Former council member Herron sentenced to jail

Shira Kantor

A federal judge sentenced former Minneapolis City Council member Brian Herron to one year in prison Wednesday after Herron pleaded guilty to federal extortion charges last July.

Herron admitted to requesting $10,000 from local business owner Selwin Ortega in exchange for lenient regulation of Ortega’s 10 Las Americas supermarkets. Herron resigned after the charges became public.

U.S. District Attorney Michael Ward said he thought the judge’s sentence was appropriate.

“He balanced the severity of the offense – which is unquestionable – with the importance of Herron’s cooperation with the investigation,” Ward said.

Because of Herron’s aid, Ward said he supported a lighter sentence than the two to two and a half years in prison federal sentencing guidelines suggest.

The FBI had been secretly monitoring Herron since 1998, when Ortega first approached the bureau with information about the council member’s illegal dealings.

Federal agents video- and audio-recorded the Herron-Ortega transaction last June, but the charges were kept secret until nearly a month later.

The FBI used that time to work with Herron to secure evidence against Basim Sabri, another Minneapolis businessman they suspected was involved in illegal deal-making with city officials.

Sabri was arrested and charged with three felony counts of bribery in August, but the charges were dropped in court last month.

U.S. District Judge Richard Kyle also required that Herron pay $9,000 in restitution – $4,000 of which will go to Ortega.

The remaining $5,000 is marked for Manouchehr Dousti, a local used-car dealer from whom Herron took the same sum in October 2000. Herron had said the money was a bribe, but Dousti maintained it was extorted by Herron.

The former 8th Ward representative will begin serving his sentence March 6. After his release, Herron will be under supervision for three years.

Herron – who, according to court documents, had been found to have recently used marijuana at the time of his arrest – will be
subjected to random drug testing, as well as probational financial supervision.

Kyle recommended the federal facility in Duluth for Herron’s incarceration.

Herron declined to comment.

The former council member’s admission touched off federal and local investigations into Minneapolis inspections and regulatory services to determine whether more widespread corruption existed in city government.

The city’s self-investigation is being conducted by Chicago attorney Joseph Duffy. Duffy attended a City Council meeting last week, where he told city officials his inquiry should be complete this month.

Ward said he could not comment on the federal investigation.

Shira Kantor welcomes comments at
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