deed was issued April 29, 2005, for his Annandale property—this one from the original sellers to “Old Paths Church Ministries, State of Washington.” That same day, Smith filed an “affidavit of identity” stating that his earlier assignment of the contract-for-deed should have been to “Old Paths Church Ministries” and not “Old Paths Church.”

About the same time Smith started doing business with Stoll, the federal government swung into action against Stoll’s sham ministry mill.

On Feb.15, 2005, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a complaint against Stoll and his enterprises seeking a permanent injunction to prohibit him from engaging in a whole host of illegal tax schemes and conduct, and also seeking a complete list of all of his customers.

A federal judge issued a preliminary injunction against Stoll on April 26, 2005. The judge’s order also required Stoll to provide the government his customers’ names, mailing and e-mail addresses, and Social Security and telephone numbers, and to notify customers of the injunction.

“People who buy into tax-fraud schemes are buying nothing but trouble—past due tax bills with interest and penalties and the possibility of criminal prosecution,” said Eileen J. O’Connor, Assistant Attorney General for the Tax Division. “The Justice Department and the Internal Revenue Service are committed to stopping the promotion of tax fraud.”

Smith and MacAulay continued transferring assets of YCR and Old Paths Church to the new entities being created for them by Stoll, even after the temporary injunction had been issued against Stoll.

On June 21, 2005, the Old Paths Church Ministries PTA trust was established. Smith was listed as an agent of the trust and a “Director of the Family Defense League,” which was the corporation sole created by Stoll under which two of the three trusts were held.

A permanent federal injunction was issued against Stoll June 27, 2005.

On July 11, 2005, another warranty deed was issued for Smith’s Annandale property, conveying it “as a gift” from Old Paths Church Ministries to Old Paths Church Ministries PTA (Washington State).

YCR Ministries transferred its assets to another trust, You Can Run But You Cannot Hide PTA. These included: office equipment, three televisions, an aquarium, fountain, 16 Coca Cola bar stools, one Coca Cola cooler, 39 Coca Cola artwork pieces, 63 pieces of framed art, eight Macintosh computers, a recording studio, drums, PA system and fog machines.

YCR, Inc. transferred its assets to a third trust, You Can Run But You Cannot Hide Ministries PTB. Those assets included a 1997 Polaris Indy snowmobile, a 2005 Honda Rincon ATV and a 1994 Prevost bus.

Smith and MacAulay apparently continued to operate YCR and Old Paths Church under the trusts created by Stoller until early 2009. It’s not known whether they followed Stoll’s illegal tax-avoidance advice during those years.

Property tax statements for Smith’s Annandale property from 2006-2009 list “Old Paths Church Ministries PTA, Director Family Defense League Trustee” as the taxpayer. A new house was built on the property in 2006, using a construction mortgage of $336,552 issued to Old Paths Church Ministries and signed by Smith. The property’s estimated market value rose from $92,700 to $361,600.

The year Smith moved into his new house in rural Annandale in northern Wright County, he moved his controversial YCRBYCH “ministry” to downtown Annandale in the city’s former fire hall. He told the Annandale Advocate at the time that his group and band would put Annandale on the national map.

Court documents indicate that Smith and MacAulay found out about the federal injunction against their friend Stoll in 2008, and that in September 2008, they claim Stoll told them there wasn’t any injunction.

That’s not entirely surprising, since as recently as this fall, according to a Justice Department spokesman, Stoll has continued to thumb his nose at the injunction order’s demands, which included informing his customers on the injunction. Indeed, his Remedies at Law website shows little indication of compliance with the order, and he appears to be continuing to offer some kind of ministerial trust advice.

The Justice Department sought to have him jailed for contempt in June 2006. Stoll remains in contempt of the 2005 injunction order with at least $50,000 in fines hanging over his head.

According to court documents, Smith’s and MacAulay’s attorney advised them to sever all ties with Stoll, demand his resignation from their trusts and return all property from the trusts. Stoll refused, and on December 9, 2008, a summons and petition was attempted to be served on Stoll’s address, where a person there “refused to accept the documents” and “slammed the door.”

In affidavits filed with the court, Smith and MacAulay’s attorney stated that “The trusts that (Stoll) creates for their customers are shams, devoid of economic substance.” Stoll’s “false and fraudulent schemes” induced at least 30 customers to participate in their “illegal schemes” through at least 89 corporations sole and 47 ministerial trusts.

On March 27, 2009, District Court Judge Stephen Halsey granted Old Paths Church, Inc. and YCR, Inc. their motion for a summary judgment against Stoll that terminated Stoll’s trusts, removed Stoll as trustee, transferred assets from the trusts back to the two original entities, and awarded attorneys fees plus the $6,500 they paid Stoll to create the sham ministerial trusts.

Smith purchased the property back from Old Paths Church, Inc. on July 29, 2009, for $349,200. On August 14, 2009, another warranty deed was issued for the Annandale property from Old Paths Church, Inc. to Bradley Dean Smith. The Old Paths Church mortgage was satisfied, and a $367,344 mortgage was registered from Mortgage Depot in Bloomington to Smith. And the taxpayer of record for the former Old Paths Church property is once again listed as Bradley D. Smith.

Smith managed to get a swimming pool installed at his “parsonage” before the title transferred, though. A building permit was issued by Wright County for the pool on June 4, 2009, listing Smith as the applicant and Old Paths Church Ministries as the owner. It’s not known who paid for the installation.

While Bradley Smith and Jake MacAulay may have shed themselves of Glen Stoll and his sham ministry mill, YCR’s critics still consider them to be running a sham ministry.

In a Minnesota Independent report on the group’s ministerial housing allowances last year, a former IRS attorney told reporter Andy Birkey:

“No one can qualify for (the housing allowance) unless they are licensed or ordained ministers … I doubt that all five of the members of You Can Run But You Cannot Hide would meet that requirement. I mean, some of these guys are musicians.”

Added Alex Luchenitzer, senior litigation counsel for Americans United for the Separation of Church and State:

“Are they just five people who just decided to get together or are they ordained by an organized religious body? It it’s the former, it’s probably not what the IRS intended.”

Interestingly, one of the Justice Department’s complaints against Glen Stoll and his sham ministries is that they “falsely advise customers that if their residence or real estate is titled in the name of the ministerial trust, then the participant can use and maintain it as a tax-exempt parsonage or management housing.”

YCR declined to comment on its “ministers” or their housing allowances.

Questions remain about other aspects of YCR.

What is the relationship between the elusive Old Paths Church Ministries and YCR? They share the same address and at least one of the same officers—Jacob “Jake McMillian” MacAulay. Is this the “religious body” that ordains YCR’s “ministers?”

An extensive internet search turns up no references to Old Paths Church in Minnesota or its activities, events or services, other than the former address of the “church” in Plymouth. That address is a small office building housing several small commercial businesses, according to one current tenant, and is not a “church” at all. Old Paths Church, Inc.'s address registered with the Minnesota Secretary of State is identical to the Annandale address registered for YCR with the SoS.

