WHEN MICHAEL FITZPATRICK captured local and national headlines in the winter of 1995, it was merely the latest episode in a lifetime spent playing both sides of the law. Prior to surfacing as the would-be hitman in the Qubilah Shabazz murder-for-hire case, Fitzpatrick had been arrested on narcotics charges in November 1993. After nearly three years and a dozen continuances--which prompted many to suspect that he was receiving special consideration on the drug charges--Fitzpatrick's case was quietly disposed of last month.
Following his failure to appear at a scheduled March 28 hearing on the 5th-degree cocaine possession charges, Fitzpatrick reportedly phoned the court and had his hearing rescheduled. The case was remanded to Hennepin County's recently implemented drug court. Judge Robert Blaeser--who was sitting in for Judge Kevin Burke--presided over the May 15 hearing. In lieu of jail time, Blaeser ordered Fitzpatrick into the drug diversion program for one year. That means he has to undergo chemical dependency assessment and possibly treatment, check in with a probation officer, and submit to random urinalyses. If he violates any of these terms, or is charged with any other offenses, the charges are reinstated.
Despite Fitzpatrick's notoriety, prosecutor Emily Johnson and Burke maintain that his case was treated like any other. "It was a routine matter. There were no other charges against him and he didn't receive any special treatment," says Johnson. And according to Burke, the length of time it took for the case to come to court is the fault of the judicial system rather than the defendant. "The fact that we are disposing of a '93 case now speaks volumes about the problems with drug cases," he says. Burke maintains that the now separate drug court will fast-track such cases.
It isn't the first time Fitzpatrick has gotten off easy on drug charges. Following his relocation to Minneapolis in the late 1970s in conjunction with the federal witness protection program, he was busted in 1986 for DWI and cocaine possession after being stopped by Minneapolis police for driving suspiciously. Although he was fined for drunk driving, the narcotics charge was curiously dismissed. In his arrest report, the only explanation for the discharge was an undated, handwritten note that read "Viol. drug ordinance dismissed."
Fitzpatrick kept a low profile for a few years--at least in the eyes of the law--during which he spent part of his time working as a gold and coin dealer for a Minneapolis company, Investment Rarity Group. But in November 1993, Fitzpatrick was once again on the police blotter. He and the president of the company, Harlan Rosenfeld, were charged with possession of crack cocaine. Fitzpatrick was charged with 5th degree possession (a charge that could yield up to five years in prison), and Rosenfeld was additionally charged with intent to sell.
About a week after he failed to show at the scheduled March hearing, City Pages received a call from a source claiming that Fitzpatrick was in Minneapolis and working under an assumed name in his old line of business. Several weeks later, another source called and claimed that Fitzpatrick was not only in town, but was working for Rosenfeld again. The caller added that Fitzpatrick was once again peppering his conversation with intimations of high intrigue: "He said that he was in the witness protection program again, and that the Mob was after him." Fitzpatrick reportedly declined to say why mobsters were pursuing him, however.
When CP phoned Investment Rarity Group, Harlan Rosenfeld flatly denied rehiring Fitzpatrick, and said that he wanted to "leave the past behind." Rosenfeld concedes that he has spoken to Fitzpatrick but says it was strictly coincidental. "I just bumped into him on the street," he claims. And as to Fitzpatrick's current activities, Rosenfeld offers a vague explanation: "I think he shuttles back and forth between here and [New York]. I really don't know."