Inflation Reduction Act to have big impact on Minnesota renewable energy industry, experts say

From electric cars, to solar panels.

The $740-billion Climate and Health Care Bill, also known as the Inflation Reduction Act — passed by the U.S. House Friday — could well have a significant impact in Minnesota, experts say.

Especially to those who switch to solar power or decide to buy an electric car.  

“This provides a foundation for the next decade,” says Griffin Dooley, president of the Minnesota Solar Energy Industries Association. “There’s also a lot of additional grants and financing support for businesses throughout the clean energy supply chain.”

Democrats called it a day of celebration.

“When President Biden took office with a Democratic congress, we promised results,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. “We are delivering.”

Republicans called the legislation wasteful, saying it will raise taxes and family living costs.

“Democrats, more than any other majority in history are addicted to spending other people’s money, regardless of what we as a country can afford,” declared House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

But David Schultz, a political science professor at Hamline University says the bill is a game-changer for Minnesota’s clean energy industry.

“This is one of the most significant bills addressing climate change and renewable energy the U.S. has ever passed,” he says.

Schultz says when he purchased solar panels for his home more than a decade ago, federal tax rebates covered about 30% of the cost.

He says under this bill, those tax breaks could go higher.

“It may not be 100%, but we’re certainly going to be looking at significant outlays in terms of being able to help consumers to buy and install solar panels,” Schultz says.

Homeowners like Virginia Whyte say they’re switching to solar power to make their homes more energy efficient — and reduce the monthly power bill.

“I think it made economic sense,” she notes. “Since I’ve been here, my bill has been going up and up and up — and with the strain on the grid, from what I’m learning, I know I am taking part in alleviating some of that stress.”

Minnesota’s solar power industry is also applauding the legislation.

Dooley estimates the bill will provide $30-billion in grants and loans for solar.

“So one of the major components of the bill is creative incentives and supporting domestic manufacturing like here behind me,” he explains. “This equipment was actually made in America several years ago, and since that time, a lot of these manufacturers have downsized or moved offshore — and so this bill provides ways for these component manufacturers to actually come back and stay in America.”

Dooley is also the CEO of Blue Horizon Energy.

The Minnetonka solar power company, started in 2009, now employs 50 people.

The Minnesota Solar Energy Industries Association says there are now 147 solar companies in Minnesota, generating nearly 4,000 jobs.

Dooley says in 2021 alone, the solar industry invested $191-million statewide.

He believes the bill will make a big difference in clear energy investment in Minnesota.

“We have one of the few domestic manufacturing plants in the country up in the Iron Range,” he says. “So that plant will be supported for expansion through some of these incentives and grants and so forth.”

The bill also includes health care provisions.

It extends subsidies for affordable care act subscribers, allows Medicare to negotiate prices on some prescription drugs, and includes a $35-a-month cap for insulin, the diabetes drug.

The bill’s passage may also be perfect timing for people worried about high gas prices.

Drivers would get a $7,500 tax credit for buying certain new electric vehicles — and $4,000 for a used one.

Schultz says the bill will help fund the construction of more recharging stations across the country — which he says in turn might encourage people to go electric behind the wheel.   

“There’s still not many of them. Electric cars don’t have anywhere near the same, let’s say distance, that you have currently with gasoline-based ones,” he says. “Tax credits for when you buy these cars, it’s going to make it possible to refuel, recharge them as you’re taking trips, which will then create incentives for people to want to buy these cars.”

President Biden says he’ll sign the bill into law next week.  

Minnesota’s film industry welcomes 6 projects after launch of tax credit program

Film crews set up at an old farmhouse in Grant this summer to work on the Signature Films production “Marmalade.” The romantic heist features Camila Morrone, Aldis Hodge, and “Stranger Things” star Joe Keery.

It’s one of the first projects approved under Minnesota’s new film production tax credit program.

“I think out of the gate, it was a small movie but it’s going to be a good movie,” said Anne Healy, the location manager. “This is actually going to be a postcard for Minnesota because we shot at the general store at Marine-on-St. Croix, we were at the drive-in, we were in Stillwater, we were here at the farm, and we were over at Shakopee at a gravel pit.”

Healy met 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS at the farmhouse, which she identified as a potential location due to its historic features. The wallpaper, layout and landscape fit the movie’s aesthetic.

“You would have to pay people a lot of money to make a farmhouse look like this,” said Healy. “We just started scouting and things just fell into place.”

She started in the film industry decades ago when a friend recruited her to help scout ice rinks for “The Mighty Ducks.”

“Two weeks ended up being years,” said Healy. “It was just really, really fun and then right after that ‘Grumpy Old Men’ came.”

Those films were followed by “Fargo,” “Beautiful Girls” and “Jingle All the Way.”

“It was just one after the other after the other,” said Healy. “And that was before anybody had any incentives, it was just that we got these movies on these merits of having crew and locations and it was fun to stay here.”

Louisiana started a film tax credit program in 1992. By the early to mid-2000s more states followed suit, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. At the peak in 2010, 45 states plus Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico had similar programs.

“We weren’t competitive and there wasn’t anything we could do, I just watched my career go away,” said Healy.

There are more than 30 states that currently offer film tax credits.

Film industry advocates pushed for a program in Minnesota for years. In 2021, the Legislature enacted a 25% income tax credit to production companies that spend at least $1 million dollars, in a taxable year, for eligible production costs. The measure passed with bipartisan support.

“It is now a necessarily condition to attracting large or any projects to our state,” said Rep. Dave Lislegard (DFL-Aurora), during a March 2021 House Taxes Committee meeting. “This is really about opportunity for the State of Minnesota, it’s an industry that’s about to explode and they’re looking for a place to go.”

Rep. Joe McDonald (R-Delano) also advocated for the legislation, “What they bring to town and our state, the economic activity and excitement, it’s good for our state and it is good business.”

According to the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), it’s first come-first serve until the program’s annual $5 million cap has been allocated. Unused allocations rollover to the next fiscal year.

DEED told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS $2.3 million rolled forward from the 2022 fiscal year and therefore $7.3 million is available for the 2023 fiscal year.

The HGTV series Renovation 911, the Discovery+ and Magnolia Networks series Family Dinner with Andrew Zimmern and a Mattel TV commercial package are all at various stages of production. Three films — “Marmalade,” “Merry KissCam,” and “Downtown Owl” — were also all approved under the program.

“It provides jobs, it gets people talking about the Twin Cities,” said Kevin Winge, the executive director of the Women’s Club of Minneapolis.

