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Helga Township: Letter shows prosecutor declined charges

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Helga Township: Letter shows prosecutor declined charges
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

HELGA TOWNSHIP – The Hubbard County attorney declined to file charges against former Helga Township board member Silas Hooker, 10 months before the current board released a written statement that it had forwarded information to prosecutors for review.

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On Tuesday, Hubbard County Sheriff Cory Aukes said his office has received no new information since the Sept. 16, 2011 letter sent by County Attorney Donovan Dearstyne.

At a July 24 township meeting, board members issued a four-page statement relating to excavation and removing rocks, top soils and mineral materials from property within Helga Township.

On the final page of the statement, the board said it had questions regarding Hooker and “compliance with required procedures.” The board said information had been turned over to prosecutors for investigation.

However, a letter from Dearstyne from last September said charges would not be filed due to “insufficient evidence to show criminal intent.”

In addition, the letter, signed by Dearstyne, reads:

“I have reviewed the investigative file concerning the above referenced matter. “Based on the reports and evidence obtained, I do not find sufficient evidence of criminal intent in violating the statutes. Should other evidence come to light in the future, I would reconsider my decision.”

Colter Diekmann, an investigator with the Sheriff’s Office who looked into the allegations, referred questions to Aukes, his boss.

“There’s no new evidence,” Aukes said Tuesday. “That letter stands.”

In addition, the sheriff said he doesn’t have information to support or substantiate further investigation by his staff.

Hooker, who previously served on the Helga Town Board for six years, said the allegations have damaged his business, Hooker’s Cabinet Shop, and his reputation.

“There’s no new information because I didn’t do anything,” he said Tuesday. “I’m trying to clear my name.”

He questioned the board’s intent for bringing up the matter in its July 24 statement, which was read and distributed at the township board’s meeting.

“I’ve seen a drop in business since this crap came along,” Hooker said. “I know I’m innocent, the county knows I’m innocent.”

He claims the dispute is over a kitchen remodel he agreed to do for the township. Hooker said his bid was at least $15,000 less than the next lowest bid and he didn’t vote on awarding it.

“I gave it to them at cost for the community,” Hooker said.

The work, he said, remains unfinished due to an ongoing dispute, and he maintains the current board has a vendetta against him.

“They don’t have anything, they never had anything and it’s a smear campaign,” Hooker said.

Township Board Chair Mike Smith said Tuesday that the sticking point was proving criminal intent.

Smith said the board believed the investigation was still open as far as it knew – based on a conversation with Dearstyne in March – at the time of the July meeting.

“If we can’t get it prosecuted, we hope it becomes public knowledge,” Smith said Tuesday.

In addition, he said the board anticipates Dearstyne will be at the township’s next board meeting on Aug. 28.

Dearstyne has not returned messages seeking comment.

The board’s statement, written to address ongoing litigation in Hubbard County District Court with resident Doug Crosby regarding an excavation permit, brought up Hooker because he “argued against the Town enforcing its ordinance.”

Helga Township filed a lawsuit July 2 and obtained a temporary restraining order prohibiting Crosby and Reierson Construction from excavating or hauling rock from Crosby’s land.

Crosby said previously he wants to clear rock from his fields to prepare them for grazing; the township said it is enforcing an ordinance requiring a permit to excavate and remove material from the property.

A motion hearing in the lawsuit is scheduled for Friday.

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Steve Wagner
Grand Forks Herald Editor Steve Wagner can be reached at 701.780.1104 and swagner@gfherald.com. He joined the Herald in April 2013, and previously worked as editor at the Bemidji (Minn.) Pioneer and in several newsroom roles -- including news director, investigative reporter and cops/court reporter - at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. His experience includes extensive reporting related to Dru Sjodin's disappearance and the federal death penalty case for her murderer, Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., along with projects about immigration, the fatal 2002 train derailment in Minot, N.D., and the 20th anniversary of Gordon Kahl's massacre of U.S. marshals. Wagner also worked as a reporter at newspapers in the Twin Cities and Iowa. In his spare time, Wagner is an avid runner and occasionally writes about his experiences on his blog, Addicted to Running.
(701) 780-1104
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