Presidential candidate appears to have registered at state for past three years under old address.
Thursday, July 28, 2011
Presidential candidate appears to have registered at state for past three years under old address.
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Ripple in Stillwater files Campaign Finance Board complaint over Stillwater lobbyist who's not a lobbyist
Ripple in Stillwater author Karl Bremer has filed a formal complaint with the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board (CFB) over the alleged lobbying of unregistered lobbyist Mike Campbell on behalf of the City of Stillwater.
According to the contract with the City, the Conach Group is “To secure the required support of the Federal Government State of Minnesota and any administrative Department of either entity for the approval and funding of the pending St. Croix River Crossing at Stillwater” and “To secure Minnesota Legislative funding for the State purchase of the MN Zephyr Railroad Right of Way as an extension of the State Trail system, support for the New Armory Project and Phase III of the Levy Wall Project." According to the contract, “Consultant services will be rendered largely at the Consultant office and the State of
But neither the lobbyist, Mike Campbell, nor anyone else with his firm, the Conach Group, are registered with the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board (CFB) or with the U.S. Senate or Congress. In fact, there are no lobbyists representing the City of
However, Stillwater Mayor Ken Harycki continues to insist that Campbell is not a lobbyist at all, even though he told the Stillwater Gazette: “
"Really, he doesn't do any lobbying," Harycki told the St. Paul Pioneer Press, apparently with a straight face. "He doesn't make calls to legislators for us. He tells us what the status of bills are, what some of the pitfalls are that are facing us and who we should call to address those pitfalls or to make that final push."
Although the city's contract states that Campbell's work will be "rendered largely at the Consultant office and at the State of Minnesota Capitol," Harycki told the Pioneer Press: "Usually, a lobbyist will go to the Legislature on your behalf and talk to them--he doesn't do that."
What exactly Campbell is doing for his $1,500 a month in taxpayer "legislative consulting" fees is unclear. Harycki and the Stillwater City Council rejected an attempt to require him to file monthly progress reports with the Council.
According to Council minutes, “Mayor Harycki suggested that any published reporting may impede some of the ongoing discussions.” The contract states only that “The City will rely upon the Consultant to put forth such effort as is reasonably necessary to fulfill the spirit and purpose of the Contract” and that “the nature of the work done by consultant will be reviewed at least quarterly to determine whether work should be deleted or added based upon changed circumstances.”
If Campbell were legally registered as a lobbyist, as it appears he should be, he would be required to keep detailed records of expenditures and file reports with the CFB. According to the CFB Lobbyist Handbook:
Records must be kept separately for administrative lobbying, legislative lobbying or the lobbying of a metropolitan governmental unit in the following categories:
- preparing and distributing lobbying materials;
- media advertising;
- telephone and all other communication services;
- postage and distribution costs associated with lobbying activities;
- fees, allowances, public relations campaigns including consulting and other expenses related with those services;
- food and beverages;
- travel and lodging;
- administrative costs and salary of support staff attributable to lobbying; and
- all other disbursements including general administration and overhead and any other lobbyist disbursements not reported in other categories,
- gifts or benefits paid or given to officials, and
- other sources of funds of more than $500 in a calendar year given for purposes of lobbying, including fees or salary paid to a lobbyist as compensation.
As it stands, whatever the public wants to know about what Campbell is doing for $1,500 a month or how he's spending taxpayers' money must be gleaned from his quarterly report filed with the City Council.
For his part, Campbell, a business agent for Cambria. told the Pioneer Press he was perplexed about the CFB complaint.
"It makes it seem as if something dastardly is going on. If I was going to the Capitol and lobbying, I would simply register as a lobbyist. I don't want to register as a lobbyist."
After reviewing the complaint, the CFB will determine whether to proceed with an investigation of the matter. According to the CFB, within 30 days, the board will make a public finding of whether or not there is probable cause to believe a violation has occurred.