He welcomed the “Marmalade” crews to the Women’s Club in July. About 35 people transformed a room on one of the upper floors of the building, which served as housing for women many decades ago.

“They hung art that was specific to the scene they were shooting,” said Winge, as he walked down the hall. “Everything looked very different.”

He added, “They’re all spending money in the neighborhood, they’re going to Dunn Brothers around the corner, they’re getting coffee and they’re calling out for food, they’re suing Uber, they’re using Lyft drivers.”

The Women’s Club has hosted movie crews in years past. It was featured in the 2014 film Dear White People.

“My greatest hope for the state of Minnesota and the film industry is we go back to where we once were — a leader certainly in the great north for film and TV shoots,” said Winge.

In addition to renting the space, the Marmalade crew also brought attention to the Women’s Club at a pivotal time.

“The Club was closed for a year and a half like so many other places around the world so the added value for us is to show the Women’s Club is back and functioning,” said Winge. “It’s nice to welcome folks back.”

The production spent several weeks shooting at locations across the state. Crowds gathered in Jordan in June to catch a glimpse of Keery.

“The people that did ‘Marmalade,’ they’re thinking about bringing another movie in so, again, it will start over and over again and people will come here because people want to come here,” said Healy. “It gets people out and just it’s really good will, it’s really good will for the state.”

According to DEED, the six projects approved so far represent more than $10.3 million in proposed spending in Minnesota. “Marmalade” is expected to account for nearly $2 million of that total amount. Production companies who apply are required to employ as many Minnesotans as they can.

DEA: Fentanyl use, distribution linked to widespread violent crime in Minneapolis

Minneapolis Police Department data shows areas with the most shooting calls also had high volumes of fentanyl being recovered by law enforcement.

“We have to bring focus and awareness to what’s happening. We don’t want to lose anyone else to this,” Bishop Richard Howell, Shiloh Temple International Ministries, said.

Howell said he’s seen too many caskets come in and out of his church this summer.

“We’re tired. We’re burnt out by death,” he said.

He said the deaths often happen at the hands of drugs and violence.

“I do believe if we get rid of the fentanyl, we’ll probably see a decrease in our violence,” he said.

Shiloh Temple is a Narcan site.

Howell said on the streets of Minneapolis, he sees people in high crime areas using fentanyl and sometimes the consequences are deadly.

“It happens right in the community where they are hovered under a blanket, under a sheet and of course they want to inhale the vapors and not realizing they’re killing themselves,” he said.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officials explained it’s a trend they’ve seen for years.

“DEA continues to see a rise in the trafficking of fentanyl and the rise of violent crime is an association of that,” Angela Von Trytek, Drug Enforcement Administration official, said.

Von Trytek is the assistant special agent in charge in the Twin Cities DEA office.

She said when the agency arrests major violent offenders, they often have one thing in common.

“When they’ve been arrested for violent crimes, there’s always either fentanyl or methamphetamine present at the time of the arrest either in the vehicle, in the residence or on their person,” she said.

Fentanyl is an ongoing epidemic across the country.

Von Trytek said it’s cheap to produce, but taking the drug could cost you.

She explained drugs often throw off the ability to rationalize and it leads to more gun crimes.

“Many people under the influence or that are self medicating with illicit drugs are in the passion or the heat of the moment and they sometimes don’t realize what it is that they’ve done before it’s obviously too late,” she said. “It absolutely makes it easier to pull the trigger.”

Von Trytek said fentanyl is a common denominator in many crimes in Minneapolis and taking it out the equation by getting it off the streets could make communities safer.

“We believe that if we can really tackle the influx of the drug problem that’s coming into the United States, it will decrease the violent crime,” Von Trytek said.

This drug problem goes beyond the Twin Cities.

DEA officials said they are making a lot of progress with targeting high level drug traffickers across the U.S.

Some of that information is confidential at this time, but the agency plans to release updates to the public in the coming months.

Report: FBI seized ‘top secret’ documents from Trump home

The FBI has recovered several documents that were labeled “top secret” from former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS has obtained what appears to be the search warrant executed at the Mar-a-Lago property.

The filing indicates that the Department of Justice, in its search of the Mar-a-Lago estate, is investigating potential violations of at least three separate criminal statutes, including a statute under the espionage act.

According to the warrant, federal agents searched the former president’s office, all storage rooms and other areas used by Trump and his staff.

Among the items seized by agents were several confidential and top secret documents, as well as more than a dozen other boxes of documents and photos.

A federal judge will decide soon whether to grant the Department of Justice’s request to unseal the warrant that authorized the FBI to search the estate.

Attorney General Merrick Garland has declared there is “substantial public interest in this matter,” and Trump has backed the warrant’s “immediate” release.

Garland’s request came after the Justice Department asked a court to unseal the warrant, citing “substantial public interest in the matter.”

Trump has been provided at least some of the records the government is seeking to unseal, but he and his lawyers have declined, so far, to make them public.

Stay with 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS and KSTP.com for updates.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

FBI raid on Trump home leads to unusual fundraising campaign

It might seem counterintuitive that a raid on former President Donald Trump’s home would lead to massive fundraising efforts by Trump and congressional Republicans, but that’s exactly what happened this week.

Not only is Trump’s fundraising operation using the FBI raid to raise money, but so are some Minnesota Republican members of Congress.

Under the banner of “Breaking News,” Rep. Pete Stauber’s campaign for reelection in the 8th Congressional District solicited contributions.

“Just hours after the weaponized political raid of the FBI in his private home, President Trump endorsed me once again!” the fundraising email says. “I appreciate the President’s endorsement, especially at such a critical hour.”

Seventh District Rep. Michelle Fischbach’s campaign sent out a similar fundraising plea:

“Trump has always stood up for the American people and an America First agenda. The FBI and the Department of Justice have been weaponized by the Obama and Biden administrations. They are still coming after him because they want to silence their political opponents. We must always stand and fight for truth, justice, and righteousness. Yesterday’s FBI raid was an affront not only to our former president but an insult to the rule of law. We need to stand up for him since he is standing for Michelle.”

– Rep. Michelle Fischbach fundraising email

“It takes some work to make Trump a sympathetic figure, but having the FBI raid his house does help with that,” says political analyst Steven Schier of Carleton College.

Trump’s various fundraising operations are also cashing in. His son Eric Trump tweeted this week that his father’s website “is shattering all fundraising records and I’m told has raised more money in the past 24 hours than ever before in recent history! The American people are pissed!”

It remains to be seen how the revelations of classified documents being found in the former president’s home by the FBI will impact fundraising efforts.

Virtual reality trailer lets teens test out skilled trades

A virtual reality roadshow making its way across Minnesota hopes to inspire teens to pursue careers in the skilled trades.

