Thursday, April 30, 2009

Stupid North Minneapolis Home Repairs--Slumlords Rack Up Huge Lead?

It just me, or do most of the "Stupid North Minneapolis Home Repairs" tend to be RENTAL properties? Somehow, it just seems like people take a lot more care with their own homes. But it's not like I've formally gathered data. In the photo above, taken on Lyndale Ave. N...

...somebody didn't bother to cover up the glass of the electrical meter before slapping paint on the exterior of the house, allowing paint to drip on the glass. Something like that could almost be forgiven, but they didn't even bother to wipe the paint off before it dried. Stupidity can be casually forgiven as a human foible, but sloth is one of the Seven Deadly Sins.

Unloved And Unmourned, 2125 Lyndale Ave. N. Goes Down (Clues To "Smiley Faced Killers" Forever Lost?)

Photos By John Hoff 

This tiny little house at 2125 Lyndale Ave. N. was one of the first houses I looked at in North Minneapolis. The squatting activity there was flagrant. In fact, whoever was trying to sell the house eventually just GAVE UP on replacing the locks on the doors, so often would the door get kicked in...

I don't think anybody in the neighborhood was watching and fretting about this small, ugly building...which, the truth be told, could have been a useful "mother in law cottage" to the house next door, a big rambling property I call "Squat-O-Topia," where there is ALSO a lot of signs of squatting.

There was an odd, creepy smiley face in the upstairs window of this house. I can't help but think of the "Smiley Face Killer" theory about a group of murderers knocking off college-aged young men, by forcing them to drink too much alcohol (something they're not inclined to do in the first place) and then la-dee-dah-dee throwing them off bridges or walking them into rivers.


OK, obviously I had the sarcasm font activated while the snark button was on. Sure, I don't know if I actually buy the "Smiley Face Killer" theory. But I don't know if I want to make fun of it THAT much, either.

In any case, some WEEKS ago the tired little "mother-in-law cottage" at 2125 Lyndale Ave. N. went down, unmourned and unloved. It should not be, however, utterly un-noted, un-remarked, and un-documented. At one time, it was a sweet little cottage. The relationship to the property at 2127 Lyndale Ave. N. seems obvious, even though the property at 2125 was (apparently) split off in a way that would NEVER BE ALLOWED TODAY. Somebody must have cared deeply about a family member, so deeply they were willing to BUILD A HOUSE for their proximity and comfort. And yet they didn't want that person living under their same roof.

Who were these people? What was the story?

We think we're losing crappy buildings in this rush to North Minneapolis revitalization, but we're not JUST losing old buildings. If no building is there to make us ask questions, why would we ever go digging for the story of who was there before? And if we don't know who was there before, what were their victories and defeats, what challenges did they face and how did they overcome those will we avoid repeating the same mistakes?

Groundbreaking At 1200 West Broadway--NoMi Progress Rolls Forward!

Stock Photo By John Hoff 

I sure wished I'd checked my text messages this morning, because then I might have taken in the groundbreaking event at 1200 West Broadway.

I tell you, life in NoMi is just endless socialization, public events, epic and colorful struggles (with neighborhood revitalization forces USUALLY coming out on top, decisively) and, of course, dinners at the ultra-affordable houses of friends. Connie Nompelis was the one who sent me word of the groundbreaking, with FIFTEEN MINUTES NOTICE. She is pictured in the stock photo above, to the left, with a distinguished older resident of the Eco Village, and Hawthorne Housing Director Jeff Skrenes. Jeff is wearing the "Navy seal casual" outfit he prefers when confronting slumlords armed with heavy equipment.

Well, though I couldn't be there to watch ground broken it appears no media or even the blogosphere covered this worthy event, so I will do my bit of public service by promulgating the details. This is yet another great project by the Ackerberg Group....

Here's what the Ackerberg Group would like everybody to know about their project at 1200 West Broadway:

The 1200 West Broadway project will renovate a vacant, two-story commercial building on Minneapolis’s Northside. Built originally as a four-plex in 1902, the building was expanded to become a mortuary in 1926 and expanded again in 1930. Most recently, a day care facility operated in the building.

The Ackerberg Group on behalf of Catalyst Community Partners will convert the building into office space and two storefronts that may house a community meeting room and a shared commercial kitchen.

The renovation of the 12,000 square foot building will include new ADA assessable restrooms, the addition of a vertical lift, mold and asbestos remediation, new building lobby, fa├žade improvements, new mechanicals, new electrical, new tenant spaces and common areas, and more. The parking lot will see the addition of a bio retention area that will treat all run off on site. Native grasses will be planted in conjunction with the bio retention area.

This prime site is located in North Minneapolis at the intersection of Fremont Avenue and West Broadway. West Broadway is one of the city’s eight commercial corridors and is the "spine" of North Minneapolis. It has daily traffic counts of over 29,000. Both Fremont Avenue and West Broadway are currently major bus routes. The site is in close proximity to many significant Northside landmarks such as North High School, the YMCA, Cub Foods, Hawthorne Crossing shopping complex, and the newly renovated 1101 West Broadway.

Additionally, there are several major commercial developments slated for the next two years including a new YWCA and commercial space by Great Neighborhoods! Development Corporation, a potential major housing development several blocks west of the property, and the renovation of the city-owned “Delisi’s” building at Penn Avenue and West Broadway. The nearby Capri Theater is currently undergoing a major renovation.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


Stock Photo By John Hoff

(Dictated verbally by Brian Reichow)

For the last several weeks garage and home burglaries in the Willard Hay neighborhood have been so numerous that it warranted a Fourth Precinct alert. Homes were getting broken into MULTIPLE TIMES, with the perpetrator returning to get stuff he didn't steal the first time.  On one occasion, the burglar was chased off when somebody wired their garage with...

...a baby monitor to hear when somebody broke in.

BUT THE WILLARD HAY RESIDENTS ARE AN ENTERPRISING AND ORGANIZED BUNCH. Some of the most involved residents communicated constantly via a neighborhood listserv. They shared information including all details that could be recalled about the suspect's appearance and clothing. The burglaries were happening as early as March. His MO was he'd case houses, knocking on doors to see who was home. If somebody was home he'd be all, like, "Is Tom here?" He appeared to know exactly when people were and were not home.

Today, according to the Willard Homewood Organization (WHO) listserv, a resident observed somebody who appeared to match the description of the suspect in the 500 Block of Russell Ave. N. attempting to break into homes. (That location is actually in Harrison, but who's counting?) Prior to that, the suspect had been working the 700 Block of Queen, 1000 Block of Russell, 2600 Block of Plymouth, among others.

The resident stayed in his/her vehicle and observed, actually narrating the actions of the suspect to 911 dispatch until police squads arrived. The piece of dirt (this is JNS writing at this moment, not Brian's words) has been arrested.

Now (back to Brian again) he is being held pending charges and investigation. The police want individuals who can provide info that identifies this person specifically to COME FORWARD. He will be held for 72 hours pending charges. Here is the contact info for the Fourth Precinct: Sergeant Holley, 612-673-5714. Be sure to quote this case number: 09-125063.


