Crow Wing County commissioners heard a request for a special prosecutor Tuesday.
The county took no action on the request but listened to several people who spoke on the issue during the open forum.
Alan Stene said his son, James, a Clark Lake Homes resident, was taken by the group home staff to vote this past fall. Stene described his 35-year-old son as a vulnerable adult who suffered a traumatic brain injury after a near-drowning when he was 12. Stene said his son’s mental capabilities are between the ages of 10-15 and a voter fraud crime was committed using his son.
In December, Crow Wing County Attorney Don Ryan said he did not find evidence supporting a claim of voter fraud.
At Tuesday’s board meeting, Stene said the county’s investigation focused on the voter fraud and closed prematurely. He said his son’s case was not unique and other individuals were involved.
In a written and notarized statement, Stene said: “It is apparent to me that James was exploited by these individuals who were caring for him by bringing him to vote.”
Stene spoke to the board and was accompanied by his son. Stene said he now lives in Montana and only recently learned of the October voting incident. In his statement, Stene said his son is mentally incompetent and very coachable, leading to his belief someone filled in his son’s ballot.
Stene told commissioners his son was “made to vote” by the group home. James, in a halting voice, said he was made to vote.
Lynn Peterson, owner of Clark Lake Home, did not return a call seeking comment following Tuesday’s meeting.
Stene said he was before the board on an exploitation issue, not a voter fraud issue.
“If you can’t do anything for me, you tell me who can and I will be there, my son and I will be there,” Stene said.
At the Tuesday meeting, Ryan took issue with Stene’s statements, saying Stene misrepresented their conversations when speaking to the board.
Ryan said when he sat down and spoke to James “he personally informed me he did want to vote not that someone made him to vote. ...
“I think it’s a bad thing to come in and try to create an issue in an open forum setting and when it will be televised,” Ryan said. “There currently is an investigation pending into the exploitation of a vulnerable adult.”
In December, Ryan reported his office did not find evidence to substantiate a Crow Wing Township resident’s claim of voter fraud. On Nov. 1, Montgomery Jensen of Crow Wing Township filed a complaint with Ryan’s office.
In his affidavit, Jensen said he witnessed what appeared to be staff members from a group home filling out a client’s ballot and verbally instructing a client who to vote for during absentee balloting.
At the time, Ryan said it was appropriate for Jensen to bring his concerns of voter assistance fraud to his office but Ryan said he didn’t have evidence to charge anyone for voter assistance fraud.
Ryan said what Jensen observed was somewhat substantiated but he didn’t have evidence beyond a reasonable doubt of a crime.
Tuesday, Jensen said he’s been looked at as a nuisance as has the Minnesota Freedom Council. Jensen said he was denied access to his statements following sheriff’s department interviews. Jensen said he’s received conflicting stories from county employees that led him to believe they have no interest in upholding the law or protecting vulnerable adults, which he said was unacceptable. Jensen said Ryan told him his complaint was justified and yet no charges were filed.
Jensen requested the appointment of a special investigator, who is not associated with Crow Wing County.
Ryan said he was not aware of the county’s ability to appoint a special prosecutor.
County board chair Paul Thiede said he was trying to be fair to the speakers but a lot of the things were out of the county board’s hands, noting the board was limited in its power as well.
“The board is willing to listen, willing to say this is a very serious matter,” Thiede said. “I think we have taken it seriously. We are taking it seriously. ... I don’t know if we can do much but accept what you said today.”
Thiede said it sounded as if the dispute may be resolved in the courts but the board tried to be fair in letting the people raise the issue.
Stene said while he wasn’t trying to distance himself from the others before the board regarding the voter fraud, but his concern was a separate one.
Ron Kaus, a volunteer with the Minnesota Freedom Council, presented the board with a thick packet of data, including copies of absentee voter packets. Guy Green was present with the other speakers but did not address the board.
Kaus also requested a special prosecutor to see if Ryan was in violation of state statute.
“There are obvious things that have not been done among other things and our central theme has been a thorough investigation and to defend the exploitation of the vulnerable,” Kaus said. “We have no dog in the race other than that.”
Ryan said to investigate whether a county attorney was guilty of extreme prosecutorial inaction means a petition to the governor who would assign the attorney general to investigate by convening a grand jury.
“I stand by my prior decisions and I will not be intimidated by those who want to come before this board or any other public board in an attempt to insinuate, threaten or intimidate, the way in which prosecution or law enforcement is conducted,” Ryan said.
Ryan said he has been working on efforts to host a June educational public forum to explain the rights to vote for those people who are under guardianships.
Thiede said it wasn’t his intention to embroil the county board in this. Thiede said he believed the board is interested in protecting the voting rights of the people.
RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5852.