The New Ulm-based nonprofit Big Ideas features a Mobile Learning Lab with high-tech simulators, allowing people to try jobs such as welding, excavating and industrial painting.

“If you don’t know a career or a particular job exists, how can you choose it?” said Mary Ann Christensen, co-founder of Big Ideas.

Christensen said when her kids were considering career paths, there seemed to be a stigma around the skilled trades, that it was inferior to a four-year degree.

“So we started with just two moms saying, ‘How do we change the paradigm for these kids?'” Christensen said. “Now we feel like we’re achieving what we’re trying to do, which is just simply to open minds to the possibilities, to the choices.”

The Big Ideas trailer will be at 100 events throughout the state this year.

The virtual reality and augmented reality simulators provide an interactive experience, such as using a band saw to create cabinets.

“You have to learn to crawl before you can walk, walk before you can run, and this is where it all starts,” said Andrew Kish, Mobile Learning Lab coordinator.

Kish worked in the skilled trades as a welder and millwright for more than a decade. Now he helps guide people through the simulators and toward in-demand careers.

“If I change one kid’s mindset at every event, that’s my goal, just to open the horizon,” Kish said.

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS construction has been one of the fastest-growing industries since the start of the pandemic.

There were 137,225 construction-related jobs statewide last year, paying an average wage of $77,250 per year, according to DEED.

State data from 2021 shows the job vacancy rate for cement masons was nearly 20%, construction laborers at more than 10%, and welders at around 8%.

DEED noted the average salaries for many of these in-demand jobs are also higher than people realize. For example, in Minnesota last year, the median yearly wage was $60,000 for carpenters, $81,000 for plumbers and more than $100,000 for boilermakers.

Big Ideas started its road show last year and expects to have reached more than 15,000 students by the end of this year.

“We know, when we engage hands, we open ears and we open brains,” Christensen said.

The Big Ideas Mobile Learning Lab will be outside Mall of America through Sunday.

Congress OKs Dems’ climate, health bill, a Biden triumph

WASHINGTON (AP) — A divided Congress gave final approval Friday to Democrats’ flagship climate and health care bill, handing President Joe Biden a back-from-the-dead triumph on coveted priorities that the party hopes will bolster their prospects for keeping their House and Senate majorities in November’s elections.

The House used a party-line 220-207 vote to pass the legislation, prompting hugs among Democrats on the House floor and cheers by White House staff watching on television. “Today, the American people won. Special interests lost,” tweeted the vacationing Biden, who was shown beaming in a White House photo as he watched the vote on TV from Kiawah Island, South Carolina. He said he would sign the legislation next week.

The measure is but a shadow of the larger, more ambitious plan to supercharge environment and social programs that Biden and his party unveiled early last year. Even so, Democrats happily declared victory on top-tier goals like providing Congress’ largest ever investment in curbing carbon emissions, reining in pharmaceutical costs and taxing large companies, hoping to show they can wring accomplishments from a routinely gridlocked Washington that often disillusions voters.

“Today is a day of celebration, a day we take another giant step in our momentous agenda,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who minutes later announced the final vote as she presided over the chamber. She said the measure “meets the moment, ensuring that our families thrive and that our planet survives.”

Republicans solidly opposed the legislation, calling it a cornucopia of wasteful liberal daydreams that would raise taxes and families’ living costs. They did the same Sunday but Senate Democrats banded together and used Vice President Kamala Harris’ tiebreaking vote t o power the measure through that 50-50 chamber.

“Democrats, more than any other majority in history, are addicted to spending other people’s money, regardless of what we as a country can afford,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. “I can almost see glee in their eyes.”

Biden’s initial 10-year, $3.5 trillion proposal also envisioned free prekindergarten, paid family and medical leave, expanded Medicare benefits and eased immigration restrictions. That crashed after centrist Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said it was too costly, using the leverage every Democrat has in the evenly-divided Senate.

Still, the final legislation remained substantive. Its pillar is about $375 billion over 10 years to encourage industry and consumers to shift from carbon-emitting to cleaner forms of energy. That includes $4 billion to cope with the West’s catastrophic drought.

Spending, tax credits and loans would bolster technology like solar panels, consumer efforts to improve home energy efficiency, emission-reducing equipment for coal- and gas-powered power plants and air pollution controls for farms, ports and low-income communities.

Another $64 billion would help 13 million people pay premiums over the next three years for privately bought health insurance. Medicare would gain the power to negotiate its costs for pharmaceuticals, initially in 2026 for only 10 drugs. Medicare beneficiaries’ out-of-pocket prescription costs would be limited to $2,000 starting in 2025, and beginning next year would pay no more than $35 monthly for insulin, the costly diabetes drug.

The bill would raise around $740 billion in revenue over the decade, over a third from government savings from lower drug prices. More would flow from higher taxes on some $1 billion corporations, levies on companies that repurchase their own stock and stronger IRS tax collections. About $300 billion would remain to defray budget deficits, a sliver of the period’s projected $16 trillion total.

Against the backdrop of GOP attacks on the FBI for its court-empowered search of former President Donald Trump’s Florida estate for sensitive documents, Republicans repeatedly savaged the bill’s boost to the IRS budget. That’s aimed at collecting an estimated $120 billion in unpaid taxes over the coming decade, and Republicans have misleadingly claimed that the IRS will hire 87,000 agents to target average families.

Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Ga., said Democrats would also “weaponize” the IRS with agents, “many of whom will be trained in the use of deadly force, to go after any American citizen.” Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, asked Thursday on “Fox and Friends” if there would be an IRS “strike force that goes in with AK-15s already loaded, ready to shoot some small business person.”

Few IRS personnel are armed, and Democrats say the bill’s $80 billion, 10-year budget increase would be to replace waves of retirees, not just agents, and modernize equipment. They have said typical families and small businesses would not be targeted, with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen directing the IRS this week to not “increase the share of small business or households below the $400,000 threshold” that would be audited.

Republicans say the legislation’s new business taxes will increase prices, worsening the nation’s bout with its worst inflation since 1981. Though Democrats have labeled the measure the Inflation Reduction Act, nonpartisan analysts say it will have a barely perceptible impact on prices.

The GOP also says the bill would raise taxes on lower- and middle-income families. An analysis by Congress’ nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation, which didn’t include the bill’s tax breaks for health care and energy, estimated that the corporate tax boosts would marginally affect those taxpayers but indirectly, partly due to lower stock prices and wages.