Sunday, July 24, 2011
By Karl Bremer
|Michele Bachmann and Stillwater lobbyist Ed Cain|
UPDATE, JULY 27, 2011:
Ripple in Stillwater author Karl Bremer has filed a formal complaint with the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board (CFB) over the alleged lobbying of unregistered lobbyist Mike Campbell on behalf of the City of Stillwater. After reviewing the complaint, the CFB will determine whether to proceed with an investigation of the matter. According to the CFB, within 30 days, the board will make a public finding of whether or not there is probable cause to believe a violation has occurred.
Friday, July 22, 2011
Minnesota Congresswoman has a long history of sloppy paperwork and is currently under fire from the FEC for incomplete filings.
By Karl Bremer
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Grand Jury indictment charges Frank Vennes Jr. with 24 counts of fraud, money laundering and making false statements
By Karl Bremer
A PARDON AND A PONZI
“Petters’ inventory finance operation was a Ponzi scheme,” the indictment charges.
Between 2001 and 2008, the indictment states, Vennes made more than $80 million related to Metro Gem investments in PCI notes. That was in addition to the $60 million in commissions he raked in from the Palm Beach Funds investments in PCI.
PALM BEACH FUNDS
Friday, July 15, 2011
By Karl Bremer
Was Vennes trying to buy political support for a presidential pardon through the disbursement of tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to politicians who might be sympathetic to his plight? While there is no conclusive evidence to prove that Vennes was buying influence with politicians who supported his pardon efforts, it’s hard to ignore the fact that he donated so much money to those whose support he sought and received, particularly those like Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (MN-6) for whom he wasn’t even a constituent. At the very least, money appears to have bought the ear of Minnesota politicians for Vennes.
“On the one hand, it’s not unusual for a member of Congress to write letters on behalf of their constituents, and these letters are sometimes helpful to the process,” says a former government official familiar with the pardon process. “On the other hand, it would obviously be problematic if these were made in exchange for campaign contributions, whether express or implied. It is highly unusual for someone to write a letter on behalf of a nonconstituent,” the official noted.
Indeed, the House Ethics Manual addresses that issue specifically.
“If a member has personal knowledge regarding a matter or an individual, he or she may always communicate that knowledge to agency officials,” the manual states. “As a general matter, however, a member should not devote official resources to casework for individuals who live outside the district.”
Bachmann and Pawlenty—both of whom are running for president—and Coleman have refused repeatedly to respond to inquiries from myself about Frank Vennes Jr. But one common thread connects them—and former President George W. Bush—to the convicted money launderer: the controversial faith-based drug/alcohol rehab ministry Teen Challenge.
Bachmann responded vaguely to WCCO-TV’s Esme Murphy in October 2008 about her relationship with Vennes, which she said began with Minnesota Teen Challenge:
“I knew Frank Vennes through Teen Challenge and saw that he had made a remarkable transformation in his life, and he told me his goal was to give as much money as he could to charity so that more people could find freedom in their life. And I thought that was great, so I supported him.”
Coleman, responding to an inquiry about Frank Vennes Jr. from MinnPost reporter Eric Black last April, also said he knew Vennes through Teen Challenge but added: “I am not privy to, or aware of, what role he may have played in the Petters saga. My advocacy for Frank nearly a decade ago pre-dated anything I am aware of that had to do with Tom Petters.”
Although he has never been clear about his relationship with Vennes, Pawlenty shares a common interest with Vennes in Minnesota Teen Challenge too. Besides steering Minnesota Teen Challenge investments to Petters’ company, Vennes served on the Minnesota Teen Challenge Board of Directors with Mary Pawlenty, Tim Pawlenty’s wife. And in 2009, Pawlenty donated nearly $86,000 from his defunct gubernatorial campaign fund to Minnesota Teen Challenge.
Teen Challenge was a favorite charity of President Bush’s as well. He spoke highly of the organization in the 2006 video below. He went to bat for them in his first term as governor of Texas when a state agency threatened to take away Teen Challenge’s operating license for failing to follow regulations, according to this Frontline report. Bush was keynote speaker at the 2010 Teen Challenge Wisconsin Banquet in
Was it President Bush himself who asked for that second look when he saw a kindred soul in Vennes’ deep involvement with Teen Challenge? Or was someone else running interference for Vennes at the White House?
