Judge and jury are hearing a case in federal court in Minneapolis that could have played on “NYPD Blue.” MinnPost legal affairs reporter Judith Yates Borger is following the trial’s developments. To read her previous reports on the trial, go here.
It’s just after lunch on Monday, the prosecution has rested its case and St. Paul Police Officer Timothy Rehak has taken the stand. Rehak, 48-years old, is a bulldog of man who wears his grey hair in a long brush cut. Jury members in the back row can see his bright blue eyes and the St. Paul Police pin on the lapel of his grey-blue suit.
Under the questioning of his attorney, Paul Engh, Rehak says that he grew up on West 7th Street in St. Paul and graduated from Humboldt High School in 1978, went into the Army, where he was in the military police, then got a two-year degree from community college. He married his high school sweetheart — whom he points out sitting in the front row of the court room — and in 1986 was sworn in as a patrolman. He never had ambition for administration, he says in a deep, gravelly voice that brings back memories of Jesse Ventura. “I wanted to set suits and ties aside.”
Getting to know the “hood rats” and the East Side Gangsters was a big part of his job, Rehak says. “Hood rats” are neighborhood ne’er-do-wells who spend their time unemployed and looking for crimes of opportunity. “East Side Gs” is a white gang on the East side. Shawn Arvin was both.
Arvin became Rehak’s snitch in 1992 after his own friends ripped off his car stereo. Their relationship solidified when Arvin tipped Rehak to drugs, guns and a stash of cash in a house the cops had unsuccessfully tried to bust, Rehak tells he jurors.
But the relationship came back to bite Rehak when Arvin was charged with dealing drugs. Arvin figured he was looking at many years in prison, so, in exchange for getting his sentence lightened dramatically, Arvin agreed to set up Rehak in an FBI sting operation designed to test Rehak’s integrity. In one conversation, Rehak and Arvin, who’s wearing a wire, meet in Rehak’s new Chevy three-quarter-ton pickup. Arvin is complaining that he hates the DEA, hates the feds, hates everybody. Rehak tells Arvin that Eric Smith, who is with the DEA, “is a weasel.” At another point Rehak says to Arvin, “You should have listened to me.”
Engh presses Rehak on this point because the prosecution has said that Rehak was hinting to Arvin that he needed money for a better truck. According to the prosecution, Rehak had warned Arvin that the DEA was looking at him.
Talk about the truck, just two guys talkin’ cars, Rehak says. Rehak has never met the DEA’s Smith, but called him a “weasel” just to tell Arvin what he wanted to hear. When he said Arvin should have listened to him, he meant he needed to get off drugs, Rehak says.
Throughout the conversation the two men use “fuck” like house construction workers use nails. Not wanting to offend the jury, Engh reads Rehak’s testimony to him using “f” as a euphemism, then asks why he used such rough language.
“If I had talked saintly to him he wouldn’t have related to me.”
At this point the judge calls time for the afternoon break. As the 16 jurors file out of the cherry-paneled court room, Rehak stands and turns to look each one in the eye.
Rehak is back on the stand, Engh is still carefully guiding him through his testimony. Both men talk in calm, confident voices.
Rehak says Arvin called him to tell him about drugs and money left in room 503 of the Best Western Kelly Inn in St. Paul by a drug dealer named Vinnie who had been arrested in Wisconsin. Rehak invited Mark Naylon, the other defendant, to join him on a possible “knock and talk” at the hotel. When the hotel clerk won’t let them in room 503, which is adjacent to 505 where the FBI is camped out to watch the video equipment it has set up where the fictional Vinnie has left money, Rehak asks Sgt. Roland Martinez to get a search warrant. Martinez, who is Rehak’s commander, is searching the 503 bathroom when Rehak finds a satchel of money in a dresser drawer.
The video tape records Rehak showing Naylon the money, which is rolled in tight fingers and held with rubber bands. Naylon gestures to Rehak, who hands him some of the rolls. Naylon puts the money in the pocket of his jacket.
“What did Mr. Naylon say to you?” Engh asks Rehak.
“He said, ‘Give me some of that. I’m going to fuck with Rollie,’ ” Rehak says.
Naylon teased, tricked and harassed Martinez on a daily basis. There were stories about Naylon planting a knife on a murder scene to trick Martinez, about Naylon dressing Martinez in a clown outfit as part of undercover work and taking his picture, about throwing numbers at him in an attempt to make him miscount money. Rehak says he didn’t know what this particular joke would be, but he was sure the money would ultimately be turned in as evidence.
The video shows Naylon leaving the room with the money which had drug residue on it before Shadow, the drug sniffing canine, arrives on the scene. As commanding officer, Martinez signs a receipt that says $7,500 was found in the bag.
About midnight Rehak and Naylon both called Martinez at home. Mark said he liked to call Rollie at home so his wife would know that he was supposed to be working, Rehak tells the jury. Naylon told Martinez about the $6,000 he had removed from the site and said he was going to put it on Martinez’ chair. They go back and forth and finally Naylon agrees to lock up the money.
Rehak tells the jury that later that night they went back to the hotel, used the key card from the search warrant and changed all four copies of the receipt to reflect that $13,500 was found.
Engh then continues questioning Rehak about a second sting operation the FBI conducted on Rehak and Naylon, this time involving a car which Arvin told Rehak was full of drugs. But the jury members don’t know that U.S. District Judge Patrick Schiltz earlier in the day dismissed the accusations about the car because he saw no evidence of wrong doing. At the request of the defense, and the lack of objection from the prosecution, Schiltz has agreed to withhold that information from the jury until it’s time to give them instructions on what to consider.