“House Democrats ensured voters will fire them this fall,” said spokeswoman Torunn Sinclair of the House GOP campaign committee. In an email, she listed dozens of Democrats in competitive reelections who will face Republican attacks for raising taxes and empowering the IRS “to target their constituents.”

Democratic-leaning interest groups had their own warnings. “We’ll ensure that every Republican who voted against this bill is held accountable for prioritizing polluters and corporate special interests over the health and well being of their constituents,” said Tiernan Sittenfeld, a top official of the League of Conservation Voters.

The bill caps three months in which Congress has approved legislation on veterans’ benefits, the semiconductor industry, gun checks for young buyers and Ukraine’s invasion by Russia and adding Sweden and Finland to NATO. All passed with bipartisan support, suggesting Republicans also want to display their productive side.

It’s unclear whether voters will reward Democrats for the legislation after months of painfully high inflation dominating voters’ attention, Biden’s dangerously low popularity ratings and a steady history of midterm elections that batter the party holding the White House.

Biden called his $3.5 trillion plan Build Back Better. Besides social and environment initiatives, it proposed rolling back Trump-era tax breaks for the rich and corporations and $555 billion for climate efforts, well above the money in Friday’s legislation.

With Manchin opposing those amounts, it was sliced to a roughly $2 trillion measure that Democrats moved through the House in November. He unexpectedly sank that bill too, earning scorn from exasperated fellow Democrats from Capitol Hill and the White House.

Last gasp talks between Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., seemed fruitless until the two unexpectedly announced agreement last month on the new package.

Manchin won concessions for the fossil fuel industries he champions, including procedures for more oil drilling on federal lands. So did Centrist Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., who ended up eliminating planned higher taxes on hedge fund managers and helping win the drought funds.

___

Associated Press reporter Seung Min Kim in Kiawah Island and congressional correspondent Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

Police: Man fatally stabbed in Windom Park neighborhood; suspect arrested in Wisconsin

A suspect in a fatal stabbing Friday morning in the city’s Windom Park neighborhood has now been arrested and charged, court documents show.

According to Minneapolis Police Department Public Information Officer Garrett Parten, officers were called to the 1800 block of Arthur Street Northeast around 7:40 a.m. Friday after they received a report of someone trying to break into a residence.

Police say their investigation so far shows a man and woman were home sleeping when a man who knew the woman broke into the home.

Parten initially stated during a briefing at the scene the woman had an order of protection against the man, but then corrected himself to say she had a temporary harassment order that had yet to be served. Police didn’t provide specific details regarding how the woman and the man who broke into the home knew each other.

When officers arrived, they found a man in his 30s had been stabbed. He died at the scene, and wasn’t immediately identified by police. The woman was able to safely escape.

Officials add the suspect, 31-year-old Franklin Terrol White, left the scene as officers arrived. He was arrested later in the day in Wisconsin by the Wisconsin State Patrol.

Online court records show White has been formally charged with second-degree intentional murder.

The man’s death marks the city’s 57th homicide of 2022.

You can listen to the full news conference in the video player below.

State Patrol investigating fatal crash on I-35 in Wyoming

A portion of southbound Interstate 35 in Chisago County is closed due to what the State Patrol now says is a fatal crash.

The crash happened in the 12 o’clock hour Friday, north of Viking Boulevard Northeast, between Wyoming and Stacy.

Traffic cameras appeared to show a medical helicopter, along with several other emergency personnel, at the scene at around 1 p.m.

The Minnesota State Patrol says it is investigating the crash, but didn’t immediately provide any other details.

Check back for updates.

Man charged after gunshots, pursuit, crash in Anoka County

Criminal charges have been filed against a Blaine man following a pursuit and crash this week in Anoka County.

Deputies were first called to the area of Lexington Avenue Northeast and Constance Boulevard in Ham Lake at around 1:47 p.m. Wednesday on a report that someone fired gunshots toward motorcyclists.

RELATED: Gunshots report leads to pursuit, crash, 2 arrests in Anoka County

A criminal complaint states the three motorcyclists told deputies they were nearly hit when the driver of a BMW ran a red light. The complaint alleges the motorcyclists then got in front of the vehicle before the BMW’s driver sped around them and fired a gun out of the sunroof, then at them through the driver’s side window.

The driver was later identified as 21-year-old Carson Thomas McCoy.

Authorities found McCoy’s BMW on Highway 10 a short time later and started a pursuit. The complaint states the BMW driver then started traveling the wrong way on Highway 10 before getting onto Highway 65 in the wrong direction. The BMW then entered the grass near a Kwik Trip before speeding toward Polk Street.

When a deputy saw the vehicle on the wrong side of the road on Van Buren Street, the complaint states the deputy tried to block the BMW, which then rammed the squad car, went into the yard of a nearby home and eventually crashed into trees in Aurelia Park.

McCoy and a passenger were then arrested.

At the jail, staff found suspected fentanyl on McCoy, according to the complaint.

He’s currently charged with second-degree assault and fleeing police.

McCoy made his first court appearance Friday morning and had his bail set at $300,000. His next court hearing is scheduled for Aug. 31.

Vikings: Kirk Cousins positive for COVID, will miss 1st preseason game

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins will miss the team’s first preseason game after testing positive for COVID-19.

The team announced the news Friday, a day after Cousins was held out of practice due to an undetermined illness after he reported that he wasn’t feeling well.

Minnesota is set to play the Las Vegas Raiders Sunday afternoon in the first of three preseason games.

Cousins’ absence will leave backup quarterbacks Sean Mannion and Kellen Mond to play Sunday for Minnesota.

Cousins was also forced to sit out five days of training camp last year due to the NFL’s rules for close contacts to confirmed cases of COVID-19. He also tested positive for COVID in December, forcing him to miss Minnesota’s game in Green Bay that officially pushed the Vikings out of the playoff race.

The league suspended all coronavirus protocols in March.

The current recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is for people who test positive to isolate from others for at least five days. Isolation can end, the CDC says, if they are fever-free for 24 hours without medication and experiencing improvement in symptoms.

Longtime Minnesota lawmaker Tomassoni dies after battle with ALS

A longtime state lawmaker from the Iron Range has died at the age of 69.

Friday, family members confirmed Sen. David Tomassoni, I-Chisholm, passed away. Last summer, he revealed his battle with ALS and had announced his intention to retire at the end of this year.

First elected as a state lawmaker in 1992, Tomassoni served in the Minnesota House of Representatives for eight years before being elected to the Senate in 2000.

This spring, Tomassoni was part of a bill signing that will provide grants of $20 million for ALS research and another $5 million to help families and patients with caregiving.