"Honestly, it is a real shame that the Pardon Attorney can't command more respect in his own agency -- which is precisely what has made the Justice Department so unhelpful to the President in clemency matters over the past 20 years.”
Some in the academic and legal community who follow presidential pardons closely fear that cases such as Vennes’ could taint the process so that less-politically-connected pardon candidates won’t get a fair shake. Or, that politicians will fear recommending a pardon for anyone, regardless of the merits of their case.
Once headed for a pardon by President Bush for his earlier crimes, Frank Vennes Jr. could be headed for prison again instead. It’s a strange twist of fate for a former North Dakota pawnbroker-turned-multimillionaire and felon who once counted among his friends two current candidates for the White House and some of Minnesota’s leading political figures.
Vennes’ fraud and money-laundering trial is scheduled to begin in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis February 6, 2012—right in the middle of presidential primary season. That might focus enough attention on Vennes’ pardon to get some politicians to explain their cozy relationship with him. It might also spur others to address the concerns expressed above about flaws in the pardon process itself.
Stay tuned--things could get very interesting before this is all over.
UPDATE: Vennes indicted July 19 on 24 counts of fraud, money laundering and making false statements.
Additional research and graphic artwork by Ken Avidor.
Read Part 1 of "Lawyers, Guns & Money" here.
Read Part 2 of "Lawyers, Guns & Money" here.
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
By Karl Bremer
Convicted money launderer and gun/cocaine trafficker Frank Elroy Vennes Jr. filed his application for executive clemency—a presidential pardon—with the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Pardon Attorney on
On that same day, John D. Raffaelli, one of Capitol Hill’s leading lobbyists with The Washington Group, sent a letter to Bruce R. Lindsey, assistant and deputy counsel to President Bill Clinton, in support of Vennes’ petition for a pardon.
Raffaelli had spent four years as counsel to Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-TX). He got to know Vennes through Walter Mondale, who as a U.S. Senator was good friends with Bentsen. Mondale had asked Raffaelli to help Vennes with his pardon petition at the request of his son, former State Senator Ted Mondale, who knew Vennes.
Ted Mondale joined Tom Petters’ Petters Group as an executive vice-president in 1998, so it’s likely he met Vennes through his work there. Mondale’s campaign for governor in 1998 received a $2,000 donation from Vennes—Frank’s first political contribution.
Ted Mondale did not respond to phone and email requests for an interview about Frank Vennes Jr. Walter Mondale’s Minneapolis law office, Dorsey & Whitney, said Mondale was too busy for an interview.
‘A PRETTY GOOD TALKER’
“My involvement with Frank Vennes began and ended in 2000,” recalls Raffaelli. Walter Mondale asked Raffaelli to “help (Vennes) figure out how
Vennes’ story impressed Raffaelli. “I was touched by him and thought it was certainly worth it to look at it.” Vennes told him he needed a pardon because “at that time, he was doing a prison ministry thing. He couldn’t go into any federal prison because of his conviction.”
After examining the record of his conviction, he says, “It really does look like a pretty strong case of entrapment.”
Raffaelli referred Vennes to Margaret Colgate Love, a private practice attorney who served as U.S. Pardon Attorney under the Clinton Administration from 1990-1997. Love now represents pardon applicants, and she ended up representing Vennes in his pardon petition process.
“I didn’t have any idea how the pardon process works,” says Raffaelli. “I had never been asked to recommend one before … I compared it to trying to get the church to approve an annulment.”
Raffaelli wrote his letter of recommendation for Vennes to the White House on
“There are a number of unusual and questionable governmental actions surrounding the original conviction of Mr. Vennes,” Raffaelli wrote. “But more importantly, since his release from prison, he has been a model citizen and humanitarian. His story is very compelling ... I am confident that President Clinton will find him a worthy applicant for a pardon.”
When he met with Vennes, Raffaelli says, “He seemed like a guy who was pretty proud of what he did in business. I talked to him quite a bit. I probed him quite a lot about what he was doing. I guess he was a pretty good talker.”
When informed of the details of Vennes’ most recent indictment on fraud and money laundering charges, Raffaelli replied sorrowfully: “I’m still just shocked … I’m really sick about Frank.”
