Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Ripple in Stillwater Updates

By Karl Bremer
A recent FBI bulletin regarding the "sovereign citizen" movement caught our eye here at Ripple in Stillwater. We reported extensively on local hate-radio celebrity and former "sovereign citizen" Bradley Dean Smith in 2010-11, and thought the FBI's renewed interest in this movement was worth an update.

Likewise, recent reports that the fraudster known as "Bobby Thompson" may now be in New Mexico should be of interest to those who followed my award-winning investigation into the Minnesota operations of "Bobby Thompson" and his fraudulent Navy Veterans charity.

The FBI and several states are taking the “sovereign citizen” movement a little more seriously these days. You might remember our own local “sovereign citizen”—Bradley Dean Smith, aka “Bradlee Dean,” of the Annandale-based hate “ministry” You Can Run But You Cannot Hide International. Dean, who was the subject of a Ripple in Stillwater investigation in 2010-11, renounced his "allegiance to the world" to become a “sovereign citizen” in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Smith’s “citizenship” in the Kingdom of Heaven was issued in November 2003 and expired in November 2010, according to his online Embassy of Heaven ID:

“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."
While Smith’s escapades with the Embassy of Heaven might sound loopy, the FBI has taking a more jaundiced look at the sovereign citizen movement recently.
“The FBI considers sovereign-citizen extremists as comprising a domestic terrorist movement, which, scattered across the United States, has existed for decades, with well-known members, such as Terry Nichols, who helped plan the Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, bombing,” says a September 2011 bulletin from the FBI’s Counterterrorism Analysis Section.

“They could be dismissed as a nuisance, a loose network of individuals living in the United States who call themselves “sovereign citizens” and believe that federal, state, and local governments operate illegally. Some of their actions, although quirky, are not crimes. The offenses they do commit seem minor: They do not pay their taxes and regularly create false license plates, driver’s licenses, and even currency.

“However, a closer look at sovereign citizens’ more severe crimes, from financial scams to impersonating or threatening law enforcement officials, gives reason for concern,” the report continues.

The FBI bulletin cites several instances where sovereign citizens resorted to violence and notes:

“Although the sovereign-citizen movement does not always rise to violence, its members’ illegal activities and past violent—including fatal—incidents against law enforcement make it a group that should be approached with knowledge and caution. It is important that law enforcement be aware of sovereign citizens’ tactics so agencies can warn the public of potential scams, spot illegal activity and understand its potential severity, and be prepared for and protect against violent behavior or backlash through intimidation and harassment.”

While Smith’s ugly, homophobic, on-air diatribes against gays often push the envelope, there is no record of any violent or illegal activity on behalf of or connected to You Can Run But You Cannot Hide International.

It’s not known whether Smith still has any affiliation with the Embassy of Heaven or any other sovereign citizen organization. He took legal action in 2008 to sever his ties with Glen Stoll of Edmonds, WA, who introduced Smith to the Embassy of Heaven and allegedly induced him to establish ministerial “trusts” under the auspices of his sovereign citizen organization, the Family Defense League. These trusts were described in Smith’s court filings as “false and fraudulent schemes” and “shams, devoid of economic substance.”

In March 2009, District Court Judge Stephen Halsey granted Smith’s church and organization, Old Paths Church, Inc. and YCR, Inc., their motion for a summary judgment against Stoll that terminated Stoll’s trusts and removed Stoll as trustee.

Nonetheless, the FBI’s September 2011 bulletin predicts:

“The sovereign-citizen threat likely will grow as the nationwide movement is fueled by the Internet, the economic downturn, and seminars held across the country that spread their ideology and show people how they can tap into funds and eliminate debt through fraudulent methods. As sovereign citizens’ numbers grow, so do the chances of contact with law enforcement and, thus, the risks that incidents will end in violence. Law enforcement and judicial officials must understand the sovereign-citizen movement, be able to identify indicators, and know how to protect themselves from the group’s threatening tactics.”

You Can Run But You Cannot Hide International had a
recruiting and merchandise table at Michele Bachmann's
April 2010 fundraiser with half-term Gov. Sarah Palin.