“He and his family have served the Iron Range for decades,” Gov. Walz said before signing that bill. “They are a family name, a well-known household name in northern Minnesota, and now that’s true across Minnesota.”

“This is about making the future better,” Tomassoni said at the ceremony. “We can all be proud of that. This is truly a good day.”

Before getting into politics, Tomassoni played high school hockey at Chisholm High School, then four years for Denver University, which included trips to two Frozen Fours. He also played on the 1984 Olympic hockey team for Italy, and even played against Wayne Gretzky in a 1982 international tournament, of which he proudly displayed a picture in his office.

In the Minnesota Legislature, he was widely respected by colleagues on both sides of the aisle for his sense of fair play and humor.

Sen. Tom Bakk (I-Cook) issued the following statement:

“Today I mourn the passing of my dear friend David Tomassoni. A true champion for the Iron Range and hard-working men and women across the state. The legacy he leaves is enormous, and his passion for public service benefited countless lives. His selflessness in advocating for ALS research could not save his life but may save the lives of millions who follow in his footsteps. His kindness to me, my wife Laura, and the good times we shared will live with me for the rest of my life. I send my condolences to his family during this difficult time. We lost a giant.”

Minnesota Sen. Tom Bakk

Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller said:

“I am deeply saddened by Sen. David Tomassoni’s passing. David was a wonderful colleague, friend, and mentor not only to me, but to so many at the Capitol. It was an honor to work with him on the funding for ALS research this past session. I’m hopeful the funding from this bill will help find a cure for ALS and honor David’s legacy. Janel and I send our condolences to the Tomassoni family during this difficult time.”

Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller

DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin offered the following comment:

“My heart goes out to Senator David Tomassoni’s friends, family, and loved ones. Senator Tomassoni was an institution in the Minnesota Senate, a champion for the Iron Range, and a strong advocate for our schools. While we did not always agree on the issues, I never doubted that Senator Tomassoni was doing what he thought was best for the people of Minnesota. Senator Tomassoni’s boundless courage and wisdom will be missed.”

DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin

U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) released the following statement:

“David Tomassoni will be remembered as a wonderful friend, an incredible Olympian, and a fighter for the Iron Range. For decades, he worked every day to deliver real results for workers and families—like bringing good-paying jobs to his district, improving schools, and advocating for safe conditions for miners.

“David battled ALS to the end and even participated in a committee hearing via video this week. He never stopped working for Northern Minnesota.

“There may be no better example of David’s dedication to public service than the letter he shared with his constituents following his ALS diagnosis. He wrote, “I give you my word that my brain and my body will continue to represent you with the same passion and vigor I’ve tried to give in the past.”

“Even through the greatest battle of his life, David lived up to his promise to serve. I will miss his good humor and the twinkle in his eye. I will miss his funny texts and phone calls. Like his family, I find solace in knowing he fought the good fight and will now be at peace.”

U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar

Gov. Tim Walz said:

“Gwen and I are heartbroken to hear of Senator David Tomassoni’s death. We are sending love and strength to his family and so many friends at the Capitol and across the state. David was a champion for his constituents, the Iron Range, and all of Minnesota. I am honored to have known him and to have worked together to pass millions of dollars in funding for ALS research and caregiver support last session. His legacy will continue to help people in Minnesota for generations.”

Gov. Tim Walz

Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan added:

“Senator David Tomassoni was a tireless advocate for his constituents and the Iron Range and a friend to so many across the state. When he was diagnosed with ALS, he turned heartbreak into action and became a fierce champion in his final months for people and families like his. I am saddened by his passing, and his family and loved ones will remain in our thoughts and prayers.”

Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan

Republican Party of Minnesota Chairman David Hann issued the following statement:

“My heart is heavy at the passing of my friend and colleague Senator David Tomassoni. We served together in the State Senate for years and though we were often on different sides of issues, he was always gracious and represented his constituents with passion and skill. I remember him as a man with a great sense of humor, rare in the political atmosphere of the State Senate, and a political opponent who never let policy arguments detract from his natural kindness and generosity of spirit.

“Toward the end of his career, David led the charge to bolster funding and caregiving for those suffering from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), the horrific disease which eventually took him from us far too soon. David’s loss will be felt across the state in many ways and his legacy of service and leadership will leave a lasting impact for years to come.”

Republican Party of Minnesota Chairman David Hann

U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-Minn.) said:

“May David Tomassoni rest in peace and may his memory be a blessing to all of us who loved him.

“When I first came to the Minnesota Capitol as Mark Dayton’s Chief of Staff, David was a legend among Range legislators. He was both playful and serious, and always had a trick or two up his sleeve. He was a serious legislator, hell bent on doing whatever it took to support his beloved Range. I learned a lot from him – some of it over beers. David was just fun. When I was running for Lieutenant Governor, he took me to do the early morning shift change at a taconite processing plant, and then sincerely complimented me over breakfast for only getting a handful of ‘F you’s thrown my way. To David, if no one ever flipped you off, it probably meant you weren’t trying hard enough.

“David was a one and only, we miss him already.”

U.S. Senator Tina Smith

Congressman Pete Stauber (R-Minn.) released the following statement:

“Jodi and I are saddened to hear of the passing of Senator David Tomassoni. There was no better champion for Minnesota and the Iron Range than David. I am praying for the entire Tomassoni family at this time. His tireless work and dynamic personality will be greatly missed in the Northland.”

Congressman Pete Stauber

Tony Lazzaro’s year in jail: Hundreds of phone calls, 13 attorneys and a Tesla

A year ago this week, a federal investigation rocked Minnesota’s Republican party when Anton “Tony” Lazzaro was arrested on child sex trafficking charges.

Federal prosecutors accuse the Republican donor and strategist of recruiting underage victims to have sex with other people. The arrest led to the return of thousands of dollars in campaign cash and the resignation of then-GOP party chair Jennifer Carnahan.

RELATED: Growing list of Minnesota GOP officials call for state party chair’s resignation

The 31-year-old pleaded not guilty to the charges and remains in federal custody. But recent court documents provide a window into what Lazzaro is doing as he awaits trial.

In addition to admitting that he bought his girlfriend a Tesla for Christmas, court records show in just a 12-month period, Lazzaro has hired 13 different private attorneys to represent him.

“That’s an extremely large number of lawyers,” said Tom Heffelfinger, a former U.S. Attorney for Minnesota. “There’s no indication that he’s either asked for or been appointed a Federal Defender…which means that the government is not paying for all these lawyers. He is.”