Yet Old Paths Church or Old Paths Church Ministries—they are one and the same, according to court documents—was the taxpayer of record for Bradley Smith's residence in French Lake Township in Wright County from 2004-2009.

On its 2008 and 2009 IRS Form 990s, YCR reported “grants” to Old Paths Church Ministries in the amounts of $43,851 and $37,700, respectively.

A search of the YCR website turns up only one curious reference to Old Paths Church—this “Statement of Faith” that appears to be largely lifted from this "Statement of Faith" for an Old Paths Christian Church in El Paso, TX. However, a spokeswoman for Old Paths Christian Church in El Paso says they have no connection to Old Paths Church—or any other organization—in Minnesota.

YCR declined to comment on Old Paths Church or its relationship with the nonprofit.

Some also question whether YCR crosses the line from ministerial work to political work.

The YCR Articles of Incorporation filed with the State of Minnesota in 2008 state:

“No substantial part of the activities of the corporation shall be carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting to influence legislation, and the organization shall not participate in, or intervene in (including the publication or distribution of statements) any political campaign on behalf of any candidate for public office.”

Yet YCR had a booth at a political rally for Michele Bachmann’s congressional campaign April 7, 2010, that featured former half-term governor Sarah Palin. And the group also was invited to set up shop at the 2010 Minnesota GOP Convention.

Perhaps the biggest question looming is whether Smith, MacAulay and their “ministers” lived by the tenets of their tax-dodging sham ministries from 2005 until 2009, when they severed all ties to Stoll and his trusts. Smith’s pursuit of these tax-avoidance trusts, and his renouncement of his allegiance to the world and declaring citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven suggests that he may have a proclivity toward not paying taxes.

If so, are they now liable for back taxes, penalties—or worse? Or was it an IRS enforcement action that prompted their divorce from Stoll in the first place?

Unfortunately, the only person who can answer all these questions is Bradley Dean Smith, and he’s not talking.

Top photo: Billboard on the outskirts of Annandale, MN, home of You Can Run But You Cannot Hide International.

Middle photo: You Can Run But You Cannot Hide Internatonal's world headquarters downtown Annandale.

Bottom photo: You Can Run But You Cannot Hide's booth at Congresswoman Michele Bachmann's political rally with former half-term governor Sarah Palin last April in Minneapolis.

All photos by Karl Bremer.

If you're interested in learning more about "Bradlee Dean" and his You Can Run But You Cannot Hide "ministry," check out some of the youtube videos of his radio programs, starting with the one below. It's not pretty.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Pawlenty judicial appointment is former lobbyist for convicted money launderer Frank Vennes Jr.

Is pick further Pawlenty payoff for campaign contributor Vennes?

By Karl Bremer

The relationship between Tim Pawlenty and convicted money launderer and cocaine/gun trafficker Frank Vennes Jr. got a little thicker last week with Pawlenty’s appointment of Plymouth lawyer Jamie L. Anderson to the 4th Judicial District Court. Anderson is a former lobbyist for Vennes, working on criminal justice issues from 2006-07. Anderson currently works for Howse & Thompson, P.A., the law office of Vennes’ former personal attorney, Craig Howse.

Pawlenty, as you’ll recall, signed onto a 2002 letter requesting a presidential pardon for Vennes, who has been implicated but never charged in the Tom Petters Ponzi swindle. Pawlenty subsequently took thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from Vennes and his family.

Howse also has political ties to Pawlenty. He and his wife, Lisa, have contributed a total of $5,600 to Pawlenty’s campaigns since 2002.

Howse also was chairman of the Fidelis Foundation, which donated over $1.4 million to Minnesota Teen Challenge, an organization with close ties to Vennes and Pawlenty. Vennes and Pawlenty’s wife, Mary, served on the board of Minnesota Teen Challenge together.

The Fidelis Foundation, based in Plymouth, Minn., is a nonprofit organization “organized to assist Christians in discerning, clarifying and implementing God’s call and direction in their life,” according to the group’s tax filings. The organization used to lease office space from Howse for $1,300 a month.

Vennes also was heavily involved in Fidelis, which invested over $27 million in the Petters Ponzi--more than $4 million of it from Minnesota Teen Challenge.

Pawlenty has yet to explain his apparently close personal relationship with the ex-con Vennes.

H/t to Andy Birkey at Minnesota Independent.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Michele Bachmann celebrates the 'season of gimme'

By Karl Bremer

Most people think of Christmas as a time of giving. Michele Bachmann thinks of it as a time of “gimme.”

Two weeks before Christmas and a mere six weeks after Bachmann raked in an obscene $13.5 million—mostly from outside the 6th District—to get re-elected, Bachmann has already sent out her first plea for money in the 2012 campaign.

According to The Hill, Bachmann, who is still sitting on nearly $2 million left over from her 2010 campaign, sent a desperate email to supporters Dec. 14 designed to strike fear in their hearts about a rematch with Democratic challenger Tarryl Clark in 2012:

“With Barack Obama at the top of the ticket she’s likely hoping to ‘ride his coattails’ to victory and see me defeated once and for all,” Bachmann wrote.

“And it appears she may be starting to amass an even larger war chest then she did in this last election cycle. FEC records show that my opponent raised more money then any Democrat (sic) challenger in the entire country, and she has the capacity to raise even more money if she challenges me again.”

Bachmann went on to ask for donations to bankroll her 2012 re-election bid and to “support my outspoken opposition to Obama’s socialist agenda.”

It’s bad enough that Bachmann has desecrated the holiday season with her begging. With her crass holiday appeal for campaign cash, Bachmann also has put herself in direct competition with the hundreds of legitimate charities and nonprofits in need that rely on end-of-the-year donations to shore up their budgets. But why support food shelves when you can help fill the tank of Michele’s tour bus?

It’s a testament to how out of touch Bachmann is with her constituents that she sees nothing wrong with horning in on Christmas to shill for her campaign two years from now. But her cluelessness comes as no surprise to anyone who follows her mean-spirited voting record.

About 7 percent of Bachmann’s constituents are unemployed, and many are set to lose their benefits unless a one-year federal extension is passed as part of the tax-cut “deal” between Obama and Republicans. Yet Bachmann cited extension of unemployment benefits to her out-of-work neighbors as the primary reason she virulently opposed the tax-cut package.

Foreclosure rates among Bachmann’s constituents are at record levels, and yet Bachmann, a wealthy congresswoman living in a million-dollar manor on a golf course, has voted against virtually every foreclosure-relief measure that’s come before her as well.

This kind of tasteless yuletide pitch for political contributions is a new low in fundraising, even for a parasite like Bachmann. Minnesotans should respond with lumps of coal for the congresswoman instead this holiday season.

