Republican Jim Schultz pledged to hire dozens of criminal prosecutors to Minnesota’s attorney general’s office. He also vowed to bypass elected county attorneys in order to fight crime. This would expand the agency’s role, which isn’t usually at the forefront of this issue.
Schultz stated that his vision is realized in Minnesota, where violent crimes increased by 22 percent between 2021 and 2021. And where polls indicate it’s a top priority among many voters.
Keith Ellison, the incumbent DFL politician, has criticized the plan. He believes Schultz could make it difficult for the office to carry out its other duties, such as consumer protection work.
It is also unclear whether Schultz’s agenda can be carried out by the Minnesota attorney general. Schultz’s plan to prosecute street crimes with a new use of Minnesota’s racketeering laws is being questioned by some legal experts.
Ellison claims that he takes crime seriously within the limits of his authority. He has accused Schultz of trying to “demagogue” the issue by making promises he can’t keep in order to make the issue a powerful campaign issue for Republicans that is relevant to his position as attorney general. Ellison stated that Ellison doesn’t know anything. “No AG has ever done .”
Schultz believes that Ellison doesn’t want to make crime a priority. Schultz stated that he would even be open to taking power from Mary Moriarty, the progressive Hennepin County Attorney. Schultz believes she isn’t prosecuting cases aggressively.
span style=”font weight: 400 Unfortunately, the attorney general’s office does not currently have access to all the tools available,” Schultz stated. “The only reply Keith Ellison has given throughout was “I can’t, I can’t do this, it’s impossible,” Schultz stated.
Expansion of the AG’s Criminal Division
Minnesota law allows elected county attorneys to prosecute the most serious crimes, such as murder and assault. City attorneys can handle lower-level offenses, like traffic violations or misdemeanors. Other responsibilities include representing and protecting the state, enforcing consumer protection laws and regulating charities.
The AG has a criminal division. The reason is that the office can prosecute crimes at the request of the governor or a county attorney. Governor. Ellison was asked by Hennepin County and Tim Walz to prosecute Derek Chauvin, former officer in the murder of George Floyd in 2020. Hennepin County handed the case against Kim Potter, a former officer, to Washington County in the 2021 murder of Daunte Wright. Ellison was then given the case.
These were a bit unusual because the Twin Cities metro has enough county attorneys to handle all of the criminal cases without assistance.
The AG often assists smaller counties in Greater Minnesota, when they lack the staff, resources or expertise to handle complicated cases such as murder, human trafficking or other white collar crimes. Recently, Ellison highlighted the September conviction for Devin Weiland, who shot and wounded an Albert Lea officer.
Ellison, who was elected to office in 2018, stated that it was a priority for him to increase the criminal unit. Currently, there was only one full-time prosecution. Although he has hired two full-time prosecutors and received support from many rural county attorneys, three requests for money from Congress were denied by the Republicans controlling the state Senate.
Ellison requested $1.82 million to be paid by lawmakers from a large budget surplus to fund seven full-time prosecutors earlier this year. He explained to reporters Sunday that the request was made to help burnt out attorneys, pursue criminal appeals, and represent counties in certain litigation related to sex offenders. Ellison stated that he thought of seven additional people to relieve some pressure on the current group.
Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer (Republican from Big Lake) chairs the committee that oversees the AG and criticizes Ellison for suing businesses who violate Walz’s COVID-19 restrictions. She suggested that Ellison could prosecute crimes if he had the money and time to sue these businesses.
Kiffmeyer said Ellison could also shift personnel. In May, she stated a preference to have local control over criminal prosecutions rather than the AG intervening, which might be in conflict with Schultz’s plan. Kiffmeyer offered $100,000 to train county attorneys in complex litigation. She said it was better than having the “attorney general taking all this stuff into [his] office span>
Ellison has refused to shift more resources from his office. He claimed it would hinder his ability to perform the basic functions of the office as required by law, and pursue important consumer protection work such as several opioid lawsuits which resulted in hundreds million for Minnesota to use to address the drug crisis.