Prosecutors say Lazzaro is making dozens of calls a day from the Sherburne County Jail. In a recent court filing, an FBI agent wrote that “between January 1, 2022 and January 31, 2022, Lazzaro placed 705 calls,” spending more than 97 hours on the phone.

“This strikes me as a lot of phone calls,” said Kyle Loven, a former FBI special agent who investigated violent and white-collar crimes for more than two decades.

Heffelfinger, who reviewed the records, agrees.

“It’s unusual for a couple of reasons,” he said. “Number one, it’s expensive.”

SEE ALSO: Woman accused of conspiring with GOP donor indicted on federal sex trafficking charges | Lawsuit: Tony Lazzaro offered hush money to minor he allegedly groomed

An exhibit filed with a recent motion shows the calls cost anywhere from a few cents to a couple of dollars.

In a statement to 5 INVESTIGATES, Lazzaro’s attorney Charlie Clas said his client “has continued to exercise his right to counsel and has used some of his time incarcerated to make phone calls to friends and family.”

Loven said in a case like this, agents monitor jail calls for information that could be related to the case.

“They’re looking to see if there’s any incriminating remarks that the person has made or will make,” he said.

Earlier this summer, Lazzaro accused investigators of violating his constitutional rights by listening to his attorney-client calls, which an FBI agent denied.

“I had told my attorney about a Christmas gift for my girlfriend,” Lazzaro said during testimony in a hearing earlier this month. “[He] said that an assistant U.S. Attorney knew about the stuff I’d had bought for her, and made the comment, ‘Why does he need his Ferrari back, he just bought his girlfriend a Tesla.'”

When pressed by prosecutors, Lazzaro acknowledged he’d told his girlfriend, on the recorded line, about the gift.

No trial date has been set at this point.

Brooklyn Park PD sees more ghost guns on streets; new federal rules expected soon

Brooklyn Park police reported finding two ghost guns during the arrest of shoplifting suspects at a Walmart earlier in the week.

A privately made firearm is sometimes called a ghost gun because it’s not marked with a serial number, making it more difficult for officers to track if it’s been used in a crime, according to law enforcement.

Twelve ghost guns have been recovered so far this year at police scenes, more than all of last year, according to Brooklyn Park investigators.

“You have no idea where this firearm is from and what it’s done,” Inspector Elliot Faust said.

“Buy-build-shoot” kits are weapon parts kits that are essentially pre-manufactured, dissembled, complete firearms that currently don’t require serial numbers — in other words, a firearm in a box — according to a release from the Department of Justice.

“Essentially, anyone can do this and create a firearm that’s fully functional, no different than a firearm that you would buy in a store,” Faust said. “They are significantly cheaper and no way to track it, I think it comes down to availability.”

From January 2016 to December 2021, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives received approximately 45,000 reports of suspected privately made firearms recovered by law enforcement in criminal investigations, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Earlier this year, President Joe Biden announced new rule changes that could take effect later this month in hopes of keeping ghost guns out of the wrong hands.

The DOJ website shows the final rules add background checks on commercially sold kits, along with requiring manufacturers to include serial numbers on kits and record keeping.

“I don’t think necessarily it’s going to be a tremendous burden on gun rights,” said Rob Doar, the vice president of the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus.

For those who, for example, make guns for a hobby, Doar said that he doesn’t see an impact on their ability to do so.

At least one of the ghost guns recovered during the shoplifting call was also modified to be fully automatic, which is already against the law, according to Brooklyn Park Police. Doar said that example points to how some people find ways to get around the law.

“If we are looking at this as some sort of a solution to a public safety crisis we are experiencing, we’re going to be setting ourselves up for tremendous disappointment,” Doar said.

There have been legal challenges to the rule changes by other gun owner groups and a gun parts manufacturer ahead of the possible Aug. 24 start date.

The ATF explains more details about the rule changes when it comes to privately made firearms.

Author Salman Rushdie stabbed on lecture stage in New York

CHAUTAUQUA, N.Y. (AP) — Salman Rushdie, whose novel “The Satanic Verses” drew death threats from Iran’s leader in the 1980s, was stabbed in the neck and abdomen Friday by a man who rushed the stage as the author was about to give a lecture in western New York.

A bloodied Rushdie, 75, was flown to a hospital and underwent surgery. His agent, Andrew Wylie, said the writer was on a ventilator Friday evening, with a damaged liver, severed nerves in his arm and an eye he was likely to lose.

Police identified the attacker as Hadi Matar, 24, of Fairview, New Jersey. He was arrested at the scene and was awaiting arraignment. Matar was born a decade after “The Satanic Verses” was published. The motive for the attack was unclear, State Police Maj. Eugene Staniszewski said.

An Associated Press reporter witnessed the attacker confront Rushdie on stage at the Chautauqua Institution and stab or punch him 10 to 15 times as he was being introduced. The author was pushed or fell to the floor, and the man was arrested.

Dr. Martin Haskell, a physician who was among those who rushed to help, described Rushdie’s wounds as “serious but recoverable.”

Event moderator Henry Reese, 73, a co-founder of an organization that offers residencies to writers facing persecution, was also attacked. Reese suffered a facial injury and was treated and released from a hospital, police said. He and Rushdie were due to discuss the United States as a refuge for writers and other artists in exile.

A state trooper and a county sheriff’s deputy were assigned to Rushdie’s lecture, and state police said the trooper made the arrest. But after the attack, some longtime visitors to the center questioned why there wasn’t tighter security for the event, given the decades of threats against Rushdie and a bounty on his head offering more than $3 million for anyone who kills him.

Rabbi Charles Savenor was among the roughly 2,500 people in the audience. Amid gasps, spectators were ushered out of the outdoor amphitheater.

The assailant ran onto the platform “and started pounding on Mr. Rushdie. At first you’re like, ‘What’s going on?’ And then it became abundantly clear in a few seconds that he was being beaten,” Savenor said. He said the attack lasted about 20 seconds.

Another spectator, Kathleen James, said the attacker was dressed in black, with a black mask.

“We thought perhaps it was part of a stunt to show that there’s still a lot of controversy around this author. But it became evident in a few seconds” that it wasn’t, she said.

Matar, like other visitors, had obtained a pass to enter the Chautauqua Institution’s 750-acre grounds, Michael Hill, the president of the nonprofit education center and resort, said.

The suspect’s attorney, public defender Nathaniel Barone, said he was still gathering information and declined to comment. Matar’s home was blocked off by authorities.

The stabbing reverberated from the tranquil town of Chautauqua to the United Nations, which issued a statement expressing U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ horror and stressing that free expression and opinion should not be met with violence.

From the White House, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan described the attack as “reprehensible” and said the Biden administration wished Rushdie a quick recovery.

