Sheriff's employees appear in court on fraud chargesby Laura Yuen, Minnesota Public Radio
Two Ramsey County Sheriff's office employees who are accused of stealing money during an FBI sting pleaded not guilty Thursday in federal court. The men's lawyers say the whole incident is a big misunderstanding.
St. Paul, Minn. — Defense attorneys said the two men had no intentions of stealing the $6,000 they allegedly pocketed in a St. Paul hotel room in 2004.
At the time, Mark Naylon was a public information officer with the sheriff's department. Tim Rehak was a St. Paul cop.
At the time, Naylon and Rehak were pursuing a tip that a drug trafficker was renting the room. The tip actually was part of an FBI set-up called an integrity test.
Naylon's lawyer Paul Rogosheske told reporters the two men initially took the money as part of a prank against a sheriff's deputy who joined them on the search of the hotel room.
"It happens all the time. You pull pranks on people on your business, I pull pranks on people in my business. Police officers pull pranks all the time on one another," Rogosheske said.
According to the indictment, Naylon and Rehak reported $7,500. Then several hours later, they became suspicious and reported the additional $6,000 and turned it in the next day.
Retired St. Paul police officer Doug Wills used to work in the department's internal affairs unit. He said pranks are part of cop culture. But Wills said he has never heard of officers pretending to take money or evidence of any kind while trying to be funny.
"I would say there are some areas where you would want to kind of be reluctant to pull pranks on, certainly something as sensitive as funds, evidence, if you will, of any kind of evidence and tampering with it, it certainly can backfire," Wills said.
But Wills also saids he was surprised to read about the charges involving one of his former patrol officers. He remembered Tim Rehak as a proactive cop who had close ties to the community he served.
"Tim was one of those people where he knew the people in his neighborhood. He worked on the East Side. It was a tough area to work, and he was very good at what he did," Wills said.
Rehak's lawyer said the federal case against the veteran cop is flimsy. Attorney Kevin Short pointed out that the two men eventually reported all the money they discovered.
"I defy anybody to show me another federal case where a federal official, city council member, police officer anywhere in the United States is accused of taking some money, and then getting cold feet and putting it back, and that's all they've got," Short said.
Rehak and Mark Naylon are on paid leave. They're both close friends with Sheriff Bob Fletcher. The sheriff hired Rehak last year as an inspector.
Yesterday he said in a statement that the two men would lose their jobs if convicted. If acquitted, the men would be investigated by internal affairs.
Fletcher urged the public to "resist the temptation to try this case in the media."
But there's some indication the case may be reflecting on the sheriff himself.
Ramsey County board Chair Jan Parker said some of her constituents are paying attention to this case, as well as other controversies involving Fletcher.
"I've heard more calls in the last few weeks about the sheriff than I've had in 10 years," Parker said.
Last month, the county reached a settlement in a lawsuit alleging the sheriff had retaliated against lieutenant who ran against him in the 2002 race. The county paid the lieutenant and one of his supporters $750,000 as part of the settlement.
But Parker said the county board isn't authorized to interfere with any management decisions concerning the sheriff's department. She said it's up to voters to weigh in on the sheriff's performance.
Fletcher declined requests for interviews through his spokeswoman.
- All Things Considered, 03/13/2008, 5:24 p.m.