Photo By John Hoff

Reliable word comes from Homewood resident Brian Reichow--a true urban pioneer in NoMi--that the Snow Foods store and associated strip mall at Penn and Plymouth is being gutted by heavy equipment even as I type these words. The building will apparently remain, but the interior is being completely renovated and revised as part of University of Minnesota "UROC" efforts.

I have, in the past, criticized the U of M for not moving much, much faster at Penn and Plymouth. But today is progress and I celebrate and I thank Brian for getting me this info so I can share it with all of you! The struggle for urban utopia moves forward with shoe leather, emails, blog posts, concerned calls to public officials, 311 reports, and--perhaps most dramatically--on the clanking treads of heavy equipment.

(Do not click "Read More")

CitiMortgage Messes Over The Hawthorne Neighborhood AGAIN! (What part of "We will sue you?" don't they understand?!)

Photo By Jeff Skrenes 

Further information has come loose in regard to the alarming situation at 3007 3rd St. N.. the subject of some earlier posts.

Evanner Haymon, the former owner of the notorious "pill house" at 3020 6th St. N., which is facing eviction and evacuation any moment, has become the owner of 3007 3th St. N., which sits nestled between an apartment complex and homes. The homes hold senior citizens and a vulnerable non-English speaking family with at least one small child. HOW CONVENIENT!!!!

Well, guess who is helping Evanner Haymon to own this property and (we presume) set up shop there?

Oh, no fair, you read the headline. Yes, that's right, it's...

...our old foe CitiMortgage, which is listed in a public record as the "servicer" of the loan. (This information is second hand, but I trust the source. Contrary or additional info is welcomed. See comment threads below)

CitiMortgage was the subject of a lawsuit by the Hawthorne Neighborhood Council--I do not speak for the HNC--which asserted "improvident lending." This novel lawsuit--which reportedly made mortgage companies all over the United States lose sleep and break out in night sweats over the possible legal outcomes--was settled out of court.

Nobody really expected CitiMortgage to clean up its act in the wake of the lawsuit, but at a minimum we expected they'd clean up their act IN THE HAWTHORNE NEIGHBORHOOD. We were all acting under a presumption Evanner scraped up some cash and bought this property. Now we find out the former owner of the "pill house" at 3020 4th St. N. allegedly has a friend in the banking industry: CITIMORTGAGE.

This news may take some of the steam out of the Hawaiian theme party we were planning to have when 3020 6th St. N. is evacuated. In the meantime, it's my (unpaid and increasingly burdensome) job to help spread the word: LAWYERS ARE INVOLVED. There will certainly be some attempt to contact CitiMortgage.

I wonder if they'll just ignore the communication like they did before, which was why we (that is to say, the HNC, an entity I do not speak for) HAD TO SUE THEM!!!!!!

Please note: Evanner's name has been known to take on spelling variations.

Sustained By Sticky Rice, Neighborhood Revitalization Battle Ramps Up Rapidly!

What sustains us in our battle to revitalize North Minneapolis? Sticky rice from Bangkok Market!

If you go to the part 19 seconds into
this video, click here, you would get a sort of auditory representation of the "sound of alarm" spreading through police, regulatory agencies, the neighborhood organization over the developing situation at 3007 3rd St. N...

I've seen the flurry of emails, but I don't have copies. One neighborhood leader said it appeared "sadistic plans" were being laid to create drug customers at the apartment complex next door to 3007 3rd St. N. (Late at night, with lights on and newspaper taped over a window, the house at 3007 ALREADY looks like it may be occupied though heaven knows if it has plumbing) A city official said he/she feared the residents of 3rd Street North would be "terrorized" like the residents of 6th St. N. had been, by drug and prostitution activity.

ALL THE NEIGHBORHOOD MOVERS AND SHAKERS who need to be involved in this matter are involved, and a regulatory services vehicle was seen at the property just this morning.

I'd like to point out all this activity started with a single anonymous comment on this blog, pointing out Evannor Haymon now owns that property. Gee, imagine what this neighborhood could accomplish if we could actually SEARCH PROPERTIES BY NAME OF OWNER on the clunky City of Minneapolis property website? Like city officials can?


Spiffing Up The "Durian Fruit" Store On West Broadway

Photo by John Hoff
The obscure, hidden-away Asian market located on West Broadway (right next to Friedman's) recently spiffed up their exterior. This is the place where I managed to find DURIAN FRUIT, an infamously fragrant Asian fruit I'd been wanting to try ever since I heard about it, years ago...

This store is a quirky, hidden delight well worth checking out if you don't mind dealing with the drug dealers who enjoy that street corner, too. But they don't really go inside this store. In fact, hardly anybody goes inside this store. Operations involving the shipment of who-knows-what (fruit?) seems to be the focus of that business, and the store itself is a cluttered afterthought.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Kenya McKnight's INSANE Complaint To DFL Begins, "With the most holy name of Allah the Beneficent..." photo

Rumors are running like furry lemmings about wannabe candidate Kenya McKnight's insane, rambling written complaint to the DFL about the results of the 5th Ward Convention, which endorsed Don Samuels...

I hear the document has a boldface "preamble" or--to put it more accurately--a "pre-ramble" which begins, "With the most holy name of Allah the Beneficent..."

Yeah, that's pretty much how I like to begin all my formal written complaints. (Sarcasm font notification)

I am just about going NUTS here because I know this juicy document is in the hands of a number of prominent people, and I'm wishing one of them had the guts to slip me a copy EARLIER rather than LATER.

Yes, I know I'll get a copy at some point...but I want it now!!! And, I venture to say, so do my readers.

It's not only what I want, it's what THE QUEEN OF ENGLAND wants!

Oh, by the way: I am starting to rethink my criticism of Al McFarlane using up so much of Kenya's podium speaking time at the 5th Ward convention. In retrospect, that may have been a really smart move. But the word is this written complaint is "Kenya off the leash."

$25,000!!!! That's A Lot Of Wheaties!!!!

Photo By John Hoff

Today the Hawthorne Neighborhood Council received a $25,000 check from General Mills. Our Community Affairs Director, Alexandra, pictured above, described it as the most money she'd ever had in her hand at one time.

The funds...

...will reportedy go to support the "Hawthorne Huddle," a monthly event where the movers and shakers of the neighborhood meet early...really have discussions about relevant neighborhood matters.

This blog doesn't speak on behalf of HNC but I can still say THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU General Mills.

Johnny Northside Dot Com officially urges readers to "eat your Wheaties."

Dealing WIth Computer Stuff In A Neighborhood Organization, A VERY SPECIAL ILLUSTRATED BLOG POST!!!

Photos By John Hoff

A grassroots neighborhood organization like the Hawthorne Neighborhood Council doesn't use the most modern computer equipment and, furthermore, they don't have the money for a round-the-clock Information Technology geek to solve technical issues as they arise. So often...

Those who work in the office--and those who come by with frequency--are left to "geek around" on our own. We find technical solutions that may not be brilliant, may not be optimal, but somehow get the document printed or (in this case) the photo up on the website.