"Bobby Thompson" and President George W. Bush
The noose may be tightening around the man known as “Bobby Thompson,” who led a fraudulent nationwide veterans’ charity that allegedly bilked thousands of donors out of tens of millions of dollars.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, whose original investigation revealed the elaborate charity scheme in 2010, U.S. Marshals are concentrating their search for “Thompson” in Albuquerque, NM. The owners of several of the con man’s stolen identities, including “Bobby Thompson,” reportedly had ties to Albuquerque or New Mexico.

Ripple in Stillwater’s award-winning investigation into “Thompson” found that the Minnesota operations of his phony U.S. Navy Veterans Association took in more than $1.5 million over a six-year period, with little more than a UPS drop box for a presence in  the state. Very little of the $1.5 million was ever accounted for.

The Minnesota Attorney General’s Office has conducted little, if any, investigation into “Thompson” or his scam, despite the fact that he has been the subject of numerous other state and national investigations. The Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board fined “Thompson” $21,000 for illegal campaign contributions as a result of an investigation of a complaint filed by Ripple in Stillwater.

In what clearly looks like a money-laundering and/or illegal campaign contribution scheme, the U.S. Navy Veterans Association collected millions from unsuspecting donors while “Thompson” gave thousands of dollars to Minnesota Republican politicians, including Michele Bachmann, the state GOP and other GOP political entities. His most recent donation in Minnesota was $5,000 to “Patriot PAC,” a political action committee formed by GOP operative Joey Gerdin.

Gerdin says she met the alleged con man in St. Paul at a fundraiser she hosted during the 2008 Republican National Convention.

“He seemed like a nice guy, completely congenial, supportive of veterans. Seemed like your typical patriot to me,” Gerdin told Ripple in Stillwater. She has since refused to talk about “Thompson,” or his $5,000 illegal contribution to her PAC.

For reasons yet unknown, “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.

“Thompson” is currently wanted by several states and federal agencies for money laundering, fraud and identity theft.

Milk carton graphic: Ken Avidor

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Redistricting poses tough choices for Bachmann's political future

By Karl Bremer

Minnesota’s congressional redistricting maps released today present a dilemma for our MIA failed presidential candidate Congresswoman Michele Bachmann.

In a nutshell:

  • Bachmann’s million-dollar golf course palace in West Lakeland Township is now in the 4th CD represented by Betty McCollum, presenting a possible match-up between Bachmann and McCollum.
  • Fearing a real opponent in McCollum, Bachmann has vowed to run in the 6th CD rather than in the 4th CD in which she lives. That Bachmann would consider representing a district in which she doesn’t live—and isn’t required by law to live in—should surprise no one. Bachmann has been running for president and claiming to represent Iowa for the past year while purportedly representing Minnesota’s 6th CD in Congress.
  • Bachmann’s marquee issue—the $700-million Boondoggle Bridge across the St. Croix River—will be null and void for her if she decides to run in the 6th CD, as the proposed new bridge site in Oak Park Heights, the City of Stillwater and the old Stillwater Lift Bridge are now in the 4th CD—McCollum’s district. That will leave the Star-Tribune and Pioneer Press newspaper editorialists, along with Stillwater Mayor Ken Harycki and his cronies, looking like fools for chastising McCollum to stay out of the bridge debate because it’s not in her district. This scenario would clearly make the bridge debate McCollum’s issue and not Bachmann’s.

Which will it be, Michele? Face a real challenge from an incumbent congresswoman? Run in a district in which you don’t even live?  Carpetbag into the new 6th CD where you think your wingnut base will send you back to your $174,000-a-year salary to continue promoting yourself?  Abandon your precious Boondoggle Bridge?

Some tough choices ahead for our absentee congresswoman.


In a fundraising email to supporters tonight announcing her plans to run in a congressional district in which she doesn't live, Bachmann charged the five-judge redistricting panel responsible for the "injustice" of placing her in the same district as DFL Congresswoman Betty McCollum with "liberal bias."

"Just as we suspected, the liberal courts have changed the makeup of Minnesota's Congressional districts," Bachmann wrote. Unfortunately, she's lying again.

Of the five judges on the panel, two were appointed by GOP Governors Tim Pawlenty and Arne Carlsen, two were appointed by IP Governor Jesse Ventura, and one was appointed by DFL Governor Rudy Perpich.