“This act of violence is appalling,” Sullivan said in a statement. “We are thankful to good citizens and first responders for helping Mr. Rushdie so quickly after the attack and to law enforcement for its swift and effective work, which is ongoing.”

Rushdie has been a prominent spokesman for free expression and liberal causes, and the literary world recoiled at what Ian McEwan, a novelist and Rushdie’s friend, described as “an assault on freedom of thought and speech.”

“Salman has been an inspirational defender of persecuted writers and journalists across the world,” McEwan said in a statement. “He is a fiery and generous spirit, a man of immense talent and courage and he will not be deterred.”

PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel said the organization didn’t know of any comparable act of violence against a literary writer in the U.S. Rushdie was once president of the group, which advocates for writers and free expression.

Rushdie’s 1988 novel was viewed as blasphemous by many Muslims, who saw a character as an insult to the Prophet Muhammad, among other objections. Across the Muslim world, often-violent protests erupted against Rushdie, who was born in India to a Muslim family.

At least 45 people were killed in riots over the book, including 12 people in Rushdie’s hometown of Mumbai. In 1991, a Japanese translator of the book was stabbed to death and an Italian translator survived a knife attack. In 1993, the book’s Norwegian publisher was shot three times and survived.

The book was banned in Iran, where the late leader Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a 1989 fatwa, or edict, calling for Rushdie’s death. Khomeini died that same year.

Iran’s current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has never issued a fatwa of his own withdrawing the edict, though Iran in recent years hasn’t focused on the writer.

Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday’s attack, which led an evening news bulletin on Iranian state television.

The death threats and bounty led Rushdie to go into hiding under a British government protection program, which included a round-the-clock armed guard. Rushdie emerged after nine years of seclusion and cautiously resumed more public appearances, maintaining his outspoken criticism of religious extremism overall.

He said in a 2012 talk in New York that terrorism is really the art of fear.

“The only way you can defeat it is by deciding not to be afraid,” he said.

Anti-Rushdie sentiment has lingered long after Khomeini’s decree. The Index on Censorship, an organization promoting free expression, said money was raised to boost the reward for his killing as recently as 2016.

An Associated Press journalist who went to the Tehran office of the 15 Khordad Foundation, which put up the millions for the bounty on Rushdie, found it closed Friday night on the Iranian weekend. No one answered calls to its listed telephone number.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “was appalled to learn of the attack” on Rushdie, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said. “In no case is violence a response to words spoken or written by others in their exercise of the freedoms of opinion and expression.”

In 2012, Rushdie published a memoir, “Joseph Anton,” about the fatwa. The title came from the pseudonym Rushdie used while in hiding.

Rushdie rose to prominence with his Booker Prize-winning 1981 novel “Midnight’s Children,” but his name became known around the world after “The Satanic Verses.”

Widely regarded as one of Britain’s finest living writers, Rushdie was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2008 and earlier this year was made a member of the Order of the Companions of Honor, a royal accolade for people who have made a major contribution to the arts, science or public life.

In a tweet, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson deplored that Rushdie was attacked “while exercising a right we should never cease to defend.”

The Chautauqua Institution, about 55 miles (89 kilometers) southwest of Buffalo in a rural corner of New York, has served for more than a century as a place for reflection and spiritual guidance. Visitors don’t pass through metal detectors or undergo bag checks. Most people leave the doors to their century-old cottages unlocked at night.

The center is known for its summertime lecture series, where Rushdie has spoken before.

At an evening vigil, a few hundred residents and visitors gathered for prayer, music and a long moment of silence.

“Hate can’t win,” one man shouted.

___

Associated Press journalists John Wawrow in Chautauqua; Jennifer Peltz, Hillel Italie and Edith Lederer in New York City; Carolyn Thompson in Buffalo, New York; Michael Hill in Albany, New York; Ted Shaffrey in Fairview, New Jersey; and Nasser Karimi and Mehdi Fattahi in Tehran, Iran, contributed to this report.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

Ex-Robbinsdale councilor convicted of DWI to serve 3 years of probation

A former Robbinsdale city councilmember who pleaded guilty in June to drunken driving attended a sentencing hearing Friday morning.

Tyler Kline, 38, will serve three years of probation with electronic home monitoring and will be required to pay a $15,000 fine, $14,000 of which is stayed for three years.

Kline was arrested in January after a wrong-way crash and police chase on Highway 100. When he was finally stopped by police, tests showed his blood-alcohol concentration was 0.20, according to a criminal complaint.

Kline resigned from the Robbinsdale City Council, saying it “was not an easy decision to make, but the right one for me and my family.”

He then pleaded guilty in June to two counts of DWI and one count of fleeing police.

During the sentencing hearing Friday, Kline apologized to those on the road that he put at risk and law enforcement officers who were at the scene of the incident. Kline said that hearing the events retold to him, having no memory of them, was “really horrific.”

Judge Tamara Garcia, who oversaw the case, said the risk to public safety during Kline’s fleeing from officers “was significant.” She remarked that the only way to stop Kline’s vehicle was for an officer to drive a squad vehicle into it. She also said his intoxication was an aggravating factor, all of which led to her decision to deny Kline’s request for an immediate downward departure from a felony fleeing an officer charge to a gross misdemeanor charge.

“This was a bad flee,” Garcia said.

However, Garcia said if Kline successfully completes his probation, his fleeing an officer in a motor vehicle charge will drop from a felony to a misdemeanor.

Judge temporarily stops DOC from reincarcerating inmates given conditional release due to COVID

A Ramsey County judge has stopped the Minnesota Department of Corrections from reincarcerating inmates who were granted conditional medical releases due to the COVID-19 pandemic, at least for now.

Thursday, District Court Judge Mark Ireland granted a temporary restraining order against DOC after a couple of inmates filed a lawsuit against the department.

During the pandemic, DOC created a COVID-19 protocol for its conditional medical release program that allowed inmates deemed to be at a “higher risk of grave harm from COVID-19” to receive early supervised release.

Then, in May of last year, the department issued a memo saying it would no longer accept or grant applications for COVID conditional releases due to the availability of vaccines. This January, DOC opted to stop using conditional medical release as a way to manage COVID risk for pregnant inmates.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU,) nearly 2,300 inmates applied for conditional medical release during the pandemic and just 158 were granted release.

The inmates’ lawsuit says DOC told them the last week of July that they and all others who were released under the COVID protocol but aren’t yet eligible for standard supervised release must surrender themselves to the department no later than Aug. 15 to serve the rest of their sentences.