FOR REASONS I CAN'T FIGURE OUT, the computers at the office can download and save images off my blog, but when I try to send those same images as attachments...I just get a blank spot in the photo file, where the image should be when I save it. I've tried using Jeff's computer, thinking I could "geek around the problem" that way. Turns out, oh, yes, I can download the pictures all right...I just can't load 'em up on the website!!!

So I have a solution, and it's ugly, like wiring a muffler to a car with a clothes hanger is ugly, but it gets the job done: load the pictures to my blog. Then download them to the office computer which appears to work best with our website.

I hope that works.

So enjoy, enjoy, enjoy these generalized images which may, in another context, make good illustrations for topics. The struggle for a better neighborhood--an urban utopia, if you will--comes from moments like this, when you're frustrated and you want to throw up your hands, but you're NOT going to give up, because somebody else is depending on you.

I'll probably delete this post at some point, once I get the images where they need to go and, well, I may even switch images on this post if I have to keep using this crude (yet high tech!) solution to my computer issue.

Preparing For The Next Census In North Minneapolis, Throwing Around Predictions

Photo By John Hoff 

Yesterday, a young man working for the Census Bureau was walking up to the doors of houses in the Hawthorne Neighborhood, stopping about five feet from each door as though halted by an invisible force...

He was punching data into a handheld device.

Not knowing who he was, or what he was about, but realizing he was somebody OFFICIAL, I asked him his mission. He identified himself--actually holding up his census taker ID, around his NECK--and said he was entering data about the locations of houses in preparation for the next census.

GOOD IDEA. There are so many formerly-occupied houses which are now VACANT LOTS, I can see where it might get confusing for the Census Bureau. Without going through and physically checking the locations of homes, they could waste a lot of effort looking for something which is no longer there. Of course, by the time the census is actually taken, MANY more buildings will be demolished. So I hope this won't be the only "go through."

A friend of mine who cares a lot about neighborhood demographics recently made a stunning prediction about the next census: the final data will show North Minneapolis is no longer a majority black neighborhood.

I disagreed with my contact. I was all, like, NO WAY. Yes, the foreclosure crisis has deeply impacted our neighborhood with many people moving out, and new people moving in, but I figure this just produces the same overall percentages of various ethnicities, not any dramatic change. The sheer drop in the number of PEOPLE living in North Minneapolis, now THAT will be interesting, I say.

My friend was insistent, and probably more insistent after drinking half a bottle of very good wine: LOOK AROUND, said the friend, start calculating.

I am always willing to consider data contrary to my own opinion, so I contemplated this counterpoint. I told my friend about the time, quite recently, I boarded a No. 22 bus and started counting heads, doing an informal census of my own. My "straw poll bus census" produced an even split between white and black on that particular day, riding that particular bus, which was VERY ODD FOR THAT BUS ROUTE. In fact, that's the reason I started counting heads in the first place: I wanted data to back up my gut-level perception that something wasn't the same as usual on that bus, that particular morning.

Not wanting to be disagreeable with my friend--especially over a bottle of good wine--I said I'd be more likely to believe this kind of result with the upcoming census: North Minneapolis might be no longer "majority black," but certainly not "majority white." There are huge pockets of Hmong families, the families often three generations with many children. Furthermore, there are many people who will be declaring their biracial heritage, especially in the wake of the election of President Obama. One should not parse individual human beings: biracial is its own category.

I would be more likely to believe, in the next census, North Minneapolis might be in a state of "diverse plurality" with white, black, Asian, biracial, and a relatively small number of other races, nobody holding a majority. I would also be more likely to believe a situation of "majority black, but with deep losses in overall numbers."

The thing is, though, NOBODY REALLY KNOWS. Riding a bus doesn't tell you. Thinking up all the people you know and where they live doesn't tell you. Looking at real estate data doesn't tell you, though what's happening with real estate appears to be the reason things might change so much, so fast.

Really, the only thing that can tell you with a veneer of official accuracy is the United States census, which is why we have a census in the first place.

But can I find information to completely rebut my friend's stunning prediction? No, I can't. And that's why the question fascinates me, because it is deeply important and yet NOBODY KNOWS. So I thought I'd just throw the question out there, for consideration.

One thing is for sure: the next census will show dramatic changes in our North Minneapolis neighborhoods produced by the foreclosure crisis. But the question is: WHAT will those dramatic changes be?

Monday, April 27, 2009

JNS BLOG EXCLUSIVE: "Long time trouble spot Stand Up Franks is closed for good."

Photo by John Hoff 

Lt. Rugel of the 4th Precinct fired off an email to me, and I assume he wanted me to disseminate word of this...

Rugel says only as follows, and infer from it what you will:

"I can't give any details on the reasons or what the future will hopefully soon bring, but long-time trouble spot Stand Up Franks is closed for good as of today."

No Sympathy For "The Devil" From Jeff Skrenes, The "Hawthorne Hawkman"

Photos By Jeff Skrenes, John Hoff 

Hawthorne Housing Director Jeff Skrenes posted photos on his Facebook profile of the worrisome situation at 3007 Third Street N., discussed in my previous blog post. The title of Jeff's Facebook photo album was "No Sympathy For The Devil." 

We have struggled so hard to get rid of the drug house at 3020 6th St. N., so HELL (excuse me) if we want to see a drug house pop up all over again at 3007 3rd St. N., just blocks away. THERE IS NO UNOFFICIAL ZONE OF TOLERANCE! THERE IS NO QUASI-OFFICIAL RED LIGHT DISTRICT, HERE! Drugs, pimping, prostitution must get out, out, OUT of North Minneapolis.

Here are some of Jeff's photos and some of mine telling the story of our foray to that property, which residents recently learned was purchased by Evannor Haymon, whose rental at 3020 6th St. N. was raided REPEATEDLY for drug activity before being lost to foreclosure.

That's not to say the drug activity STOPPED after the foreclosure and expiration of redemption. Oh, heavens no! By that statement I simply mean Evannor's OWNERSHIP was lost to foreclosure. Obvious signs of drug activity are still going on--most likely as I type these very words--but evacuation of the residents is expected on or about May 10.

As for these photos of 3007 3rd St. N, from top to bottom...

In the first photo, hmmm, how can I put this...?


To be perfectly fair--give The Devil His due, I say--that surveillance camera may have been on the exterior of the house before the current owner. Incredibly, it is not pointed OUT IN THE STREET where trouble usually comes, at least the kind of trouble DECENT people worry about. No, instead the camera is pointed into the middle of the block, as though somebody might try to "outflank" the house and come up from behind.

Second: Bangkok Deli, where sticky rice and other sustaining foods are available for the hungry revitalization warrior always on the go.

"Before you find yourself in a sticky revitalization situation, try our sticky rice!"

Third, chocolate-covered doughnuts and coffee at the home of an upstanding citizen, as the informal neighborhood social network is used to spread information about the situation at 3007 3rd St. N.

Last, a view of the house in question. This is what $10,020 gets you in North Minneapolis, so....

BUY IN AND JOIN OUR FIGHT! We are winning, we are turning this place around, and we will live in safe, pretty houses that go up, up, up in value.