Photo illustration of Michele and Marcus Bachmann by Ken Avidor.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Lil' Band O' Gold: A Southwest Louisiana Swamp Pop Jukebox

'One part Coonass and three parts Buena Vista Social Club'

By Karl Bremer

When a band stacked with some of the brightest musical stars in Louisiana has to go to Australia to find a label, you have to wonder about the state of the recording industry today. But that’s the circuitous route swamp rock supergroup Lil’ Band O’ Gold took from Down South to Down Under to get their second release in as many decades waxed—literally.

Often described as a Cajun version of the Traveling Wilburys, bandleader and charismatic Lafayette, Louisiana, guitar slinger C.C. Adcock has his own analogy: “One part Coonass and three parts Buena Vista Social Club. Except unlike Buena Vista Social Club, the cats in Lil’ Band O’ Gold were all working when we put the band together. We didn’t have to go out and find them in their homes.”

Adcock would know. He’s the instigator behind Lil’ Band O’ Gold.

“Louisiana’s one of the last places—southwest Louisiana for sure—where you can still go hang out with your heroes,” Adcock reflects in a documentary film about the band. “I mean, a lot of times, you can even start a band with ‘em. That’s what we’ve done with Lil’ Band O’ Gold.”

Lil Band O Gold is an amalgamation of some of Louisiana’s most respected players drawn from a thick stew of musical genres. The common ingredient among them is swamp pop, a local delicacy grown in the French-speaking parts of Louisiana known as Acadiana and Southeast Texas from the seeds of rockabilly, blues, country swing, R&B and Cajun music. If it comes from South Louisiana and it ain’t Cajun or zydeco, chances are it’s swamp pop.

The band’s roster reads like a who’s who of the region’s finest instrumentalists, vocalists and songsmiths: Steve Riley, master Cajun accordionist and leader of his own band, Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys; Warren Storm, 73-year-old raven-haired drummer and veteran of countless swamp pop and R&B classics over the past half-century with the driving force of a locomotive and voice of an angel; Dave Ranson, stalwart longtime bassist with the Goners behind Sonny Landreth and John Hiatt; David Eagan, one of America’s premier songwriters and a gentle giant on the keyboards; Dickie Landry and Pat Breaux on saxophones, the go-to reed guys of the stars who play like they’re joined at the hip—and the heart; Richard Comeaux, pedal steel player par excellence and leader of his own band River Road. At the throttle is Charles Clinton Adcock, a vastly underrated guitarist who cut his teeth playing behind Bo Diddley and Buckwheat Zydeco and is a devoted keeper of the swamp pop flame.

Lil’ Band O’ Gold released its eponymous first album on the Shanachie label in 2000, a stunning debut that showcased the extraordinary array of talent in the group. It went unnoticed save for the fans who had the good fortune to stumble upon them in Louisiana—most likely at a festival of some kind—and developed a long-distance love affair with them.

Like all things in Cajun Country, nothing moves very fast unless you’re on the dance floor. Work began on “The Promised Land” in 2002, but it would be the better part of a decade before the new record would see the light of day, albeit by way of the Southern Hemishere.

Aiming for a roadhouse jukebox sound in both the song selection and sonic atmosphere of “The Promised Land,” explains Adcock, the band cut each song to a vinyl disc before transferring it to digital format. The result is a sound as full and broad as the Mississippi River that wraps around you like a sticky Louisiana night, propelled by a driving rhythm that would peel the asphalt off a back country road.

But the story of how it got to vinyl takes more twists and turns than the Mighty Mississippi. The project was plagued by a series of setbacks that could never have been anticipated that made the already-challenging job of recording a widely-scattered band like this even more impossible.

“For a short time we were in bed with a major label,” says Adcock as he sifts through the early history of the record. “We had a friend at the label who gave us enough money to record a couple songs—(David Eagan-penned) “Spoonbread” and (Bobby Charles chestnut) “I Don’t Want to Know.” It was a good afternoon in the studio.” Those two versions of the songs ended up on the final record, but that’s as far as it went with the label.

Tarka Cordell, Adcock’s longtime friend and co-producer of his own solo debut record, heard the songs and became an instant fan.

“Tarka comes from a great record-producing family,” says Adcock. Famed producer and Island Records A&R man Denny Cordell was his father. “I had tons of ideas for new songs—way too many—and Tarka helped condense those down.”

The band used to hang out in a joint called City Bar in Maurice, Louisiana, recalls Adcock. “I kinda wanted it to sound like the jukebox at City Bar. With four singers in the band, I thought the record could be listened to like a juke box. I wanted songs from different eras, musically and sonically. “So Long” is a ‘60s Allan Toussaint song, “Last Hayride” sounds stoned ‘70s … I always had a list of songs under my bed that Lil’ Band O’ Gold should do. I think David did too. So David and I started gathering up our ideas—gathering up feathers and wishbones to see if we could make a chicken.”

Between all the other commitments of band members—an occupational hazard of a “supergoup”—the project sputtered along in fits and starts for a couple of years until Cordell called Adcock from London in early 2005.

“I told him I was getting revved up for festivals, for the Ponderosa Stomp. He got envious and said ‘I gotta get in on this.’ So he decided that under the auspices of making a film, he’d get to hang out with us for six weeks.”

Cordell came down to Louisiana with a film crew and followed Lil Band O’ Gold around Cajun Country.

“We were playing all these shows and hanging out with my friends. And then in September, (hurricanes) Katrina and Rita hit. The film and all the parties and good times took on a different tone than they had captured on film. As the months passed after Katrina, there were so many questions about what was going to happen, what was going to get rebuilt.”

In early 2006, Adcock continues, “Tarka was checking back in with us about how the rebuilding was going. It was different in Lafayette—we were helping everyone else out. Lafayette was kind of spared—it’s literally kind of high ground.

“Me and Dickie shared this place downtown Lafayette. We fancied ourselves as downtown New York SoHo. The music was the first thing back in 2006, so Tarka said we gotta come back down and finish this story. He and I couldn’t stand it anymore. We were champing at the bit to make this record. But the problem that’s always been with Lil’ Band O’ Gold is that we’d see each other onstage and shoot it out of a cannon for a couple of hours and it worked. But if C.C. Adcock wanted to get everyone together and rehearse a few songs, you should see the eyes roll. So Tarka was able to unify us and bring us together and was able to put some cash together to make the record—give everybody a little money so they could get freed up for a couple weeks and hang out in the studio. And we filmed it all.”

Swamp pop legend Tommy McLain was brought in to sing “Memories,” a plaintive ballad he co-wrote with Adcock. Northern Louisiana rockabilly stalwart Kenny Bill Stinson was added to the mix on several tracks. And the incendiary former Clifton Chenier sideman Lil Buck Sinegal, a regular guest at the band’s live shows, was recruited for guitar duty on the hard-charging “Ain’t No Child No More.”

The presence of five distinctive vocalists on the record—Adcock, Riley, Eagan, Storm and McLain—allowed greater latitude in the song selections because they all occupy different spaces. More of a challenge in the mixing, says Adcock, is the blending of accordion, horns and steel guitar. “They all occupy the same frequency, so they all sort of become one streaming sound, sort of intertwined.”