"The courts' liberal bias was evident by cherrypicking the districts and going so far as to draw my home — where I have raised my family and represented in Congress for the past six years — outside the new sixth district," Bachmann continued. "I refuse to allow the courts to arbitrarily determine who my friends, neighbors, and constituents are, and I will take every necessary step to correct this injustice.

Another lie.

Bachmann put the 3,200-square foot Stillwater home where she raised her family on the market for $359,000 in 2008 and moved away to a $1.27-million, 5,200-square-foot palace on the 18th hole of Stoneridge Golf Course in West Lakeland Township that same year. She was hardly forced into the move by the "liberal courts."

"I have therefore decided to campaign for re-election in the new sixth district, where a majority of my constituents remain," Bachmann concludes her email, before tapping the rubes for money one more time.

Photo illustration by Ken Avidor.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

'Madness of Michele Bachmann' authors signing books at Valley Bookseller in Stillwater March 3

The authors of The Madness of Michele Bachmann: A Broad-Minded Survey of a Small-Minded Candidate, are coming to Stillwater, Bachmann’s hometown, for a book signing March 3 at Valley Bookseller from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Authors Ken Avidor, Karl Bremer and Eva Young will sign and talk about their book, which chronicles a decade of the Stillwater congresswoman’s foibles, falsehoods and fruitless political career. Valley Bookseller is located at 217 N. Main St. in Stillwater.

Come out and join us. Pick up a copy of this sizzling best seller and get it signed by all three authors. We’re hoping to see Michele, Marcus, and a few of the 28 kids and foster kids come out for this very special event!

Friday, February 17, 2012

More truth, less 'truthiness' needed in St. Croix River Boondoggle Bridge debate

While Michele Bachmann and Mark Dayton would have you
believe the Stillwater Lift Bridge is ready to fall into the
St. Croix, MnDOT says it's safe.

By Karl Bremer

  1. truthiness
The quality of stating concepts one wishes or believes to be true, rather than the facts.

Origin: Stephen Colbert, "The Colbert Report," 2005

Truthiness has been the hallmark of the pimps peddling legislation to allow construction of a $700 million freeway bridge across the federally protected St. Croix River. One would expect a certain amount of truthiness from lobbyists for this boondoggle. But members of Congress--specifically Michele Bachmann and her Wisconsin colleagues--now have employed the tactic in an effort to railroad a House vote through as a “noncontroversial” measure. Minnesota’s two Democratic senators, Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, passed the Senate version of this legislation on a curiously “noncontroversial” voice vote.

The most insidious to date is the recent attempt by Bachmann to peddle her Boondoggle Bridge as a modest $292 million project in a recent "Dear Colleague" letter to members of Congress.

“The St. Croix River Crossing Project includes a new $292 million bridge, which costs less per square foot than the Interstate 35W bridge replacement outside of the Twin Cities,” Bachmann wrote in the letter, which was published in an article for Roll Call and co-authored by Wisconsin Republican Sean Duffy and Democrats Ron Kind and Tammy Baldwin.

That’s simply a lie. This so-called St. Croix River Bridge Crossing Project cannot be built for $292 million, yet that is the only dollar amount that Bachmann and her co-authors cite in the arm-twisting letter to their colleagues. This entire project has a total cost estimate of $574 million to $690 million that still does not include many other ancillary costs associated with the bridge, such as $20 million in utility work for Oak Park Heights, the city where the bridge will lie.

But Bachmann’s never been one to let facts get in the way of her arguments.

So let’s examine Bachmann’s “Dear Colleague” letter and other public pronouncements for further truthiness:

  • $292 million bridge cost.

If only that were true. Unfortunately, Bachmann’s cost is just for the actual bridge portion in the river. She conveniently leaves out the remaining $282-$388 million for Highway 36 construction, Minnesota and Wisconsin approaches, engineering, right of way, environmental mitigation and contingency/risk. Those numbers aren’t from some radical environmentalists either. Those are from MnDOT’s 2011 “Annual Project Summary Report.”

  • Bachmann plays on the fear factor by describing the existing Stillwater bridge as “structurally deficient, functionally obsolete and fracture critical.”