Divorced daddies and mommies, urban adventurers with packs of children in tow, sensible country boys attracted to big city lights, ultra-frugal environmentalists, cops and soldiers and security personnel, NOW IS THE TIME TO BUY, BUY, BUY in the very toughest corners of North Minneapolis and wrestle away real estate from slumlords and bad actors, reaping our rewards in good time: valuable homes in the middle of an urban utopia that we will get the historical credit for creating.

Hawthorne Housing Director Spreads The Alarm To Every Middlesex Village And Farm...Well, Part Of Third Street North, Anyway

Photo By Jeff Skrenes 

News of a disturbing development on Third Street N. started as nothing more than a cryptic, anonymous post on this blog: Evanner "The Devil" Haymon, former owner of the notorious pill house at 3020 6th St. N., had managed to get himself another piece of property after losing much of his empire to foreclosure:

He had managed to snap up 3007 3th St. N.

First of all, I know this property well...

I had been inside the house when buying a salvaged and repaired lawnmower from "Lawnmower Man," a little episode I wrote about on this blog. So I was inside and--judging from what LOOKED like a jug of urine (could have been Mountain Dew, though) I don't think the house had plumbing. The ceilings were falling apart and--while I watched, trying not to let my amazement show--one of the country boy rednecks living there BANGED ON THE CELING WITH AN AXE to wake his relative, so the relative could come downstairs and sell me a lawnmower, salvaged at curbside and raised from the dead with added parts like Frankenstein.

So, yeah, the property was rough.

But then it went into foreclosure, past redemption, and it was lost. Lawnmower Man moved away, and I wrote about THAT too. So I had picked up plenty of nuggets of info about the house. At one point, I had briefly considered buying the house but I decided it was just too rough. Also, the word from Lawnmower Man was a certain neighbor would call the police CONSTANTLY over minor property issues arising over their shared driveway, and she could never be appeased.

So, yeah, I can definitely see a confrontation a-brewing now that "The Devil" has purchased this piece of property. A "Stop Work Order" slapped on the door shows inspections caught Evannor red-handed, working without a permit, on or about April 10. Subsequently, Evanner went and got a permit. It is posted in a front window, and appears to be the same exact blue sheet of paper that Hawthorne Board Chair Peter Teachout saw Evanner holding at the city office where you apply for permits.

What a small world! And, by the way, I've seen his name also spelled "Evannor," and I have seen "Haymon" spelled "Haywood."

 We are worried that when the "pill house" at 3020 6th St. N. gets shut down, "business operations" might be moved to 3007 3rd Street N., just a few blocks away. So committed is Evannor to the neighborhood that he has made this property his HOMESTEAD. A true urban pioneer is Evanner!

And, I might add, 3007 3rd St. N. is a lovely place for a pillhouse! The highway sound barrier creates a feeling of splendid isolation, and there's an apartment complex to one side--plenty of potential customers THERE--and all around are mostly senior citizens plus vulnerable non-English speaking Hmong refugees with little children.

Once I confirmed the alarming veracity of the info about "3007" with online city records, I fired off an email to Jeff. And that pretty much set the course of Jeff's morning. By the time I meandered over to the Hawthorne Neighborhood Council office to give some assistance with photos on their website, Jeff had been to the property and scoped out the situation. We agreed to go over there and eat lunch in the street near 3007, just like we sometimes eat lunch in front of 3020 6th St. N.

You see, when we eat lunch in front of the "pill house," ready to call 911 at evidence of drug-dealing, our mere presence appears to substantially disrupt the drug dealing. The nervousness, the tension, the hostile glaring looks are painfully obvious. All the more reason to "do lunch" in this way.

Of course, if the druggies at 3020 think that's the ONLY time they're being systematically observed--even photographed and videotaped--they're even MORE addled than you might expect of a druggie.

So Jeff and I grabbed some food at Bangkok Deli, and Jeff mentioned to the owner how his food "sustains" us as we sit and disrupt drug traffic. Hearing this, the owner gave Jeff some free sticky rice. We went over to 3007 6th St. N., and it was a special moment, me and Jeff's first stakeout at 3007 3rd St. N. after spending SO MUCH TIME staking out 3020 6th St. N.

Naturally, we ended up talking about how Connie Nompelis (No-bell-iss) makes great bread pudding, using dumpster dived bread. A finely-aged bread is the secret to a great bread pudding, I think.

Mmmmm. Bread pudding.

After we ate, Jeff was determined to go around the neighborhood, knocking on doors, letting the neighbors know the situation with 3007 3rd St. N. One neighbor was not home. Another neighbor was a Hmong family, therefore best contacted through one of our contacts with the Hmong community. However, we hit pay dirt--plus coffee and doughnuts--at another house.

I'd been introduced to these neighbors ONCE by a mutual friend, MONTHS ago. But they were very involved people, holding down that part of Third Street North, keeping it safe. We were greeted, recognized immediately as friends and allies, and told to pull up a chair at the kitchen table. It is always amazing to meet somebody who has lived in North Minneapolis for so long, and seen so many changes. These neighbors had been around since 1963. Back in '63, they said, nobody bothered to lock their door, the neighborhood was THAT safe.

Like most long-time neighbors, they do not describe houses with a mish-mash of street numbers, in the manner of newcomers like myself and Jeff Skrenes. The house at 3007 Third St. N. was "Grizzie's House" (spelling of "Grizzie" unknown) and it sat next to "Windy's House."

There wasn't much we could do or promise, other than make contact and help spread word along the informal social network of decent residents: 3007 Third St. N. is owned by a disreputable person. Be aware, be alert, and we will try to keep you informed as the neighborhood association (not individual neighbors) deal with the bureaucracy to get some action, as well as taking action ourselves, up to and including sitting on the street and monitoring the (expected and anticipated) drug traffic, preferably while eating sticky rice.

I should make it clear we don't want Evanner Haymon treated UNFAIRLY. Oh, heavens no!

We only want him treated the same as any other slumlord whose property is a nexus of constant drug activity, as evidenced by police raids and arrests, and who doesn't bother to get building permits before doing work.

That's really all we want.

Well, snacks are nice, too. Doughnuts. Coffee. Freegan bread pudding. Sticky rice.

A yummy snack or two goes a long way as bachelor buddies fight the endless battle to revitalize a neighborhood, and create urban utopia.

There was one encouraging thing about today's events: talking to those neighbors over coffee confirmed things are REALLY CHANGING in that part of the neighborhood. There has been a substantial decrease in crime and overt social disorder, especially since the demolition of 3119 4th St. N. and 3101 6th St. N., the "Apartment Complexes of Anarchy."

Addendum: information came subsequent to the completion of this blog post that the last purchase of this property, according to incomplete and possibly unreliable data, was in October, 2008, for a mere $10,020 dollars. Further info came from Jeff as follows: the Stop Work Order involved only work done to the outside deck, not other work. Jeff posted pictures of 3007 3rd St. N. on Facebook, under the title "No Sympathy For The Devil."

Community Gardens Are Popping Up All Over NoMi!