President Clinton never acted on Vennes’ pardon petition.
Vennes’ pardon petition was referred to the U.S. Attorney’s Office
Vennes made his next political contribution on
Vennes made his first donation of $250 to Tim Pawlenty in December 2001($250), and his and his brother’s family dropped another $8,000 into Pawlenty’s campaign in January 2002. Vennes’ personal lawyer, Craig Howse, gave $550 to Pawlenty in February.
“Since his release from prison, Mr. Vennes has been very active in the Christian faith and in conveying the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Bible to others,” wrote Leo F.J. Wilking, Vennes lawyer, in an affidavit to U.S. District Court in
“Although Mr. Vennes is under no legal obligation to make any further payment on the Order for restitution,” Wilkings noted, “he has the financial resources to do so and feels he has a moral obligation to make such a payment.”
Copy of a check for $47,822.64 from Frank Vennes Jr. to the U.S. Treasury, which was placed in his pardon petition file.
"The defendant's motion is indeed a pleasant surprise," wrote District of North Dakota U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley in a May 2, 2002 response to Vennes' payment. "Mr. Vennes had no legaal obligation of any kind to make this offer. His willingness to do so represents genuine rehabilitation."
Vennes cut a check to the U.S. Treasury for $47,822.64. A copy of the affidavit and the check were placed in his pardon petition file.
The Vennes money pipeline continued to flow to Republicans. Vennes gave $10,750 to the Minnesota House Republican Campaign Committee (HRCC) in June 2002, $8,000 to Norm Coleman’s Rally for leadership Fund in July, and $3,000 to the Republican Party of Minnesota in August. Colby Vennes, Frank’s son, chipped in $2,000 to the Pawlenty’s gubernatorial campaign in August.
Vennes’ pardon petition was referred back to the U.S. Attorney’s Office
“Being well-acquainted with Frank and his wife Kim, I want to encourage President Bush to give Frank a pardon,” Coleman wrote. “Frank is a very successful businessman, known for his integrity and fine character. He has shared his success with others by being seriously involved in a number of faith-based outreach organizations and being a more than generous financial contributor to those organizations. His efforts and contributions have had a significant influence for the good of
Coleman went on to write that he wanted 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; Freedom of Information Act requests did not turn up pardon letters from either. Pawlenty has refused to respond to repeated requests for explanations of his relationship with Frank Vennes Jr. or his role in Vennes’ pardon request.
This wasn’t the first time that the paths of Pawlenty, Coleman and Rove had crossed. Pawlenty and Coleman each came to their respective races in 2002 as a result of Rove’s and Vice President Dick Cheney’s intervention in 2001. Pawlenty originally had intended to challenge Paul Wellstone for the U.S. Senate, but then on
"On behalf of the president and the vice president of the
The White House confirmed that Bush, Cheney and Rove had discussed the Minnesota Senate race and that Coleman enjoyed strong support in the White House.
Less than a month later, after Coleman sent his first letter of support for Vennes to Rove, Vennes’ file was referred to the Deputy Attorney General.
Vennes wrote a $10,000 check to the House Republican Campaign Committee in May 2003.
Normally, according to sources familiar with the process, the Deputy Attorney General would sign off the OPA’s recommendation and send it on to the White House. In this case, however, Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson sat on it for six months and then returned it to the OPA.
Vennes made an end-of-the-year 2003 campaign contribution of $5,000 to Coleman’s Northstar Leadership PAC, and the spigot kept flowing from various members of the Vennes family to Pawlenty and the GOP. Frank Vennes dumped another $10,000 on the HRCC in August 2004.
“I personally know Mr. Vennes and find him to be trustworthy, extremely dedicated to his community and compassionate about serving others less fortunate than himself, and a talented successful businessman,” Coleman wrote.
Coleman touted Vennes’ numerous business endeavors and his work with faith-based groups and prison ministries. He stated unequivocally that “Mr. Vennes’ moral and ethical standards more than justify your consideration of his pardon application; the pardon will eliminate the continuing stigma of a conviction which limits Mr. Vennes’ ability to reach out and share with others in similar situations as Mr. Vennes’ past. Mr. Vennes’ faith is very real.”