The DFLer claims he has taken on all serious criminal cases county attorneys have requested his assistance with — 50 total — and secured convictions in each. Ellison stated that he has never turned down a case of serious importance and that he has won 100% of these cases during a debate on WCCO Radio last Wednesday.
Ellison claims that he has tried to combat crime in different ways. Ellison also sued Fleet Farm, Ellison claimed of selling guns to straw buyers. The AG also alleged that two north Minneapolis businesses are hotbeds of drug and gun violence. Ellison should not blame businesses for an increase in violent crime, according to Schultz. )
Schultz called for an enormous expansion of the number of prosecutors to 36.
Schultz stated during the WCCO debate that Schultz brags about having prosecuted 50 people over the past four year — it’s similar to me boasting about running five miles per week for four years.
Schultz stated that if the Legislature doesn’t approve funds for additional criminal attorneys, he would transfer staff to other areas. There are approximately 150 attorneys in the AG’s office, including top managers. Schultz stated that some of the 26-attorney consumer defense unit’s attorneys would need to be transferred, but that he’d “take a holistic look at the personnel in the office to respond to the current moment span>
MinnPost was told by Ellison that while county attorneys do a great job of prosecuting crime, creating an enormous AG criminal unit would require them to intervene in cases at lower levels. Jim Backstrom, a supporter of Ellison, was the Dakota County attorney for over 30 years before retiring in 2021. He said that he thinks three dozen prosecutors would be “way too ambitious in terms the requests that will be made span>
What is racketeering law and how can an AG use it?
Schultz believes that those prosecutors will go beyond the scope of what they are referred by county attorneys. Schultz stated that the AG would use Minnesota RICO law — Racketeer Influenced & Corrupt Organizations — to prosecute “cases in which county attorneys are not doing their job .”
According to the RICO statute , the “prosecuting authorities” in such cases are “the office or office of the Attorney General.” Schultz explains that an AG could pursue some cases with or without permission from a County attorney. This allows the office to tackle larger-scale crimes on a greater scale.
Schultz stated that Hennepin and Ramsey counties are at the top of the list. They don’t have the resources to prosecute the criminals that would be required to address the crime and violence in their communities.
Prosecutors must prove that racketeering is a case in which there is an organization, such as a gang, engaging in criminal conduct. Federal RICO law was originally used to prosecute the Mafia.
Schultz suggested that the AG could use RICO in order to pursue carjacking and drug trafficking, straw buying of guns, and human trafficking. Schultz said that RICO could have been used by the AG to pursue criminals like drug trafficking, straw purchases of guns and carjacking. Schultz also spoke out after a Sunday debate with Ellison.
This is a controversial strategy.
Ellison claims that the attorney general cannot use RICO to bypass county attorneys in criminal cases. However, he claimed that he has more authority to address Medicaid fraud.
Jeffrey Grell, a professor at University of Minnesota Law School, has been teaching RICO law for over 20 years. He also wrote a textbook about the subject.
He stated that Ellison had been charged with Medicaid fraud under RICO. Washington County was also involved in two cases involving sex trafficking or racketeering. The AG worked together with Washington County.
Grell, a Democrat who served as an attorney general’s assistant from 2008 to 2010, and now runs a law office together with a DFL state legislator . He said that it is unclear if Ellison’s RICO law in Minnesota gives him special authority to enforce the statute on criminal cases.
This is because it does not explicitly ignore the law that requires an AG to obtain permission from the governor or a county attorney to handle a criminal case.
Mark Osler is a former federal prosecutor from Detroit who is now a University of St. Thomas professor of law. He said that the RICO statute could be simply referring to other law that guides when an AG can, and can’t, intervene. He said that they can be read together in such a way as to not create a mystery.
Grell stated that the RICO statute was not intended for “run-of-the-mill, garden variety crime activity.”