Yet another community garden has appeared in rapidly-revitalizing North Minneapolis, (NoMi) this one at the intersection of 22nd Ave. N. and Bryant Ave. N.

The vacant lot in question was for sale for quite a while. In fact....

...I called the seller of the lot, some large and impersonal bank, and made inquiries about the price. I seem to recall being quoted a figure of $25,000. To which I responded, "You understand I can buy a decent HOUSE in this neighborhood for around $17,000? Why would I pay $25,000 for a vacant lot?"

They were willing to take my contact info in case the price dropped to my preferred offer of "maybe a couple grand." But some days ago, piles of fresh soil appeared, then this weekend eager tillers of the soil were seen making the lot into a garden. I learned from one of the participants that this effort is not connected to the Hawthorne Neighborhood association, it is an independent effort. I presume somebody actually BOUGHT the lot but, well, who knows?

The sign which advertised the lot is for sale is knocked down, yet still remains. One wonders if the lumber could be made into a decent compost bin?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Kenya McKnight "Sounded Insane" And Had A Homemade Tattoo As She Appealed Fifth Ward Convention Results

Photo By John Hoff

I was given some details about Kenya McKnight's argument and testimony yesterday before the Minnesota State DFL Constitution Committee. Council Member Don Samuels won the convention endorsement on the third round of voting, but Kenya McKnight, attorney and public figure Ben Myers, and former JACC Executive Director Jerry Moore have filed a similarly-worded complaint. A meeting of the Fifth Ward "C and B" Committee was held yesterday to deal with the matter of the complaint.

Kenya McKnight's verbal arguments took over an hour, as she went on and on like a mental patient off her meds.

(Like. Like. Like. Let me emphasize "Like.")

At one point, according to somebody's very detailed notes, Kenya actually argued the convention should be nullified because SHE wasn't organized. But then she contradicted herself by saying something like "We had candidate info because we were organized." At another point she argued "my people and the DFL" didn't tell her what the rules were.

You have to wonder what she means by "my people" since...

...she still lists no campaign staff at her website as of today! Obviously, Jerry Moore and Ben Myers are playing roles, but they aren't LISTED. You gotta wonder about a thing like that. Why be reluctant to admit Jerry Moore and--?

Never mind. It's obvious why you'd be reluctant.

As Kenya stood and argued, one person noticed she had (what appeared to be) an amateur tattoo on her forearm, and also a "big blue dot the size of a nickel" upon one of her hands. Her speech was a disorganized waterfall of words which was not terribly organized but somehow took an hour. It was noted that when Jerry Moore rose to give testimony/make arguments, he actually had his remarks organized along the lines of the questions which had to be answered, "Was the challenge timely? Were convention rules NOT followed? Were delegates sent notice? Was there a failure of somebody to do their duty?"

By the organization of Jerry's speech, my source was led to conclude "Jerry Moore is the smartest of the bunch."

At one point, one of the committee members said, normally, the challenged person gets the final word. Usually, that would have been Don Samuels, pictured above. HOWEVER, because Kenya McKnight's challenge DID NOT INCLUDE A REQUEST FOR A REMEDY, this meant Don should not get the last word, as he was not being challenged.

Remarkably, according to my source, this legalistic utterance seemed to CHEER the Kenya McKnight people. They didn't appear to understand the full import of the words "didn't include a request for a remedy," which is along the lines of filing a lawsuit but then forgetting to ask for money.

It's unknown when this sad little farce will conclude, but it's pretty easy to predict HOW it will conclude:


JNS BLOG SUPER EXCLUSIVE: Dinner With John Foster, Identity Theft Victim In The Larry Maxwell Mortgage Fraud Trial (PART TWO, PICTURES)

Photos By John Hoff

From top to bottom, here are two pictures of my dinner with the wonderful John Foster/Melony Michaels family, detailed in the previous blog posting. The other two pictures are NOT from the dinner, but are relevant.

From top to bottom...

John and Melony like their bratwurst BURNED. I like it the same way. There aren't enough people who know the joy of BURNED bratwurst or, for that matter, CHARRED marshmallows. The correct way to cook a brat or a marshmallow is to SET IT ON FIRE, let it burn for a while, then blow it out. Eat it soon after it cools. Unfortunately, my camera battery died so I didn't have a chance to photograph the lovely FEAST they put out for us, including strawberry cheesecake.

Second, directly below the scorched bratwurst, is the "Christmas card from hell." This is the card sent by Trent Bowman of Centennial Mortgage saying, in effect, "pleasure doing business TO you." Finding out Centennial Mortgage was involved in the Larry Maxwell deal provided Melony Michaels a vital clue in her amateur investigation. In fact, if Michaels hadn't moved as quickly and decisively as she did, half a dozen more houses were prepared to close under the stolen "John Foster" identity.


The next picture shows Lt. Rugel of the 4th Precinct at a JACC meeting some months ago. But look who is behind Rugel, to the viewer's right. That is Peter "The Pedophile" Richard Stephenson, who has been insinuating himself into JACC meetings and, as discussed in the previous post, was taking an incredibly keen weeks-long interest in the Larry Maxwell trial, trying to pick up nuggets of information. Stephenson stated Keith Reitman was or is his landlord.

The last picture is Keith Reitman, who was the seller in the dirty, fraudulent deal at 1564 Hillside Ave. N. where $5,000 for "windows" was scraped off the seller's side and given to J.L. Moore Consulting, which is former JACC Executive Director Jerry Moore. The "buyer" turned out to be crackhead and career criminal Jerome L. Kingrussell, impersonating the identity of John Foster.

The Larry Maxwell criminal case continues to expand and manifest in more indictments, the latest being Tynessia Snoddy. Mainstream media coverage of Tynessia Snoddy's indictment does not appear to include information about the fact that indictment is directly connected to the Larry Maxwell matter. Maxwell appears to be "the lid" and now the lid has been decisively blown off.

Where will the tangled web lead? How high will the scandal reach?

GOD only knows.

JNS BLOG SUPER EXCLUSIVE: Dinner, Conversation With John Foster, The Identity Theft Victim In The Larry Maxwell Mortgage Fraud Trial (PART ONE, STORY)

Photo By John Hoff

AUSTRALIA was settled by criminals and convicts.

FOSTER'S is Australian for beer.

The identity theft victim of Larry Maxwell, who is now a convicted criminal, was a guy named John FOSTER.


After my blog coverage of the trial, I was very privileged to be invited to dinner at the home of John Foster and Melanie Michaels. And, by "home," I obviously mean their house in a tidy, lovely, arguably-affluent suburb. I don't mean the house they own at 1564 Hillside Ave. N., their ownership very real and yet title was fraudulently transferred.

At the dinner table, juicy documents mixed with yummy bratwurst as myself and community leaders from the Jordan and Hawthorne neighborhoods met and socialized with the Foster/Michaels family. Present was Kip Browne, the Chair of the Jordan Neighborhood, his lovely wife, Kelly, and Mortgage Geek Extraordinaire Jeff Skrenes. Jan Havlish was also present. She is the real estate agent who helped Melony Michaels crack open the one of the biggest mortgage fraud cases in the history of Minnesota, picking up the trail of Larry Maxwell from clues as minor as a Christmas card.