Their lawsuit argues that, although state statutes allow for a conditional medical release to be rescinded without a hearing if an inmate’s condition improves and the release presents a more serious risk to the public, DOC didn’t consider individual circumstances in its decision to rescind releases due to COVID.

In his order, the judge noted that public safety was already considered when the conditional release was granted.

DOC will now get to respond on Aug. 15 and the inmates again on Aug. 17 before the next hearing on Aug. 18.

The DOC issued the following response:

“We respect the court’s order and will follow it as we prepare for the court to determine the ultimate path forward next week. COVID-19 Conditional Medical Release was a temporary strategy to provide added protection for those at greatest risk of severe COVID-19 consequences when there was no vaccine or treatment available. That has changed. Given the availability of effective vaccines and therapeutic medications today, we do not believe the commissioner can justify continued release any longer.”

Finstad sworn into Congress

The State of Minnesota officially has a new congressman.

Shortly before 8:30 a.m. Friday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi swore in Republican Brad Finstad, the winner of this week’s special election for Minnesota’s First Congressional District.

Finstad was elected to finish out the term of the late Rep. Jim Hagedorn after defeating DFL challenger Jeff Ettinger and receiving 51% of the vote.

Hagedorn, a Republican, died of cancer in February.

Finstad spoke briefly after being sworn in, and also took a moment to remember Hagedorn.

“He was a true fighter for Minnesota, and he was a great example of hard work and what we strive to be in Minnesota,” Finstad said.

He went on to say he will come to work every day in Congress with the intention to do everything he can to fix things, adding he will take his “farmer mentality, figuring out what’s broke and how we’re gonna fix it and move on.”

Tuesday, voters simultaneously cast ballots for the regularly scheduled primary election and chose a November rematch between Finstad and Ettinger to decide who will represent the newly redrawn First Congressional District for a full term.

You can watch the full swearing-in ceremony in the video player below. Finstad also issued a statement regarding the ceremony, which can be found in full below.

“It is an extraordinary honor to have been chosen by my fellow Minnesotans to serve in this Congress. Minnesota’s First Congressional District has been home to several generations of my family, and I believe it’s the greatest place on Earth. Having the opportunity to bring our values to Washington, D.C. is an important job, and I am committed to working hard for the people of our district every day.

Let us take time to remember my predecessor, the late Congressman Hagedorn. He was a man of honor and worked hard for the people of the first district.

I’d like to thank my wonderful wife Jackie, our seven children, and all of my family, for their steadfast love and support. I could not do this without them.

People in my district sent a farmer to Congress. As a farmer, we wake up in the morning and don’t wonder if something will be broken during the day; we know something will be, so instead, we wonder how we will fix it. I will come to work every day in Congress with the intention to do everything I can to fix things. We inherited the best country on earth from the last generation. We have an obligation to make sure the greatest country on earth is what we are passing to the next generation.”

Congressman Brad Finstad (R-Minn.)

New buyer in place for troubled St. Paul skyscraper

A controversial chapter in the history of a skyscraper in downtown St. Paul might finally be coming to an end.

Court records reviewed by 5 INVESTIGATES indicate there’s a new buyer for the 17-story high rise once known as the Ecolab University office tower. The building was abandoned and nearly condemned after being purchased at auction by John E. Thomas, a Chicago developer and two-time convicted felon who has been called a “serial con man.”

Late last year, a Ramsey County judge agreed to place the property in receivership, taking control away from Thomas and his company who are accused of defaulting on a nearly $12 million loan for which the building was used as collateral.

The empty building has been just one more challenge for downtown St. Paul which has been struggling to recover from the economic impact of the pandemic.

Joe Spencer, President of the Saint Paul Downtown Alliance, said he is encouraged to see interest in the building which was supposed to be redeveloped into high-end apartments at 6th and Wabasha Streets.

“We just want to see life back in the building again,” Spencer said. “A lot of times in the commercial real estate business there’s going to be churn — this is just an example of that. This one got tied up in some unusual twists and turns, but at the end of the day, it’s a great location.”

Thomas had promised to get a new loan and complete the project when 5 INVESTIGATES interviewed him at his Chicago office in January.

He offered a different response when contacted for comment on Thursday.

“I hope the project is (a) success for the next buyer,” Thomas wrote in an email.

Court paperwork filed earlier this summer indicated plans to execute a purchase agreement with the Inland Group, another developer from Chicago.

A spokesperson for the company declined to comment because the process of acquiring the property is still ongoing.

Once the sale is complete, the court-appointed receiver will distribute the proceeds to a long list of subcontractors who say they’re owed more than $3 million, combined.

For those trying to spark an economic recovery downtown, the value of reviving a staple of the St. Paul skyline is even greater. “That could be a great building for offices, that could be a great building for housing, it could be a great building for a hotel,” Spencer said. “There’s all kinds of ways that building could fit into the fabric of a downtown.” environment

2 suspects in Mall of America shots fired investigation arrested in Chicago

Authorities have arrested two suspects connected to the shots fired incident at Mall of America last week, according to an update Thursday from Bloomington Police Chief Booker Hodges.

An FBI task force arrested Shamar Lark and Rashad May after they stepped out of a barbershop in Chicago. Chief Hodges said law enforcement made the arrest without incident at about 2:25 p.m. on Thursday.

Officers say they initiated a traffic stop after the two stepped inside a vehicle driven by someone else.

A weapon was found inside, but it is unknown if it was the same gun used at Mall of America.

The pair will face an extradition hearing before facing charges in Minnesota.

“You can’t shoot up a mall and think you’re going to get away with it.” Chief Hodges said. “You can’t commit these acts and think you are going to enjoy the freedoms of a free society.”

“Growing up, we were taught, ‘If you do the crime, you do the time.’ But that has somewhat shifted to you do the crime, you do another crime, you do another crime, you do another crime, and now you do the time. We’re not doing anyone an favors by not holding people accountable,” Chief Hodges said.

This comes a week after the incident, which prompted a lockdown, and also as the mall celebrates its 30th birthday.

Mall of America said earlier this week that it has increased its law enforcement and security presence, including K-9 units, patrols and plainclothes officers. However, it’s unclear how long that will remain in effect.

RELATED: 3 charged with helping Mall of America shooter; 2 suspects still at large

Over the weekend, three suspects were arrested and charged this week with aiding an offender. However, as of Monday, one other suspect and the person who fired the gunshots in the mall were still on the loose.

While taking questions from reporters, Hodges also spoke on the blood trail that was investigated at the mall. That blood turned out to be from someone who fell and broke their nose while fleeing the shots fired.

There are no reports of any other injuries in the shots fired incident.