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The long road back: Pat Forciea, one-time political and sports whiz kid, returns today from federal prison

He is on his way home by bus from a federal prison in Colorado. Forciea will move into a halfway house to complete the sentence he received for fraud and embezzlement. In a recent letter, he expressed regret for the harm he caused.

Pat Forciea, right, is pictured with campaign manager John Blackshaw at the state Capitol during a 1990 Wellstone campaign press conference.
Photo by Terry Gydesen
Pat Forciea, right, is pictured with campaign manager John Blackshaw at the state Capitol during a 1990 Wellstone campaign press conference.

Pat Forciea, the one-time golden boy of Minnesota DFL politics and sports, is expected to return home by bus today from a federal prison in Colorado.

A few months ago, Forciea wrote a letter to Hank Shea, a U.S. prosecutor involved in his case at the time, “to thank him for stepping in and saving my life. … He wrote back to wish me well and to urge me to come home, keep my head up and do the right thing,” he told me in one his letters during our several-month correspondence. 

The former marketing executive, now 52, will be moving into a Minneapolis halfway house for an undetermined period as he completes terms of the eight-year sentence he received in 2004, after he waived his rights to a trial and pleaded guilty to two counts of fraud and embezzlement. Additionally, he was ordered to pay $5 million in restitution, most to a number of Minnesota banks from which he fraudulently received loans in an attempt to build a minor-league hockey empire.

In one of his final letters from prison, Forciea expressed great regret to all those he had harmed.

“Sometimes, I don’t know if people who do what I did truly understand how many people they actually let down when they engaged in their inappropriate behavior,” Forciea wrote. “In my case, my crimes not only directly impacted the financial victims of my activity [many of whom were longtime friends] but I also know I greatly disappointed countless numbers of people who had been kind to me and supported me throughout the whole state of Minnesota my whole life.”

In a brief telephone conversation Monday from the bus that was carrying him on his long journey from a federal prison camp in Florence, Colo., Forciea said he had awakened at 2:30 a.m. filled with all sorts of emotions.

He said it was surprisingly difficult to say farewell to some of his fellow inmates.

“It’s a little different than saying goodbye after high school graduation, or college graduation,” he said.

Thankful for the support he got
The support he received — and, he hopes, gave — to his friends at the prison camp, he said, was vital to staying positive.

“I have learned you find good people in all sorts of different places,” Forciea said by phone.

During a seven-hour layover in Denver on Monday, Forciea said he planned to meet with some old friends, including one man whose family was defrauded.

“That person has stood with me the whole time,” said Forciea. “I’ve had so many people who have stood by me this whole time. I’ve been the luckiest prisoner you can possibly imagine.”

Once upon a time, Forciea seemed to have it all: He was energetic, athletic (hockey was the sport of choice for the Iron Ranger from Coleraine), bright, creative and had a beautiful wife and two kids. He’s lost everything, though he hopes to establish a relationship with his children.

His name became prominent in state politics in 1990, when he was part of the inner circle around Paul Wellstone’s low-budget, high-passion U.S. Senate election upset of incumbent Rudy Boschwitz.

In ensuing years, he worked in marketing for the Minnesota North Stars. After that team moved to Dallas, he worked on the Twins’ efforts to get the Legislature to support public financing of a new ballpark and on marketing projects for the University of Minnesota athletic department.

In 2002, Forciea was campaign manager for DFL gubernatorial candidate Roger Moe, but by then, it was becoming clear that Forciea had too many irons in too many fires.

He left the campaign after two months, citing creative differences. But in fact, it was because Forciea couldn’t devote all of his energies to the uphill campaign.

An excerpt of one of Pat Forciea's prison letters to Doug Grow
An excerpt of one of Pat Forciea’s prison letters to Doug Grow.

In 2003, Forciea was wheeling and dealing in minor-league hockey franchises — and defrauding banks in an effort to pay for his passion. With the feds investigating his dealings, Forciea turned himself in to authorities in July 2004 and received his prison sentence in November.

Forciea said he had been diagnosed as having bipolar disorder, for which he was treated at the federal prison/hospital facility in Rochester.

“I spent two years there,” Forciea said in a letter to me, “being treated by some of the most extraordinary medical professionals in our country. They have given me a chance to be a father again and I do not know how I will ever be able to adequately thank them or everyone in their community.”

In letters, Forciea said he regards the disorder simply as a fact — not an excuse for his behavior.

“Our criminal justice system gives people the opportunity take the position they are not guilty of their crimes, and there are certainly cases when they are not,” Forciea wrote. “In my situation, I would have been even more irresponsible than I already had been had I adopted that position or tried to blame anyone or anything else. There was nobody to blame but me. Judge [James] Rosenbaum and Mr. Shea did exactly the right thing in my case.”

His hope now, he said, is to somehow give something back.

“My mom and dad are 84 and 86,” he wrote. “God has kept them in good health for me. Our family gene pool seems to be strong. I am hoping God has a long runway in front of me so that I will have many years to try and regain the respect of all of these people that I know I have disappointed.”

He hopes to work with local nonprofit
Forciea plans to work for a Minnesota nonprofit that helps match volunteers and resources to developing countries.

In a statement that Forciea said he might read to reporters upon his return, he wrote: “I was the luckiest inmate you’ve ever seen. On those days when I was struggling, I was always helped back up by many kind staff people from our government, I was cared for by some of the most kind and patient doctors and nurses in Rochester, hundreds of friends of mine from throughout my life kept writing and visiting me, virtually all of the men I served with were always there to support me and my family walked every step of this journey with me.

“All of these people have given me a chance to be a father again and I will always be very grateful to them.”

Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.