I should make it clear that no document was shared that didn't make it into the trial as evidence, but how convenient and revealing it was to look at those documents--possibly make some copies--and compare information.

Much valuable info was shared amid champagne and cheesecake...

Some of the information was found online as insights verbally relayed were quickly turned into an eager search on the internet by somebody who knew just where to go in the Hennepin County Court website. Amid Foster's beer and bratwurst (deliberately burned to charred perfection) we had our laptops out on the dinner table and we hammered at the keyboards, picking up more of the trail of Larry Maxwell once notes were compared and sleuthing skills were combined.

For example:

There is a civil case spinning out of the Larry Maxwell criminal trial. In fact, this civil case is so messy that it has Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc. SUING ITSELF. Seriously!

Here's a look at the plaintiff and defendants in that case, which is grinding its way through the court systems but has apparently been the subject of virtually no coverage in the media. Time to rectify THAT.

The case is 27-CV-09-6595. The plaintiff is a frothy mouthful, but here it is: Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc., as nominee for Countrywide Home Loans.

The plaintiffs in this case are even more revealing, especially given the fact "MERS" is suing ITSELF. How can MERS sue itself? Apparently, it's a matter of branches being independently owned. So think of it like a Ford dealership suing another Ford dealership. So is Ford suing itself? In our perceptions, arguably, but legally there is a massive distinction between the plaintiff and defendant.

So consider, if you will, the defendants and keep in mind this is NOT THE ORDER the defendants are listed on the lawsuit.

DEFENDANTS: Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc. Flint, Michigan, 48501. Also named is the MERS in Reston, Virginia, 20190.

Larry Maxwell is a defendant, but so is his wife, Vicki Y. Cox-Maxwell. It is not clear whether or not Larry Maxwell and Vicki are divorced. There was a divorce action filed in court but it doesn't appear to have been completed. Some individuals very close to the investigation believe they are divorced, but that remains unconfirmed.

Another defendant is Franklin National Bank of Minneapolis.

Another is JADT Development Group, LLC. This is an entity involved in development in North Minneapolis. Tim Baylor is the president. This is the guy who built 29 high-end town homes at W. River Road, in the Hawthorne Neighborhood. According to the testimony of Greg Coleman, a former Minnesota Viking, Larry Maxwell was the first president of the homeowners association. The address listed for JADT is 2313 W. River Road, the same as the luxury townhouse development.

Another defendant is River View Homes, LLC, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 55422. From the name, one presumes this entity may be connected with 2313 W. River Road, somehow. However I've had difficulty nailing down more info. I do not find an LLC with that precise name and location registered with the Minnesota Secretary of State's Office. (Those corporate registrations are easily accessible online)

Some additional "high end" defendants include the Minnesota Department of Revenue and the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. Attorney General Lori Swanson is the lawyer listed for the United States.

I know what you're thinking: how can you sue the United States in a STATE Court? Well, on 4/24/2009 there was a notation: "Notice of Case Reassignment." One suspects that, like the T.J. Waconia fraudsters case, this thing is heading for federal court. There are some advantages to filing a case in STATE court first, then having it removed to federal court, but that discussion is rather arcane for this blog.

Let us return to beer and brats and other pieces of information.

In the course of dinner, I was doing my outrageous verbal imitation of court spectator Peter Richard Stephenson, and how he walked right up to Defense Attorney Larry Reed and said something like, "Excuse me, sir, I just wanted to ask you a question...when you're saying stuff, and it's not really clear what you're saying...are you doing that ON PURPOSE?"

Larry Reed looked at Peter politely and said, "I'm not sure I know what you mean" and then went on about his highly-paid lawyer business.

I didn't even know Peter's last name off the top of my head, and I assumed Peter was a harmless eccentric. I had seen Peter at one JACC meeting, seated right next to Lt. Rugel, who ignored him, and I noted how the Chair, Kip Browne, let Peter ask a question from the spectator gallery...treating Peter with the kind of detached, reluctant kindness one gives to harmless eccentrics, particularly when they are getting on in years.

Notably, Kip Browne did NOT say something like, "Oh, I see the Level Three Sex Offender who molests children as young as 8 has something to add to the JACC meeting!"

As I told Kip later, "I was taking my social cues from you. And you treated him like a harmless eccentric."

I had also seen evidence Peter was not a dummy: in fact, he'd handed over VERY interesting documents about a couple pieces of property in North Minneapolis--owned by somebody you really wouldn't expect to own two properties like that--and Peter knew his way around the court system so completely that he was capable of giving valuable orientation tips. Indeed, I saw Peter talking to some washed-out chronic alcoholic who was scheduled to appear before Judge Chu, and trying--in Peter's intensely loud and annoying way--to give the clueless SOB some valuable pointers.

And so, when asked who Peter was, by both Melony Michaels (the wife of John Foster) and one unnamed person in the court system, I answered, "Oh, he's sort of an eccentric who hangs around meetings in the Jordan Neighborhood, sometimes. He comes off kind of weird, but he's no dummy." I may have used the word "harmless."

So there I was at the Michaels/Foster house, at their lovely table, doing my imitation of Peter annoying the (expletive) (expletive) out of Larry Reed (who, to his credit, treated Peter with civilized politeness) when Kip Browne was, all, like, wait a minute. PETER was there? PETER THE PEDOPHILE?!

Suddenly, perceptions of who was who shifted dramatically. Kip grabbed my laptop, went to the Department of Corrections website where sex offenders have their own baseball card-like listings, describing their heinous crimes, showing their pictures. Kip handed back my laptop. "Is that him?" Kip asked.

An expletive in response. YES!!! Yes, that was the guy who hung around the Maxwell trial constantly, who insinuated himself into conversations because, well, decent people are kind, not overtly rude to somebody who acts like Peter Stephenson, particularly when somebody like Stephenson does show glimmers of intelligence, does have valuable insights because he's been watching the trial. What really killed me was I had seen that particular picture before--indeed, I had looked up all the sex offenders in the 55411 zip code in the course of researching Junaid Maalik, who used to live at 3024 6th St. N. and got a job that required a SQUEAKY CLEAN BACKGROUND, for cripe's sake.

And, yes, I personally got Junaid fired from that job. That's how we treat sex offenders here on Johnny Northside Dot Com.

But as far as Peter Richard Stephenson's picture on the state's sex offender--it's a dated picture. Peter is sometimes clean-shaven, now, and the color has gone out of his facial hair. He has less hair on his head, too, and it is whiter. In a nutshell, Peter the Pedophile doesn't LOOK like that picture as much as he used to, and a more recent picture would be a service to society, particularly society in the 55411 zip code.

So I was FURIOUS that Peter had managed to deceive me in this way, had managed to finagle, through me, an introduction to Melanie Michaels with the caveat he was annoying...but harmless. With the more complete and detailed information I now had about Peter Richard Stephenson, I sat right down at the Michaels/Foster dinner table and banged out the previous post.