Four weeks later the Vennes file was referred back to the FBI for a second time, where it stayed for only a week before being returned to the OPA
On April 29, Frank’s file was sent back to the Deputy Attorney General, and Roger Adams in the OPA sent a memo to Deputy Attorney General James B. Comey with an apparent recommendation to approve it.
Vennes’ file was referred back to the Office of Pardon Attorney from the Deputy Attorney General in December 2005, apparently one more attempt to get the Pardon Office to recommend a denial.
CAMPAIGN CASH FOR BACHMANN
Within the next two weeks, the Vennes family gave $2,250 to Pawlenty, and then Bachmann got on the Vennes gravy train with a whopping $16,800 from Frank, Kimberly (Frank’s wife), Gregory and Stephanie Vennes before the end of the year.
Six members of the Vennes family, along with Vennes lawyer Craig Howse, jump-started Tim Pawlenty’s 2006 gubernatorial campaign with $2,000 each in January. In March, Vennes’ case was referred to the FBI for a third time. That was followed by a flurry of activity in April between the FBI, Pardon Attorney and Deputy Attorney General.
White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove gets the bum's rush from Stillwater after attending a July 21, 2006 fundraiser for Congresswoman Michele Bachmann.
It appears Vennes’ case was referred back to the Pardon Office by the White House in July 2007 and then to the FBI for a fourth time, according to OPA documents. The White House, according to an Oct. 6, 2008 email sent from Ronald Rodgers in the OPA to Kenneth Lee in the White House, had asked the OPA to “take a second look” at Vennes’ pardon petition sometime prior to July 1, 2008.
After receiving a total of $38,000 in campaign contributions from the Vennes family and Frank’s lawyer’s family over the previous 24 months, Bachmann wrote a glowing letter of recommendation for Vennes’ pardon on December 10, 2007. Vennes was not then and never had been a constituent of Bachmann’s. That was the same month that Vennes suspected that Petters was running a fraudulent operation, according to information obtained by federal investigators through secretly recorded conversations in 2008.
“As a U.S. Representative, I am confident of Mr. Vennes’ successful rehabilitation and that a pardon will be good for the neediest of society,” Bachmann wrote to the Office of Pardon Attorney. “Mr. Vennes is seeking a pardon so that he may be further used to help others. As I know from personal experience, Mr. Vennes has used his business position and success to fund hundreds of nonprofit organizations dedicated to helping the neediest in our society.”
Bachmann noted that Vennes needed a pardon because he “still encounters the barriers of his past and especially in the area of finance loan documents.” Bachmann has refused to further explain the nature of her “personal experience” with Vennes or provide clarification of the finance loan documents to which she refers in her letter.
THE HOME STRETCH
According to documents obtained from the Office of Pardon Attorney, on
Three weeks later, Vennes’ lawyer, Craig Howse, donated another $1,000 to Bachmann’s campaign.
On June 30, Vennes and his wife sweetened Bachmann’s campaign fund with $9,200 more and Craig and Lisa Howse gave another $2,000 to Bachmann.
PETTERS: Now I got ‘em believing that we can get him a way out.
Additional research and artwork by Ken Avidor.
In Part 3 of “Lawyers Guns & Money,” Ripple in
Read Part 1 of "Lawyers, Guns & Money" here.
Friday, July 8, 2011
A Ripple in Stillwater Exclusive Report
By Karl Bremer
And, based on the sequence of events outlined in those documents, it appears something happened at the White House regarding Vennes’ pardon petition sometime between April 2006, when the OPA recommended the White House deny the pardon, and Summer 2007, when the White House returned Vennes’ pardon case to the OPA and asked that they “take a second look at” it.
Frank Elroy Vennes Jr. was convicted in North Dakota of money laundering and illegal firearms and cocaine trafficking charges in 1987, served 38 months in federal prison in Sandstone, MN, and a decade or so after his release, began laying the groundwork for a presidential pardon. Vennes and his family were major campaign contributors to presidential candidates Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, former U.S. Senator Norm Coleman, and state Republican Party entities.