The band wanted to stay as true as possible to that City Bar jukebox sound, and the idea of mastering it to vinyl evolved.

“It came out of night after night of us sitting around all night talking about vinyl. We went to this old studio that Warren used to go to—great vintage gear, mics, consoles, everything’s gun-metal gray. We had all these mixes laying around, and the cream rose to the top.”

The record took another tragic twist in the road when Tarka Cordell committed suicide in April 2008.

“He was my best friend in the whole world,” Adcock says. “After he died it really galvanized me and the band and his brothers to go out and make sure that his legacy could be heard.”

Three weeks earlier, Cordell had sent Adcock a letter with his track-by-track critique of “The Promised Land.”

“Great record. Needs little,” he concluded.

“It was hard,” says Adcock. “We tried to go about the business of honoring his legacy. Every time something worked out for us, we just sort of looked at each other and said ‘Tarka.’ But we were able to go back and honor his wishes” in the final edits.

“I had the record vinylized,” Adcock enthuses. “I took every mastered track on the record up to New York to this vinyl guru—Andy Vandette—who arguably has the greatest record lathe in the country. He pressed each song to its own 12-inch vinyl record at 45 rpm. When you’re listening to your disc, you’re listening to a record, a needle on a record.”

The documentary film “The Promised Land: A Swamp Pop Journey,” was released in 2009, with help from Tarka’s brother, Barney. It premiered at South by Southwest in Austin and was screened several times in Louisiana before it went on the international film circuit, including Cannes.

But the record was still in the can.

“There are some crazy Aussies who come around to Jazz Fest and like Lil’ Band O’ Gold,” Adcock chuckles. One of them saw the film in 2009, followed by the band’s performance at New Orleans’ Chickie Wah Wah nightclub. The next thing they knew, they were contacted by Dust Devil Records, and the record was released in Australia in March 2010, followed by an Australian tour.
“The Promised Land” delivers on the band’s mission to make a real jukebox record. There’s a warmth, honesty and heartfelt respect for the music over the musician that permeates every song, without the excesses of other “supergroups.” The sum of this band truly is greater than its individual parts.

It’s like a swirling shot of musical absinthe that splays your senses wide open and oozes over them in thick aural landscapes of Acadiana. Never mind that the songs have percolated from such non-swampy and disparate sources as ELO’s Jeff Lynne (“Hold On Tight”) or Mickey Newbury (“Sunshine”). By the time Lil’ Band O’ Gold gets done stitching them together, they fit like different patches on the same handmade quilt.

“It was important for me to do this little Australian thing because it’s like brick-and-mortar,” says Adcock. “I’m proud to have it. We sound so good. It’s just important to keep this thing going. I feel more compelled than ever to get this record released here.”

Yet as good as this record is, as an Australian import, its market is destined to be limited until they can find U.S. distribution.

It must get tiring to continually be described in so many words as “the greatest band you’ve never heard of,” despite the solid-gold resumes of its individual members. Part of the sentence meted out by that description is self-imposed as everyone in the band has “day jobs” elsewhere and can’t perform, tour or, as Adcock noted, rehearse like a fulltime band.

Yet Lil’ Band O’ Gold has been “discovered” by a slew of heavyweights.

Robert Plant jumped onstage with the band at Tipitina’s in New Orleans in 2007, and the two collaborated on “It Keeps Rainin’,” a track on a tribute to Fats Domino.

Bob Dylan caught their set at the 2003 New Orleans Jazz Fest and was so knocked out he tapped Dickie Landry to sit in with him for his nighttime show.

And Elvis Costello, Dr. John and a gang of other notables sat in with the band at a House of Blues tribute to Bobby Charles during Jazz Fest this year.

Authenticity doesn’t always sell in an age of superficiality. But Adcock remains on the hunt for an American label that’s buying it.

Stranger things have happened. Seattle native Jimi Hendrix had to go to England before he could get the attention of the American market. Maybe things in the music business aren’t so different these days after all.

"The Promised Land" by the quarters

The Promised Land/Lil’ Band O’ Gold
2010 Dust Devil Music DDCD0110

“Spoonbread” comes up on the first quarter with a fat, swelling accordion entrance accompanied by a bevy of vocalists and the siren call of a pedal steel. David Eagan’s homespun, authentic lyrics invite comparisons to The Band in their finest moments of pure Americana:

“Pass me down that spoonbread baby,
You ain’t eatin’ like you know you should,
Got a little peas, got a little gravy,
Pass me down that spoonbread baby,
It ain’t money but it sure tastes good.”

The hook is set with Warren Storm’s crystalline cover of Bobby Charles’ classic lament “I Don’t Want to Know.” The band gets deep in your soul as the waves of sound push Storm to falsetto reaches that even Johnny Adams would have envied.

Another quarter in the jukebox and up comes C.C. Adcock swaggering through the door with “Teardrops,” a swamp pop nugget from Eddie Schuler, founder of Lake Charles label Goldband Records, and Shelton Dunaway of Cookie and the Cupcakes.

Steve Riley’s up next with “Ain’t No Child No More,” a raucous romp through the bayou with stinging Clifton Chenier sidekick Lil Buck Sinegal and Riley battling it out for lead.

Eagan comes back into the singing rotation on his own wistful “Dreamer,” showing why anyone who’s anybody has beat a path to his door to record his songs. Paired with Storm’s take on Mickey Newbury’s “Sunshine,” it makes for a sterling midpoint in the record before launching into a rocket-fueled arrangement of Adcock’s “Runaway Life.”

A radically different version of “Runaway Life” appeared on Adcock’s Lafayette Marquis record a few years ago as a Cajun two-step guitar-fiddle duo.

“Tarka heard the rock and roll version and really liked it,” Adcock says. “He always wanted a “Promised Land” on the record, but how could you top Johnny Allan’s version? So he thought “Runaway Life” could be our “Promised Land.”

Storm tumbles out another polished gem with Dubliner David Kitt’s “Faster and Faster,” putting a late-night sheen on this tender ballad.

Eagan’s swirling Wurlitzer and Riley’s thumping squeezebox compete for attention in “Hold On Tight,” which remains surprisingly true to the original hit from British popsters ELO.

Then it’s back to the “Godfather of Swamp Pop” as Storm takes a steel-guitar-drenched amble down a country road on yet another sparkling Eagan composition, “Hard Enough.”

Pineville, Louisiana, swamp pop legend Tommy McLain and Adcock tag-team on the record’s acoustic sweet spot, “Memories,” with an assist from Eagan and Ranson and a horn duet as thick as cane molasses.

Riley steps into a French-Cajun roadhouse and commandeers the full strength of Lil’ Band O’ Gold to pump out “Evangeline Rock,” with Storm showing no age as the engine behind this tour de force.