The real question is WHAT WAS PETER DOING SPENDING SO MUCH TIME AT THAT HEARING and, it seemed to me, trying very hard to gather loose nuggets of information? For who?

The APPARENT connection between Peter the Pedophile and the Larry Maxwell trial is Keith Reitman, the former owner of 1564 Hillside, the seller in the fraudulent deal which ensnared the Foster/Micheals family through identity theft. Peter Stephenson knows Reitman. He told an anti-Semitic joke about Reitman. In several different ways, Peter indicated he knew Reitman well and, on one occasion, actually told me Reitman is or was his landlord.

THAT information is unconfirmed. Anybody who has different or contrary information, or an ability to CONFIRM that information, is welcome to contribute what they know.

The dinner--and it was a lovely dinner--ended with Kip Browne playing the guitar, and Jeff Skrenes singing a song about "The Whores of Amsterdam." Somehow, after discussing multiple layers of scandal, the song was oddly appropriate and, I will say, well sung.

Leaving the Michaels/Foster house with a plastic bowl of chili, I had to wonder what amazing new perceptions they had gained of North Minneapolis. Realtor Jan Havlish kept asking, again and again in a variety of ways, how individuals known to be involved in fraudulent activities continue to sit on neighborhood boards, to be spokespeople in the community?

I explained, as well as I could, that bad actors are not without their base of support in our community. That we sit "nose to nose, and elbow to elbow" with bad actors, we sit on the same Housing Committee boards as slumlords, who are capable of gathering their own votes to gain positions of power. We who are trying to turn our community around find ourselves "Facebook friends" with individuals who may be criminally indicted any moment. Corruption has crept into our boards and our North Minneapolis CHURCHES at multiple levels.

Like warfare in an urban environment, our revitalization fight is a "house to house" battle. In the Hawthorne neighborhood, the chairman of the board and his three little children (one more on the way) lives directly across from one of the most active "pill houses" in North Minneapolis, and we count the days to May 10, when (supposedly) the druggies will finally be evicted.

Three parting thoughts spoken at that dinner party will be parting thoughts for this blog post:

FIRST, Melony Micheals and John Foster never asked for this anti-mortgage fraud mission, but they have become key players in something much bigger than themselves. They are writing history in what may later become known as The Mortgage Fraud Era.

So I told Melony that I realize she is tired after a 7-week trial, but it was her investigation that blew this thing open. She should not quit. She should keep investigating. (In Kip and Kelly's vehicle, on the way home, we agreed John and Melony's story would make a great movie on Lifetime)

SECOND, the fate of the lot on which 1564 Hillside sits should be resolved in a way that is positive for the community, and John Foster (as owner in record, through fraud) has some ability to assist in that resolution. Fraudulent transfer of property does, in fact, transfer title. For now, the Fosters have "colorable title" as the foreclosure process grinds much-too-slowly forward. The area of law involving fraudulent transfer of title is arcane and obscure, but the bottom line is: The Fosters have a limited ability to control the fate of that property, and to "quit claim" their rights.

Naturally, Melony and John will want to follow the advice of their attorney. And they have filed a civil suit against Larry Maxwell, so they are represented.

However, on their own Foster/Michaels have raised the idea of that land being transferred to the city. Hopefully, city officials will assist in that matter. Don Samuels, as the City Council Member for Ward 5, appears a logical point of contact.

THIRD, angels among us. Melony Michaels is religious. She worked in a hospice and claims to have seen angels. She believes there is a higher purpose in what we endure. In many ways, John Foster was the perfect victim because of his spotless credit, perfect for a "no document loan." In another way, he was the worst possible victim imaginable. Foster saves and organizes his paperwork obsessively. He is introverted, but his wife is a super-extrovert capable of "going Columbo" on a wrong committed against her husband, and she did.

When something causes an imbalance in the universe--like the massive mortgage fraud committed by Larry Maxwell, for example--the universe pushes back to right itself. An "anti-Maxwell" emerges, and that person is Melony Michaels. She is unafraid to dig into this massive, evil fraud and follow where it leads, because she believes, "When you go into the ground, that is not the end, you do not just become dirt." She believes all it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to stand aside and do nothing. Instead of victimization, she finds higher purpose.

As far as dinner, drinks and conversation, it's pretty hard to beat a night like this, anywhere in the word.


Saturday, April 25, 2009

Level 3 Sex Offender Took In Details Of Larry Maxwell Trial, His Presence Was No Coincidence

Peter Richard Stephenson, a Level Three sex offender who lives on the 2100 Block of 25th Ave. N., apparently attended portions of all seven weeks of the Maxwell trial. On the first day, he reportedly showed up with a box of popcorn and a can of Coke.

Peter, who comes off as a harmless, pitiable, somewhat annoyingly loud eccentric, managed to insinuate himself into the conversations of individuals who had business at the trial. However, Peter apparently had business at the trial himself...

Peter Stephenson, by his own repeated assertions, knows Keith Reitman very well. Reitman was the seller of 1564 Hillside Ave. N., the property which was at the center of the entire Larry Maxwell mortgage fraud scandal.

So the question is WHAT WAS STEPHENSON doing at the Maxwell trial? Was he there to obtain information on behalf of somebody? If so, who? The only person with a connection to the trial who Stephenson appears to know PERSONALLY was, of course, Keith Reitman.

Kip Browne, Chairman of the Jordan Area Community Council, reports that "Peter the Pedophile" Stephenson's probation officer talked sternly to Stephenson about showing up at JACC meetings. Stephenson would frequently get the floor and talk about topics only loosely-connected to neighborhood issues, at one point actually discussing poor little North Minneapolis children who may have the symptoms of "post traumatic stress disorder."

If anybody has inflected stress on children it would be, of course, Peter Stephenson.

You See A Vacant Building, But Somebody Else Sees Advertising Space

Photo By John Hoff

About a week ago, I noticed a new development with vacant buildings in North Minneapolis. Somebody has posted paperwork which seems kind of like an "official notice," warning anybody who buys the property they will need "construction plans" to make any renovations.

Lately, the price of houses in North Minneapolis has dropped so irresistibly low, some folks are jumping into buying property with very little idea of the requirements--rather extensive requirements--required of non-owner-occupied properties. The new paperwork manifesting on doors appears to be...

...actually some kind of advertisement for services.

Normally, if I saw an advertisement tacked to the boards of a vacant house, I'd rip it down under my sensible interpretation of the "neighbors should adopt houses" mandate, wherein the City of Minneapolis has publicly told citizens to feel free to pick up litter, rake leaves, etc. and not worry those acts would be considered "trespassing" when it comes to these vacant and neglected houses.

However, since I believe these notices are actually doing some good--alerting possible buyers that some hoops must be hurdled in association with the purchase of property--I plan to just leave the notices alone when I encounter them in the course of keeping a wary eye on vacant houses.

What we REALLY need are notices that tell the story of Mr. Slummy and how--quite recently-- the Hawthorne Neighborhood put his BLOODY SEVERED HEAD ON A POLE, a thing of horror and an object of warning to all these oh-so-excited "property investors" who think North Minneapolis is their oyster.