These cases can be complex and require a lot of investigation. They are also difficult to prove in court. Grell stated that they are rare. According to Grell, 62 cases were found under the Minnesota RICO statute. This was since 1989.
The Fulton County prosecutor in Georgia has used RICO to combat gang activity. This includes the famous case involving Young Thug . Grell stated that this is not a novel way to apply RICO law. He said that if someone isn’t a Godfather and commits crimes like robbery themselves, a prosecutor will likely just directly charge them.
Grell stated that it was possible to get a man on a simple criminal case by charging him with a lesser crime. It’ll be more efficient, easier for the jury understand, it will be less investigation, less likely to lose, .”
Schultz, for his part, agreed that RICO cases can be complex. Schultz said that an AG using RICO in order to avoid a county prosecutor was a novel strategy. Schultz said that Washington County used the statute in a case involving human trafficking, so local RICO charges are not uncommon.
span style=”font weight: 400 I’m not saying that RICO alone will solve the extraordinary crime on our streets,” Schultz stated. It’s only one tool. We must use all the tools in that office .”
Schultz uses his expanding power to sidestep Mary Moriarty
Schultz also has another tool for AG. Ability to bypass county attorneys in cases that go beyond RICO. The Legislature would be required to amend the law. But he said that MinnPost is open to such a move.
He said that he believes we need to use the tools available in the AG’s Office. “Then we’ll have to see where we are at — honestly, who’s in the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office in January? And overall the crime status once we actually use all the resources here in the state span>
Schultz stated that he is sensitive to the prerogatives and rights of county attorneys and would not want an AG “sticking their nose into matters” that they don’t fully understand. Because crime is concentrated in Ramsey and Hennepin counties, Schultz was wary about intruding beyond those counties. He would also have less insight “once you get further from St. Paul span>
Schultz stated that he is most concerned about Mary Moriarty, Ellison-endorsed Hennepin County Attorney for Martha Holton Dimick. This is because Moriarty “indicated crime deterrence through effective prosecution of criminal does not do a hell of a lot,” citing an quotation from Moriarty earlier in the year regarding violent crime like carjackings.
Schultz stated that he would not consider this his first option when he is in office. He said he could work with “responsible leadership,” which could include John Choi, Ramsey County Attorney.
Schultz stated, “But in a situation in which we have somebody such as a Mary Moriarty at the Hennepin County Attorney’s office” and she continues “some of her reckless planning for the office,”
Schultz stated that he would use RICO in Hennepin County “more aggressively” if Moriarty were elected.
Moriarty stated in a statement, “democracy is under attack” in this country. He said that it was concerning that a Republican candidate as Attorney General would seek changes to state law based upon who voters elect to represent their communities in local offices.
If the state House is still under DFL control, Schultz’s proposal could be blocked in the Legislature. Cedrick Frazier (DFLer from New Hope, Moriarty supporter, is vice chairman for the House’s Public Safety Committee. He said that he would need to understand how Schultz wants to increase his power before “having an open discussion about changing the law specifically in order to remove the authority of Hennepin County Attorney’s Office span>
He said that county attorneys want to be able to work with the AG’s office. “I don’t think county attorneys want to be able to basically take cases from them .”
Ellison and Schultz are at odds over what should be the primary function of an attorney general. Ellison believes that consumer protection is the “heart” and soul of his office. He stated that former AG Lori Swanson was responsible for 3M’s environmental lawsuit. Skip Humphrey said it was a huge settlement with the tobacco companies.
span style=”font weight: 400 Has ever been an attorney general known only as a criminal prosecutor, just like a county lawyer? Ellison stated that it was never happened. He’s innovative. He’s not doing what he wants because it’s bad. It takes away from other things the office must do .”
Schultz stated that Ellison has not shied away “where it’s an important for him” and that the AG could lead in the pursuit of other crime-fighting strategies, such as new laws related to carjacking. Schultz stated that his top priority was “crime, crimes and crime span>” earlier this month to start a debate over MPR News.