Vennes and his family also contributed to Sen. Amy Klobuchar and former State Sen. Ted Mondale, who now chairs the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission.
This was not good news for Bachmann, who was in the midst of a tough re-election fight against DFLer Elwyn Tinklenberg. One of her top campaign contributors and personal friends for whom she had solicited a presidential pardon for earlier crimes of money laundering was now implicated in the largest Ponzi scheme fraud in the history of
“Regrettably, it now appears that I may have too hastily accepted his claims of redemption and I must withdraw my previous letter … While Mr. Vennes showed public regret, he still clearly needs to reconcile his inner struggles and I am no longer convinced that he would be an appropriate candidate for a Presidential pardon,” Bachmann concluded.
That same day, displaying further signs of panic just weeks before the election, Bachmann tried to symbolically wash her hands of the Vennes’ most recent campaign contributions by donating the sum of $9,200—an amount equal to Frank and Kimberly Vennes’ June 30 donations to Bachmann, but only a small portion of Bachmann’s total take from the Vennes and Howse families—to Minnesota Teen Challenge, an organization closely linked with Vennes. That didn’t work out so well for the congresswoman either. Minnesota Teen Challenge returned the donation to Bachmann two weeks later.
Bachmann went on to win re-election with the Vennes’ substantial financial support and barely a mention of her close relationship with the convicted money launderer and Ponzi suspect in the local mainstream media. Coleman lost to Al Franken in the closest statewide election in
FRANK VENNES JR.’S RAP SHEET
“IRS agents investigating suspected money laundering by certain
Vennes served 38 months in the Federal Correctional Facility in Sandstone, MN, was released in
Following his release from prison, Vennes did not appeal his sentence or conviction. But he commenced a “Bivens action” against the federal government seeking $10 million in damages from “unnamed federal agents for entrapment, outrageous conduct, and willful violation of the tax laws.”
According to a judicial opinion from the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, Vennes testified that at the prompting of undercover agents posing as
“When Vennes returned without the money,” the opinion states, “the Chicago businessmen revealed themselves to be members of the Mafia and threatened … to dismember his children if he failed to recoup this money (perhaps suspecting that their superiors would be none too pleased at the loss of $100,000 of government money). These newly-revealed mobsters then suggested that Vennes engage in illegal drug and firearms transactions in an effort to recoup the money and thereby avoid serious bodily harm to him and his family. Vennes did so, the efforts to recoup the money were unsuccessful, and Vennes was eventually charged with a panoply of crimes.”
Vennes told the court that “I did get involved with some drug deals, but I lost money on those too, or got ripped off, so that there was never any money to repay the agent.”
The District Court acknowledged that “the underlying factual situation … is wondrously bizarre. Especially fascinating is speculating about the scene which occurred when the undercover agents tried to explain the loss of $100,000.”
However, Vennes failed to convince the court that he was entrapped, most notably since he pleaded either guilty or no contest to the charges. In dismissing Vennes’ claims, North Dakota U.S. District Judge Patrick Conmy wrote that “The record reveals that at one point, Vennes purchased cocaine from his own source in
Additionally, at sentencing, according to the appeals court record, “Vennes’s attorney stated that the presentence report was complete, fair and thoroughly professional. He further stated that he was not ‘in any way indicating that these government agents acted in an improper fashion.’”
Vennes argued that he pleaded guilty and no contest on the advice of his attorney, whom he accused of “ineffective assistance.”
In May 1995, Vennes began doing business with Tom Petters, through whom he eventually would make tens of millions of dollars in commissions for steering investors—many of them evangelical Christian groups and investors—to Petters’ Ponzi scheme. Three years later, Vennes began to lay the groundwork for his presidential pardon: cultivating
Vennes’ first foray into politics was a $2,000 contribution to Ted Mondale’s gubernatorial campaign on
In Part II of "Lawyers, Guns & Money," Ripple in Stillwater lays out the political and money timeline of the Frank Vennes Jr. pardon.
Research and graphics assistance by Ken Avidor