Adcock offers us a glimpse of the underside of Louisiana politics circa Edwin Edwards in “The Last Hayride,” a not-so-tender ballad with the barbed perspective you’d expect from a bare-knuckled rocker.

“A silver fox with a golden tongue,
Yeah, you played it smart and kept ‘em dumb,
You really kept ‘em dumb,
Lawd, you really kept us dumb.”

Finally, Allan Toussaint’s “So Long” brings the horns to the front for a lazy shuffle out the door at closing time. It’s the last quarter in the City Bar jukebox, and it feels like a night that’s come to its proper end.

All photos by Karl Bremer

1, 2, 3 & 6: Lil' Band O' Gold, C.C. Adcock and Warren Storm, Chickie Wah Wah, New Orleans, LA, April 2010
4 & 5: Tarka Cordell and C.C. Adcock, Louisiana Music Factory, New Orleans, LA, April 2005

Saturday, December 4, 2010

In Memorium: Frank Zappa, 12.21.40 - 12.4.93

Frank Zappa, 11.28.81, Northrup Auditorium, Minneapolis, MN. Zappa is playing a scorched Stratocaster that was once owned - and set on fire - by Jimi Hendrix. The guitar has been the subject of much discussion over the years, and was sold at auction a few years ago.
Photo by Karl Bremer

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Pawlenty's pardon problems piling up

"Pardon me" may be two words the presidential wannabe wishes he never heard.

By Karl Bremer

A criminal sex offender recommended for a “pardon extraordinary” by Gov. Tim Pawlenty in 2008 was arrested again in November on multiple criminal sexual conduct and incest charges. But this isn’t the first time Pawlenty’s pardon subjects have run afoul of the law after getting his blessing.

In 2002, Pawlenty sought a presidential pardon for convicted money-launderer/cocaine-and-gun runner Frank Vennes, Jr. That same year, Vennes and his family donated a total of $10,000 to his gubernatorial campaign, and thousands more in 2004 and 2006.

But then on Sept. 24, 2008, federal agents raided Vennes’ $5 million Shorewood home on Lake Minnetonka and his $6 million oceanfront home in Jupiter, Fla., in connection with the Tom Petters Ponzi scheme investigation. According to the federal search warrant, Vennes was alleged to have hauled in more than $28 million in commissions for his role in luring five investors to pony up $1.2 billion in Petters’ giant Ponzi scheme.

On Oct. 6, 2008, the assets and records of Vennes, Petters, Petters’ companies and other Petters associates were frozen by a federal judge, and many seized assets of Vennes’ already have been sold off to compensate victims of the fraud, even though Vennes has never been charged with a crime in the case. Vennes recently proposed a plan to liquidate most of the rest of his assets in exchange for immunity from further lawsuits in the Petters case.

Pawlenty has never responded to requests for an explanation of his apparently close relationship with Vennes. But when the national media begins to scrutinize the struggling presidential candidate’s past a little closer, the subject of Pawlenty's pardon for Vennes is sure to come up.

The Pawlenty-Vennes web

Pawlenty's connections to convicted felon Frank Vennes, Jr. are intertwined in several ways.

Last year, Pawlenty donated nearly $86,000 from his defunct gubernatorial campaign fund to Minnesota Teen Challenge (MnTC), a controversial Christian chemical dependency program that was once closely affiliated with Vennes and allegedly lost millions on account of that affiliation in the Petters Ponzi. Additionally, Pawlenty’s wife, Mary, served on Minnesota Teen Challenge’s Board of Directors with Vennes.

Vennes and his family have contributed thousands of dollars to Pawlenty's gubernatorial campaigns. Kimberly Vennes (Frank's wife), Gregory Vennes, Stephanie Vennes (Gregory's wife), and Colby and Denley Vennes, who have shared an address with Frank and Kimberly, each donated $2,000 to the Pawlenty for Governor Committee in 2002. Frank, Kimberly, Gregory, Stephanie, Colby and Denley Vennes each contributed $250 to Pawlenty in 2004 and $2,000 apiece in 2006.

Was it a coincidence that the same year the Vennes money started to flow into Pawlenty's campaign coffers, Pawlenty's name appeared in a request for a presidential pardon for Vennes sent by Senator-elect Norm Coleman?

In a letter dated Dec. 20, 2002, and sent to President George W. Bush c/o Karl Rove, then-Senator-Elect Coleman said he was “well acquainted with Frank (redacted portion) and that I want to join “my friend, (former Minnesota GOP chairman) Ron Eibensteiner and Governor-elect Tim Pawlenty in urging President Bush to grant Frank Vennes a presidential pardon.”

The roles of Pawlenty and Eibensteiner in seeking a pardon for Vennes are unclear. A Freedom of Information Act request with the Office of Presidential Pardons did not turn up pardon letters from either one, and Pawlenty's office has refused to respond to requests for an explanation as to why he added his name to Coleman’s list of pardon supporters.

The pardon Coleman, Pawlenty and Eibensteiner sought was for Vennes' conviction in 1987 on federal charges of money laundering, cocaine distribution and illegal firearms sale, to which he pleaded guilty and no contest.

Vennes was sentenced to five years in the Sandstone Federal Correctional Facility, where he reportedly “found God” and was released in 1990. Following his release from prison, Vennes filed a petition for a pardon, which has never been granted.

Meanwhile, Vennes was a board member of MnTC as recently as 2008. Pawlenty's wife, Mary, also sat on MnTC's board of directors during at least a portion of the time that Vennes served on the board.

But that organization may have lost millions of dollars as a result of MnTC's investments that Vennes allegedly steered to his associate, Tom Petters, in Petters’ multibillion-dollar Ponzi scheme.

Vennes is alleged to have been a facilitator, or conduit, used by Petters to lure primarily Christian organizations into investing in Petters' companies through Metro Gem - one of Vennes' companies - or through the Fidelis Foundation, which served as a fiscal agent for Minnesota Teen Challenge. Among those investors was Minnesota Teen Challenge, which allegedly lost $5.7 million in investments in Petters companies.

Still, Vennes has not yet been charged with any crimes in connection with the Petters case. Nor has he been named as a defendant in any of the lawsuits filed against Petters and his associates by alleged victims of the fraud.

However, one final question remains: Would a President Tim Pawlenty grant convicted money launderer and alleged Petters Ponzi man Frank Vennes Jr. the pardon he believes he deserves?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Remembering Dave Ray at Thanksgiving

By Karl Bremer

It’s after midnight, and as I peer over at the stack of recently played CDs below the stereo, I notice a preponderance of Koerner, Ray & Glover and Dave Ray discs strewn about. Oh, that’s right. Thanksgiving’s coming up.

Dave “Snaker” Ray left us on Thanksgiving Day 2002 after a ferocious battle with cancer (is there any other kind really?). So just as new constellations come into the rotation of the night skies with each passing month, Dave Ray goes into heavy rotation in the CD player every November.

