Watching the Detectives

AFTER MONTHS OF legal machinations, a controversial report on allegations of theft and wrongdoing at the Metropolitan Council Transit Operation was finally made public by a judge's order last week. The 95-page report, prepared by former U.S. attorney and Republican spin doctor Tom Heffelfinger, had been sealed under a claim of attorney/client privilege between Heffelfinger and the Met Council; its release stemmed from a court action filed by a whistleblowing ex-MCTO cop, Richard Lindgren, and the Star Tribune.

Lindgren's attorney, Robert Hill, has maintained that Heffelfinger's investigation was intended all along to discredit his client, who is currently suing the Met Council ("The Great Bus Robbery," 10/25)--and not to get to the bottom of the transit company's alleged problems with employee theft and inventory shrinkage. On the surface of things, the report does little to contradict Hill's impression.

The content and focus of the document are best characterized by Heffelfinger himself in the bold-faced heading on page one: Re: Metropolitan Transit Police System. The report goes on to concentrate on the performance of officials involved in the MCTO police probe into internal theft. "We were not supposed to go out and reinvestigate the [theft] allegations," Heffelfinger told CP last week. "We were asked to review the files to see whether they reflected any prosecutable cases which had not been prosecuted."

Those marching orders enabled Heffelfinger to cite a couple of cases that he infers the cops did not adequately pursue for prosecution, and also to ignore investigation of the purchasing accounts that Lindgren and Hill believe are the most likely avenues for proving a pattern of chronic theft at the MCTO. The most extensive criticism of MCTO management in Heffelfinger's report concerns the lack of controls over the police themselves; Heffelfinger concludes that there was never a problem with widespread theft at the transit company.

"It's not too strong to say that this report is a whitewash," claims State Senator John Marty (DFL-Roseville). "Heffelfinger states that there is no evidence of widespread theft occurring within MCTO and yet he admits he didn't even audit the accounts or pursue the allegations contained within the police files that he reviewed. And those files are three or four years old. We've had allegations of people siphoning transit fuel and stealing bus transmissions and to my knowledge these things have not been thoroughly investigated. The state auditor has recently reported that there are all kinds of holes within the inventory system. Mr. Heffelfinger's conclusion that there is no massive theft is pulled out of thin air to hide something he didn't look at."

Heffelfinger did look at the MCTO police in minute detail: Questionable expenditures by the cops are cited for potential contractual violations and itemized down to the penny, while the multimillion-dollar drop in inventory parts purchases within the bus company during the years the cops were conducting the internal theft investigation--an apparent sign that the investigation had a serious impact on waste and theft--is mentioned only in general terms. Anecdotal hearsay referring to MCTO Police Chief Paul Wallace as a "buffoon" is included, and an allegation by MCTO General Manager Tom Sather that Wallace arranged airport trips and document deliveries for bus company commissioners is mentioned twice, each time followed by a disclaimer that the allegation is not substantiated.

"I find it curious that the people Heffelfinger takes after in the report--cops like Paul Wallace and Gary Cayo and commissioners like Allyson Hartle and Bob Mairs--are people I indicated would be supporting Dick Lindgren in his lawsuit," says Hill. "This isn't a report; it's a character assassination. If Heffelfinger was really interested in reforming the MCTO police, why didn't he reference an audit commissioned by MCTO less than three years ago that came up with 21 recommendations on how to utilize the police?"

In the wake of Heffelfinger's report, the Met Council is clearly trying to put the MCTO theft allegations behind them. A sharply worded memo from Sather was sent to various MCTO employees, directing them that they "are not at liberty to disclose to third parties (including Mr. Lindgren, his attorneys, the media or anyone else) any confidential documents or communications" regarding the Lindgren lawsuit. "You are further instructed to immediately report to me or [Met Council attorney] Jay Heffern if you have inadvertently or otherwise disclosed any confidential information to any person or entity," the memo states.

Despite the memo, Hill says that MCTO employees increasingly are coming forward "who are willing to refute the Met Council's Heffelfinger report. He has made a lot of people angry." Hill also advocates the legal release of videotapes depicting dozens of incidents of theft and other wrongdoing at the bus company. "It should be public information," he says. "People should see what has happened so they can judge for themselves if there is a problem or not. We're not going to rest until we get to the bottom of this."

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