Attorney Duffy in town as federal probe continues

David La Vaque

Joseph J. Duffy, the Chicago attorney selected to head Minneapolis’ self-investigation, arrived Tuesday and began assembling a team of investigators, said City Attorney Jay Heffern.

The city investigation accompanies a federal inquiry into Minneapolis’ regulatory and inspections departments, which stems from former City Council Member Brian Herron’s admission to federal extortion charges in July.

Heffern said he chose Duffy – who is charging $235 per hour – for his “substantial experience” with investigating corporations and government bodies, and because Stetler & Duffy Ltd., the firm in which Duffy is a partner, has heavily concentrated on white-collar crimes.

Heffern noted Duffy’s near-decade-long stint as a U.S. district attorney and that Duffy led an investigation into Chicago’s licensing and inspections departments resulting in 55 indictments and 32 convictions – including those of a circuit court judge, an Illinois state senator and a Chicago alderman.

“I think he’s an excellent choice,” Heffern said, underscoring his confidence Duffy will have a scope and timeline outlined shortly.

Duffy is in Minneapolis now, familiarizing himself with the case and searching for a retired local FBI or IRS agent to aid him in the investigation, Heffern said. Corey Rubenstein, a Stetler & Duffy
partner, will also be involved in the inquiry.

Heffern is authorized to pay Duffy up to $50,000. The City Council would have to approve payments more than that amount.

Duffy is replacing Heffern’s original selection, Minneapolis attorney Donald Lewis, who resigned from his post in July after concerns surfaced regarding his past support of the mayor.

The federal inquiry

Federal prosecutors responded Monday to allegations of impropriety from businessman Basim Sabri.

Sabri, charged with bribing Herron with a total of $95,000, sought to dismiss his indictment in a motion filed last week.

Federal agents approached Herron about three weeks before he publicly admitted to extorting $10,000 from Selwin Ortega, another businessman, and resigned from the Council. As part of a plea agreement, the former 8th Ward representative worked in secret with the FBI to help gather evidence against Sabri.

Sabri and his attorney, Andrew Birrell, claimed the FBI unjustly targeted Sabri and called the bureau’s secret tactics “outrageous.”

Sabri defended his actions to investigators shortly after his arrest, but in last week’s motion said the FBI unjustly targeted him and induced him into offering involuntary statements about his involvement with Herron. The motion also alleged the bureau’s search warrant was overbroad and called for nonpertinent items.

Prosecutors responded to Sabri’s pre-trial motions with a 15-page affidavit discounting Sabri’s claims as “wholly without merit.”

The document, which includes partial transcripts of various audio- and videotaped conversations of Sabri and Herron discussing the bribes, said, “Obviously, covert tactics must be employed to capture persons such as the defendant who secretly corrupt government processes.”

Sabri’s court date has not yet been set, said U.S. district attorney spokeswoman Karen Bailey.

Neither Sabri nor Birrell could be reached for comment.

 

Shira Kantor covers City Hall
and encourages comments at [email protected]