I got to know Dave through decades of seeing him play in West Bank Minneapolis haunts—the Triangle Bar, the Viking, the 400, Coffeehouse Extempore—and those intimate Ray & Glover Thursday night sessions at the Times downtown. We’d get treated to an annual reunion of the legendary folk-blues trio Koerner Ray & Glover with Dave’s erstwhile bandmates “Spider” John Koerner and Tony “Little Sun” Glover. But throughout the rest of the year, you could almost always count on finding Dave playing somewhere at least once a week. Solo, duo, trio, full band, it didn’t matter, Dave would be out there mining obscure blues and other rare gems from his big black songbook, keeping that West Bank flame kindled.

Dave had an extraordinary baritone voice that was as big and black as that songbook of his; it could fill a room without a mic. And he could rip off some of the most dazzling fretwork you ever laid ears on. In 1999, I wrote in the liner notes to “By the Water,” a CD recorded in our living room that featured Dave, Tony and Radiators Camile Baudoin and Reggie Scanlan:

“Dave’s raw, honey-dipped voice shifts effortlessly from gut-bucket blues shouter to crooning balladeer, while he picks notes off a 6- or 12-string like sweet cherries from a tree.”

Always ready with a twisted joke, Dave had a deep belly laugh that shook his whole body, and a sardonic, stiletto wit that he exhibited in full glory in his online rants. Dave Ray was a blogger before there were blogs, and fortunately, his ruminations are archived here.

In one online entry, after offering some driving “tips” to an unidentified driver with whom he had had a recent road encounter, Dave concluded with some friendly counsel:

“If you choose to ignore this advice (and the sundry other suggestions hailing down on you in numbing quantity from everyone unfortunate enough to share your vehicle while you’re driving) then at least accept this final suggestion: put a bag over your license plate before you leave your driveway in case the next guy you infuriate decides to plunk down his five bucks at the DMV, get your home address and blow both your godammed cheeks off so you’ll never sit behind the wheel again.”

We had the good fortune to have had Dave play for many of our house parties. He and Tony performed for at least a half-dozen of our fundraisers for political candidates. And although every one of them lost, we still had candidates begging us to throw parties for them every election year.

I was thrilled when Dave got the trio—Koerner, Ray & Glover—to play for our 20th anniversary in 1998. But when it came time to pay Dave for the gig, he inexplicably refused to take any more than 1/10th of the price we had agreed on. He muttered something about “Well, you know, Happy Anniversary” and that was that.

Dave kept performing right up until the end. Koerner, Ray & Glover played a gig on the East Coast six days before he died. A planned KR&G show at First Avenue the following month turned into a massive memorial for Dave, with an empty chair and Dave’s hat sitting on stage with Koerner and Glover. There wasn’t a dry eye in the joint that night.

There’s some good news for Dave Ray fans in all of this. Koerner, Ray & Glover’s last filmed performance from First Avenue in January 2002 is going to be released on DVD December 15 at First Avenue’s 40th anniversary party (available also at the Electric Fetus and Cheapo Records). Dave’s first two solo records, “Snaker’s Here” (1965) and “Fine Soft Land,” (1967) have been re-released on CD on Wounded Bird Records. And another 2002 recording session featuring two songs Dave laid down with Eddie Kirkland is being readied for release in 2011.

So this Thanksgiving, I’ll give thanks for Dave Ray and all the other fine musicians that make us smile and dance and laugh and cry. The best ones do it for the music and not for the money. Concludes Tony Glover in the terrific documentary “Blues, Rags & Hollers: The Koerner, Ray & Glover Story”:

“Music’s one of my oldest friends. We don’t expect to get rich off old friends. You just figure they’ll be there when you need them. Music usually is.”

Top photo of Dave Ray by Missy Bowen.
Middle photo of Dave Ray with the Radiators by Glenn Kincaid.
Bottom photo of Dave Ray by Chris Bremer.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Suspected con man "Bobby Thompson" is now on 'America's Most Wanted'

Fugitive from justice gave tens of thousands of dollars to Minnesota Republicans, including Michele Bachmann and Norm Coleman, which likely came from charitable donations to "Thompson's" sham veterans organization.

By Karl Bremer

The man known as "Bobby Thompson" for years was the poster boy for Republican donors, spreading tens of thousands of dollars around to Michele Bachmann, Norm Coleman and Minnesota House Republicans, among others. Now, he's a poster boy of a different type - "Bobby" is featured on "America's Most Wanted."

The AMW site describes how St. Petersburg Times reporter Jeff Testerman happened on the trail of "Bobby Thompson" two years ago:

In 2008, a St. Petersburg Times reporter, Jeff Testerman, was looking into a local political story when he noticed the U.S. Navy Veterans Association was a contributor to a local county commissioner's campaign.

Seeking a quote from the group, Jeff made multiple calls, leaving multiple messages. But in six months of searching, despite 85 USNVA board members, they could only find one of them: Bobby Thompson.

A Happenstance Confrontation

Jeff made the quick trip over to Thompson's modest Ybor City home and saw Thompson pacing out in front of his home, talking on his cell phone. Jeff asked him a few questions for the story he was investigating, which had little to do with Thompson himself. But Thompson immediately got defensive, going off on a 30-minute diatribe accusing Jeff of using yellow journalism tactics.

A veteran investigative reporter for the Times, Jeff knew something was not right about Thompson, and he intended to find out what it was.

Jeff and his investigative team looked into the organization for six months, and he found a number of very odd things:

-The Association wouldn't disclose where the tens of millions of dollars went.

-The Times couldn't find any of the 83 people listed as board members and executives on the tax forms filed with the IRS to claim tax-exempt status.

-The Association's purported headquarters, at 1718 M St., Washington D.C, was little more than a rented mailbox at a UPS Store.

-Why did the director of a multi-million dollar charity organization live in a dilapidated duplex across from a cigar factory?

Jeff had many questions for the U.S. Navy Vets Association, and there were even more questions about Bobby Thompson himself. But he would learn that the more answers he got, the more questions it would raise.

AMW describes "Bobby Thompson" as 5'10", 200 lbs., brown hair and eyes, and says he often sports a beard and mustache, wears glasses and likes to drink tequila. "Bobby Thompson" is a stolen identity. The man known as "Bobby Thompson" also has used the alias "Ronnie Brittain."

No one knows who "Bobby Thompson" really is. He's been on the lam ever since the St. Petersburg Times investigation began and was last seen in a New York City hotel last June.

The Minnesota Connection

I came across "Bobby's" name while researching campaign contributions to Michele Bachmann's fat-cat fundraiser with former half-term Alaska governor Sarah Palin last April. Thompson donated $10,000 to Bachmann's campaign at that event. Further research on Thompson led to Testerman's investigative series and ultimately, an extensive series of articles published here and on on "Bobby's" and the U.S. Navy Veterans Association's questionable operations in Minnesota. That series has led to investigations by the Minnesota Attorney General and Minnesota Campaign Finance and Disclosure Board.

