Guerin avoids felony sentence

STAR TRIBUNE (Mpls.-St. Paul) Newspaper of the Twin Cities

Date: 07/29/00

Byline: Paul Gustafson; Staff Writer

The judge gave Dino Guerin a choice Friday: resign from office and go to jail, or leave the Ramsey County Board for good. And so Guerin, of his own accord, will resign from the board Sept. 15 and serve 15 days in jail. But the move gives him the chance to get back on the board and stay there. By accepting the terms of the gross misdemeanor sentence offered him by Dakota County District Judge Richard Spicer for writing $35,500 in bad checks last year, Guerin was spared a felony conviction and allowed to seek reelection this fall, which he said he plans to do. Under Ramsey County's charter, a felony would have required Guerin's removal from office immediately with no chance to serve again.

"I'm pissed that you violated the public trust, but I think the citizens should decide," Spicer told Guerin in court, after offering him the choice. Guerin weighed the decision for 10 minutes with his attorney, Earl Gray, before going with the gross misdemeanor. Assistant Dakota County Attorney Kevin Shea argued that there was no basis for the more lenient sentence and that it will be appealed. Guerin will be allowed to serve his jail time on days when he is not working as a St. Paul firefighter. Other terms of the sentence require him to repay Wells Fargo Bank and pay a $500 fine. He must also enter and complete a gambling addiction program and stay out of all gambling establishments. In a grave but calm voice, Guerin said in court, "I'd like to at least apologize for the embarrassment I've caused myself, my family, friends and people who put their trust in me." Soon after his sentencing, however, a defiant Guerin told reporters he will continue with his run for office. "It's not the end of the world. I'm just letting people know I'm not going away," he said. Of his County Board district on St. Paul's East Side, Guerin said, "Most of the people there are my friends." His status as a St. Paul firefighter will be discussed Monday at a meeting between Chief Tim Fuller and members of City Attorney Clayton Robinson's staff. Meanwhile, Guerin faces a suit by TCF Bank for defaulting on a $12,000 loan. And federal officials continue to investigate loans Guerin received in 1999 from a security company official who did business with the county and from his union, St. Paul Fire Fighters Local 21. U.S. Attorney B. Todd Jones declined to comment about the status of the investigation. . A gambling problem Guerin announced last November that he had a gambling addiction and was seeking treatment, estimating that he owed $50,000 in gambling debts to friends and family members. A few days later, he was booked on suspicion of writing bad checks.

He was charged in February with a felony for writing the checks, which were cashed at four then-Norwest Bank offices in Dakota and Ramsey counties. After the sentencing Friday, Ramsey County Commissioner Susan Haigh reiterated earlier statements that Guerin should resign immediately. She said that he used a legal technicality to remain on the public payroll. "This is unbelievable," Haigh said. "Commissioner Guerin pleaded guilty to facts that constitute a felony and he used the legal process to get around our charter requirements."

County Board Chairman Rafael Ortega said, however, that Guerin's sentence was fair and ensures that the County Board will remain at full strength in the next few weeks. "I've always advocated for the process to take its course and let the electorate decide the final outcome," he said. State Rep. Steve Trimble, DFL-St. Paul, one of two people challenging Guerin for his County Board seat, said the sentence smacked of favoritism. He added that he won't make Guerin's conviction an issue in the campaign, but that it will hurt him nevertheless.

Guerin "may lose by more than he was going to," Trimble said. But St. Paul City Council President Dan Bostrom, who was on the council with Guerin, said that "Dino is a scrapper and he's not anyone to be taken lightly. If he's in the election. . . . He will work hard." Ramsey County Commissioner Janice Rettman, a frequent ally of Guerin's on the board as well as when they both served on the St. Paul City Council, applauded the sentence and said it left Guerin's political future up to East Side voters. "The judge has given Dino an opportunity to bring closure to this, and if he uses his tenacity and takes responsibility, I hope and believe he can keep his addiction in check," Rettman said.

Guerin had told reporters that he completed a gambling treatment program and that he had the money to pay back Wells Fargo Bank (formerly Norwest) in an escrow account. In court Friday, however, Gray acknowledged that Guerin has repaid only $10,000 of $35,500 to Wells Fargo. And while Guerin has undergone treatment for his addiction, Spicer noted that he has not yet completed any treatment program. Court documents also disclosed that Guerin lied to a Norwest Bank official when he said that he needed to cash the checks in order to bail out a brother who had been arrested. Shea argued that Gray presented no evidence that Guerin's gambling addiction is a major mental impairment that supports a gross misdemeanor sentence for a felony crime. A presentence investigation report given to Spicer by a probation officer also recommended that Guerin receive a felony sentence, as recommended by state sentencing guidelines. Before giving Guerin a choice of sentences Friday, Spicer said that there were good reasons both for and against imposing the more lenient gross misdemeanor sentence that Guerin sought. The judge said that he agreed with Gray that Guerin's bad-check writing was caused by a pathological gambling addiction. That addiction and Guerin's clean record were reasons to depart from sentencing guidelines calling for a felony sentence with probation, Spicer said. On the other hand, Spicer told Guerin in court that the amount of money involved in the crime was significant and that he had violated the public trust. Spicer then laid out the options: Accept a felony sentence with probation and no jail time that would trigger immediate removal from public office, or take a gross misdemeanor sentence that allowed a reelection bid but that required that he resign from office and serve 15 days in jail. At first Spicer said that Guerin must resign Tuesday. But he changed the date to Sept. 15 so that Ramsey County could avoid calling a special election to fill Guerin's vacant seat only a few weeks before the November general election. As a result, the person elected to Guerin's seat in November will take office upon certification of the election and not have to wait until January, county officials said.

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