Here’s what MnDOT has to say about “structurally deficient” in its April 2011 “Condition Summary”:

“The fact that a bridge is structurally deficient does not imply that it is unsafe. The classification of structurally deficient is used to determine eligibility for federal bridge replacement or rehabilitation funding. The primary reason the lift bridge is termed “structurally deficient” is because it is subject to flooding that can close the crossing.”

Closing a bridge due to flooding carries a whole different meaning than implying that it’s unsafe to drive on at any time.

  • So what does MnDOT have to say about “functionally obsolete?”
 “The classification functionally obsolete is also used as a justification for federal bridge replacement or rehabilitation funding. Functional obsolete bridges are not inherently unsafe. It does mean that the bridge does not meet the minimum federal clearance requirements for a new bridge.”

Once again, Bachmann takes a term used to justify federal funding for a project—dare we say an earmark—and twists it to suggest that it describes a bridge unsafe for traffic.

  • And then there’s “fracture critical,” the latest favorite term used to describe the Stillwater Lift Bridge by the Chicken Little Boondoggle Bridge proponents who publicly proclaim that they drive across the lift bridge with their doors and windows open.

Says MnDOT in its April 2011 “Condition Summary”: The lift bridge is a fracture-critical bridge because there are two main trusses that support each span of the bridge; if one of these trusses were to fail the span could collapse. The classification of fracture critical does not mean the bridge is inherently unsafe.

So “fracture critical” simply describes the bridge design and has nothing at all to do with its current condition.

  • “The safety rating of the bridge is an astounding 32.8 on a scale of 100, warranting several structural safety concerns,” Bachmann claims.

Bachmann is actually referring to the bridge’s “sufficiency rating,” not safety rating. According to MnDOT, “a bridge’s sufficiency rating is a number that is frequently misunderstood and misused. It is a calculated numerical value that is based on a number of factors and then used to determine eligibility for federal funding.” The “structural safety concerns “ Bachmann cites were taken into consideration by MnDOT when determining its sufficiency rating.

  • Bachmann says the bridge currently sees about 18,200 vehicle crossings per day and then claims that “by 2030, an estimated 48,000 vehicles per day would need to be driving over the bridge.”

That one almost sends the BS meter off the charts. MnDOT’s own figures predict “average daily vehicle traffic on the river crossing of 23,100 at an average vehicle occupancy of 1.30 persons per vehicle by the year 2030 if no new St. Croix River crossing is built, no cross-river modal alternatives are established, and Minnesota and Wisconsin projected development and programmed roadway improvements occur as planned. 

  • “If no bridge is built, already-lengthy traffic wait time is expected to double,” Bachmann states.

What Bachmann fails to mention is that wait times are largely due to frequent bridge lifts during peak summer periods. Yet none of the parties involved have asked the Coast Guard, which controls lift bridge schedules, to consider lowering the frequency of lifts to lower traffic delays commensurately.

  • “We also have the Obama Administration on board,” Bachmann told a tv audience recently.

But when Congresswoman Betty McCollum asked Interior Secretary Ken Salazar about that during a House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior hearing last week, it was news to him.

“That is not my understanding. My understanding is that (Transportation) Secretary (Ray) LaHood and I offered to work with the Congressional delegation from both states to see whether we could find a common ground based on the alternative, which you have proposed, and the alternative other members of the congressional delegation have proposed.”

  • “The existing bridge cannot be removed or replaced because of its placement on the National Registry of Historic Places,” Bachman told her colleagues, “so a new bridge must be built — and soon.”

Not true again, according to Salazar’s response to McCollum when she asked him whether the old lift bridge can be taken out.

“I think it is probably possible. It may take an act of Congress, and I don’t know what else, but there are probably ways in which it can be done although it obviously would be a difficult climb,” Salazar replied.

Bachmann isn’t alone in the Minnesota congressional delegation in her truthiness on the Boondoggle Bridge over the St. Croix. Minnesota Senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, along with Governor Mark Dayton, have been equally disingenuous in leading this full-scale assault on the St. Croix and the Wild & Scenic Rivers System.

It’s time to take Secretary Lahood and Salazar up on their offers to bring the two sides together to hammer out a compromise, despite Bachmann’s contention that their offers are “not productive and are only meant to delay the construction” of her Boondoggle Bridge.

At that time, maybe we can start on a level playing field of the truth, and leave the truthiness to the Colbert Report.

Photo by Karl Bremer.