"Bobby's" last political contribution before he disappeared altogether appears to be $5,000 to Minnesota-based Patriot PAC, first reported on Ripple in Stillwater.

The story recently appeared on ABC's Nightly News.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Apparent loser Tom Emmer trying to get former client's legal malpractice lawsuit against him tossed out

Emmer is a no-show at hearing on lawsuit, meets with Gov. Tim Pawlenty instead to discuss job he'll never have.

By Karl Bremer

Tom Emmer is trying to get a legal malpractice lawsuit filed against him by a former client thrown out because he says he didn’t represent the client on the case the malpractice allegedly took place. According to the Associated Press, Emmer’s attorney, Michael Schwartz, asked Wright County District Judge Stephen Halsey to dismiss the case at a hearing November 8. Halsey took the motion under advisement.

The client, Steven R. Hackbarth, and his roofing contracting company, Hackbarth Enterprises Corporation, both of Silver Lake, a McLeod County town southwest of Emmer's hometown of Delano, filed the lawsuit in September. The lawsuit was first reported on Ripple in Stillwater.

According to Hackbarth’s lawsuit, Emmer represented Hackbarth in a legal proceeding that resulted in a judgment against Hackbarth and cost him his state contractor’s license. Hackbarth says one of his roofing materials suppliers sued him in 2009 over money the supplier claimed Hackbarth owed him.

“People charged my account with the supplier and they weren’t supposed to,” says Hackbarth. “I was disputing that with my supplier, so I asked Emmer to represent me. But he didn’t file the documents he was supposed to file with the court. He showed up the day of the hearing,” but beyond that, Hackbarth told Ripple in Stillwater, “he didn’t do nothing.”

The timing of Hackbarth’s filing led Emmer spokesman Carl Kuhl to charge that Hackbarth was engaging in political “extortion” by trying to get a $200,000 settlement out of the failed GOP candidate for governor so close to the election.

“While Mr. Hackbarth denies political motivation, he made outrageous financial demands prior to filing his suit in the hope of leveraging Tom Emmer's candidacy to advantage himself,” Kuhl told the AP. “Tom Emmer does not negotiate with extortionists.”

Emmer may have been looking for a way to avoid the hearing so soon after his apparent loss to Mark Dayton. Schwartz claimed Emmer could not attend the hearing because he had a meeting with Governor Pawlenty. However, according to the Star-Tribune, that meeting was only planned the weekend before the hearing:

Pawlenty offered to meet with both Democrat Mark Dayton and Emmer to help
them prepare in case they become governor. Late last week, Dayton set up a
meeting for Tuesday at 4 p.m. and Emmer hadn't yet scheduled a meeting.

But over the weekend, Emmer and Pawlenty found a time to meet.
Hackbarth says Emmer has represented him in previous legal matters, and that he’s been a longtime supporter of Emmer’s past political campaigns.

“If he would have just apologized, it probably never would have come to this,” he told Ripple in Stillwater. “I pulled floats for him in parades for years. I have a John Deere tractor. My daughter has a goat, and we’d put a sandwich board on the goat with Emmer signs. And now all I got was kicked in the head. I thought he was my friend.”

Above: Apparent failed GOP gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer, accused of malpractice.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Another Minnesota political contribution from alleged fugitive fraudster 'Bobby Thompson' discovered

A Ripple in Stillwater Exclusive

By Karl Bremer

As the nationwide manhunt for the fugitive commander of the U.S. Navy Veterans Association (USNVA) known as “Bobby Thompson” widens, the alleged fraudster’s connection to Minnesota Republicans deepens.

The USNVA was allegedly an elaborate nationwide scam operating as a veterans charity and led by a Florida con artist who stole the identity of another man named “Bobby Thompson.” The organization may have collected as much as $100 million from 2002-2009, most of it unaccounted for. Some of it is suspected to have been funnelled into Republican political campaigns. More than $1.56 million was collected by the USNVA Minnesota Chapter from 2004-2009, and Republican candidates and causes in Minnesota received tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from "Thompson" during that time.

The story received national attention when it appeared on ABC Nightly News November 10.

Ripple in Stillwater has learned that following “Thompson’s” controversial $10,000 donation to a Michele Bachmann fundraiser in Minneapolis April 7 featuring former Alaska half-term governor Sarah Palin--the last known contribution the donor-on-the-lam made--he gave $5,000 to a Republican-leaning Minnesota-based political action committee called Patriot PAC on April 26.

Patriot PAC was formed in 2009 by Joey Gerdin, a Republican political operative who serves as its chair. Gerdin was Finance Director of the Minnesota House Republican Campaign Committee (HRCC) from 2007-2008, during which time the man known as “Bobby Thompson” gave $5,000 to the HRCC and attended a Republican National Convention HRCC event in St. Paul. Next to Gerdin, who donated $11,100 to her own PAC, “Thompson” is Patriot PAC’s second largest contributor.

Gerdin says she doesn’t remember how she became connected with “Thompson.” Because of his donation to her PAC, she’s been contacted by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, which has a nationwide arrest warrant out on “Thompson” for identity fraud.

The Ohio Attorney General's Office has aggressively pursued the case and claims donations to the USNVA weren't used to aid veterans but instead, diverted to political causes by "Thompson." It earlier had a nationwide arrest warrant out on "Thompson" for identity fraud, and more recently indicted "Thompson" and an alleged accomplice on corruption, money laundering and theft charges.

The Ohio AG's Office also has released a number of photos of the man known as "Bobby Thompson" posing with prominent Republican politicians such as George W. Bush, John McCain and John Boehner, as well as Republican operative Karl Rove.

To Gerdin, Thompson was just another political donor prospect. When raising money for the HRCC, says Gerdin, “I would just call anyone and everyone. I honestly don’t even remember if I cold-called him or he cold-called me. He was coming in for the RNC (Republican National Convention), and I was having a fundraiser downtown with the House caucus.”

Gerdin says she met the alleged con man in St. Paul at the fundraiser she hosted.

“He seemed like a nice guy, completely congenial, supportive of veterans. Seemed like your typical patriot to me.”

The Ohio Attorney General investigator asked her about bank records for the donation to her PAC, she says.

“The check that I got came from him personally, that I know,” she says.

While some politicians—including Bachmann and reportedly the Republican Party of Minnesota—have donated money they received from “Thompson” to other veterans groups following the glare of bad publicity, Gerdin says she has no intention of doing so at this time.

“The money was given to me from an individual who wanted to elect veterans to office … that’s what I basically used it for,” she says. She says she will eventually look further into the matter once things settle down with her current duties as finance director for 8th District Congressman-elect Chip Cravaack.

For reasons yet unknown, “Bobby Thompson,” a Florida resident with no apparent Minnesota connections, showered tens of thousands of dollars on Minnesota Republican politicians and the Republican Party of Minnesota. Besides the $10,000 he gave to Bachmann and the $5,000 he gave to Patriot PAC, he made the following donations to other Minnesota Republicans and GOP entities:

• $21,500 to Republican Norm Coleman’s Senate re-election campaign from 2006-2008
• $7,000 to the Minnesota House Republican Campaign Committee in 2008-2009
• $10,400 to the Republican Party of Minnesota from 2008-2010
• $500 to former Rep. Marty Seifert’s Seifert for Governor Campaign in 2009
• $500 to Republican David J. Carlson’s Citizens for David Carlson committee in House District 67B in 2008.

In addition, the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board is investigating a different—and potentially fraudulent—$500 campaign contribution to former House Minority Leader Marty Seifert in 2009 that’s linked to the USNVA.

Norm Coleman and the Republican Party of Minnesota have not responded to repeated inquiries about their relationship with “Bobby Thompson.”

I wrote an exclusive series of reports on the DumpBachmann blog earlier this year examining the political connections between Minnesota Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and the man known as “Bobby Thompson,” as well as "Thompson’s" other connections to Minnesota Republicans and the state GOP. (See the links at the end of this article.)

In my series of articles, I also detailed the USNVA’s shady operations in Minnesota from 2004-2010. My reports were based initially on a year-long investigation of the USNVA by the St. Petersburg Times newspaper, which sparked legal inquiries into the group in at least eight states and by the IRS and Veterans Administration.

The group’s Minnesota operations closely paralleled the allegedly fraudulent operations uncovered in other states. Once the investigations into the USNVA began to gather steam nationwide, the Minnesota Chapter was mysteriously dissolved last May.

After my reports about “Thompson” and the USNVA appeared online, the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office began looking into the group’s Minnesota operations.

Minnesota media, with the notable exception of the St. Paul Pioneer Press's Jason Hoppin, have largely ignored the story.

Meanwhile, Blanca Contreras, an alleged co-conspirator of “Thompson’s,” has been arrested and arraigned by Ohio authorities on charges of racketeering, money laundering and theft of more than $1 million. According to court documents, Contreras “personally withdrew $416,000 in cash from a single USNVA account” between October 2007 and June 2010.

Contreras is being held on $2 million bail.

While Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray has been the most aggressive in pursuing the man known as “Bobby Thompson,” that could change. Cordray lost in the Nov, 2 election to Mike DeWine, who once received a $500 political contribution in a U.S. Senate campaign from “Bobby Thompson.”


Sunday, November 7, 2010

Michele Bachmann's pardon pal Frank Vennes Jr. wants out of Petters Ponzi mess

Was post-election filing of plan to settle with investors politically motivated?

By Karl Bremer

The day after Election Day, politically connected convicted money-launderer and Tom Petters associate Frank Vennes Jr. filed a motion in U.S. District Court to approve a “work-out plan” to repay victims of the Petters Ponzi scheme through the liquidation of most of his assets. In return, Vennes and his investment business, Metro Gem, would receive a release from all liability related to financial losses from the Petters scam—a scam that Vennes claims he knew nothing about.

Vennes invested heavily in Petters’ Company notes on behalf of his Metro Gem investors from 1995 to 2008. When federal agents swooped down on Petters in September 2008, Metro Gem had more than $130 million in unpaid investments in Petters notes.

Vennes’ court filings list his total debts at $55.4 million.

Vennes, a heavy-hitting political contributor to Republicans Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, Governor Tim Pawlenty and former Senator Norm Coleman, as well as Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar, was implicated but never charged in the multibillion-dollar Petters Ponzi scheme. His millions of dollars in assets, which included gold and silver coins and figurines, artwork, Harley Davidsons, and properties in Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio and Florida, have been frozen and in receivership since the Petters scheme came crashing down over two years ago. Some properties already have been liquidated.

The Nov. 3 timing of Vennes’ first motion seeking relief in over two years is curious—especially given his close political and personal ties to Bachmann, who was engaged in an expensive re-election battle with Tarryl Clark until Nov. 2. Revisiting the story of Bachmann’s relationship with a convicted money launderer during the election would not have helped Vennes’ former beneficiary.

Pawlenty, who has been grooming himself for national political greatness after he leaves his part-time job as governor of Minnesota in January, also isn’t likely to be thrilled to see Vennes’ name back in the headlines.

Besides taking tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from Vennes and his family, Bachmann, Pawlenty, Coleman, and former state GOP Chair Ron Ebensteiner all solicited a presidential pardon during the Bush administration for Vennes’ past federal crimes of money laundering, cocaine- and gun-running. That was after Vennes was released from Sandstone Federal Prison but before he became implicated in the Petters Ponzi. The issue raised questions about whether Vennes was engaged in a “pay-for-pardon” scheme.

Due to the negative publicity over her close relationship with Vennes after the Petters scandal broke, Bachmann first rescinded her pardon request and then gave to charity a portion of the campaign contributions she had received from Vennes that election year—despite the fact that Vennes is still presumed to be innocent. But even that proved to be problematic for the congresswoman. She first tried to donate the money to Minnesota Teen Challenge, where Vennes once sat on the board of directors with Mary Pawlenty, Tim Pawlenty's wife. But being a victim of Vennes’ involvement in the Petters Ponzi themselves, Minnesota Teen Challenge returned the money to Bachmann.

Coleman, Pawlenty and the state GOP did not return any of Vennes’ allegedly “dirty money.” None of the recipients of Vennes’ tens of thousands of dollars in political contributions have ever responded to inquiries about their relationships with the convicted money launderer.

Listed among Vennes’ secured creditors in his proposed work-out plan is Richard Scherber, executive director of Minnesota Teen Challenge. Documents filed with Vennes’ proposal show Scherber was owed $910,000 when the Petters scheme ended. Minus the returns he had received on his investments with Vennes, Scherber had an out-of-pocket loss of $423,759, according to court documents. Under Vennes’ proposed work-out plan, Scherber would receive only $173,741.

Also listed among Vennes’ secured creditors is locally owned First State Bank of Bayport, shown as a co-creditor on four individuals’ IRAs. Total out-of-pocket losses shown for those IRAs is $1.4 million. Under Vennes’ proposal, those IRAs would recover only $574,067 of their combined out-of-pocket losses.

“The work-out plan represents the best opportunity for Mr. Vennes’ creditors to receive meaningful financial recovery for their losses sustained as a result of the Petters fraud,” Vennes’ motion states.

Vennes notes that he is under “no compulsion” to enter into any agreements with creditors. Since he has not been charged with any crime, he is not facing a forfeiture or restitution order and says he could just as easily have filed for bankruptcy, leaving his creditors with little or nothing.

Vennes is the subject of a $2.7 billion “clawback” lawsuit in the bankruptcy proceedings of Petters’ estate. However, Vennes proclaims his innocence in the Petters Ponzi and has filed claims against Petters.

“Metro Gem, Inc., and I were victims of the Petters fraud,” Vennes states in court documents filed with his work-out proposal motion. “I was not a co-conspirator of Thomas J. Petters or anyone else in that fraud.”