Know this, and if the "property investors" don't like it, TOUGH:

There are smart and informed people in North Minneapolis neighborhoods systematically scrutinizing slummy rental property, and reporting every visible violation, every instance of non-permitted work, even forwarding PHOTOS to the 311 system. We are organized, and we will not only REPORT you, we will drag the matter through the internet in a very public way. We'll show up at your house in the suburbs and PICKET YOU IN FRONT OF YOUR NEIGHBORS.


JNS BLOG EXCLUSIVE: T.J. Waconia Fraudsters, Where Are They Now?

Photo By Alex Hoff, age 11 

Shortly after the sentencing of T.J. Waconia fraudsters Thomas Balko and Jon Helgason, I had a very interesting lunch meeting with Jim Watkins, the self-described "best friend" of Balko.

Jim and I have been so far apart on our views of what is "justice" in this case, and so many words have flown back and forth, that for a while I dubbed Jim "the Anti-Johnny." Jim took that label and wore it with pride.

So, I ask you, if Johnny Northside is made of "Johnny matter," and the evil Anti-Johnny is made of "anti-Johnny matter," what happens if they touch? It was my contention the whole universe would be destroyed, but I learned all I know about anti-matter from watching "Land of the Lost" on Saturday morning.

Kip Browne, Chair of the Jordan Area Community Council, no doubt speaking in his capacity as chair, and as a licensed attorney, informs me the "only thing" which will happen if matter and anti-matter touch is a "wormhole" is created in the fabric of space and time. Watch out if you're in the second booth from the entryway at Broadway Pizza, that's all I'm going to say.

In any case, me and Jim Watkins met to bury various hatchets and discuss the T.J. Waconia matter...

My son, Alex, was sitting in the booth at Broadway Pizza, playing on my computer. I told my son about Jim--how we really don't agree on some stuff, and there was the possibility the discussion could get angry, but most likely we'd just have to "agree to disagree." I told my son grownups with good sense could sit down and talk like this. He could learn a thing or two by being in a position to observe such a conversation, with his mouth mostly shut.

After I explained this stuff, my son was actually worried some wrath might come in HIS direction from Jim's mouth. I told my son THAT just wouldn't happen, because there had been internet discussions where I'd said "LEAVE THE KIDS OUT OF THIS, CHILDREN ARE INNOCENT," briefly taking the side of Helgason and Balko where THAT was concerned. The constitution of the United States specifically forbids "blood crimes," which means you're not guilty of anything just because your PARENT is guilty.

No, I told my son, Jim wouldn't say anything least not to an 11-year-old.

To his credit, Jim was as pleasant as could be. We've figured out a long time ago that he's not going to change my mind, and I'm not going to change his. Jim gave me copies of the self-published books he's written about making money in real estate--the advice is limited to the State of Texas--and I signed Jim's copy of Dumpster Diving: The Advanced Course by John Hoffman.

In the course of our conversation, Jim told me some stuff about Thomas Balko and Jon Helgason. First of all, they are planning to show up and serve their sentences. They've each calculated how old they'd be after 84 and 96 months, respectively, and they've figured out much of their life will be ahead of them. So they're not going to throw all that away by getting in a car and driving to who-knows-where.

Prior to meeting with Jim, my son and I had a long talk about extradition treaties and the best place to go if you're a fugitive. My son figured he'd go to ENGLAND, because he can speak English and so it would easier to make a life there.

I told my son about Brazil, and how as long as you're the father of a Brazilian child, THEY WON'T EXTRADITE YOU. I was just getting to the part about how the best way to avoid these issues is to simply obey the law in the first place, but Jim showed up right at that moment and sat down, ordering cheese bread, and I forgot to tell Alex to remain law-abiding, even if he might happen to learn a thing or two about loopholes in extradition treaties.

If my son becomes a fugitive living in Brazil, desperately seeking to father a child, it will all be the fault of Jim Watkins.

Anyway, Jim mentioned that Thomas Balko has been working. Jim said something about involvement in the roofing industry. How the mighty have fallen!

However, I wasn't taking notes, and I confess it may have been HELGASON who Jim was talking about, but I was fairly confident the guy selling roofing supplies was BALKO. Use comments function if you know different. If it was HELGASON selling the roofing supplies, I still draw the same conclusion:

How the mighty have fallen!

Former Crack House Slum Lord Concedes Defeat! Massive Eco Village Victory Close At Hand!

Photo By John Hoff

This notable incident happened about two weeks ago, but I only just received a firsthand account today from the Chair of the Hawthorne Neighborhood Association, Peter Teachout.

Regular readers are quite familiar with my unceasing drumbeat coverage of 3020 6th St. N., a place identified by a high ranking 4th Precinct police officer as a "pill house." With drug customers going in and out more or less openly, this filthy fly sits right in the middle the metaphorical ointment of our Eco Village cluster project; past foreclosure, past redemption, but hanging on by...

...a thin thread of renter's rights until on or about May 10, 2009. The house was owned by Evannor Haymon, a shrewd self-made man who gets his money any way he can, rather like Old Scratch will get souls by any means necessary.

Like face-to-face encounters with The Devil Himself, encounters with Evannor "The Devil" Haymon are rare and rather scary. So imagine the surprise of Hawthorne Board Chair Peter Teachout to run into Evannor in downtown Minneapolis, standing in line behind Peter at the "Plan Review Department."

Peter may have said, "Get thee behind me, Satan!" but what would have been the point?

Evannor was holding a blue piece of paper--Peter said it looked like a building permit application--and a white print out which looked like the standard instruction sheet.

What do you say at moments like this? "So, you know, I got a new truck after the last one was torched on the Fourth of July," could be a place to begin or possibly, "Well, I see business is still brisk at 3020 6th Street North. I guess some things are recession proof!"

Peter asked if Evannor was applying for a renal license.

"No," said Evannor. "You guys pretty much shut me down on that front."

Then Evannor added some stuff about how "people gotta eat" and something like "I guess you got a problem with how some people make their money."

"People gotta EAT?!" I responded, when Peter told me this story. I pointed out the whole "people gotta eat" argument was deeply flawed in its presumptions. Clearly, there is a range of choices in life--legal and illegal--and it's not like crack dealers and prostitutes have been deprived of every other choice, except immoral and illegal choices.

"People gotta eat" may be an argument that can be made amid plane crash debri on a snowy South American mountain, when clearly cannibalism is the only choice to remain alive. In that case, every choice has been taken from you, leaving only horrible opinions as alternatives. However, this argument falls flat in an environment where many, many other choices exist besides prostitution and drug dealing.

All the admission by Evannor like "you guys pretty much shut me down on that front" is very significant. After all, it was Evannor who put forward the argument--over and over, in a variety of ways--that North Minneapolis would NEVER CHANGE and crazy people who grew up in small towns and move to North Minneapolis thinking change is possible are just going to get themselves killed.

Now Evannor concedes change has come. This might be a good time to note the SECOND MONTH IN A ROW WITH NO CRIME REPORTED IN THE ECO-VILLAGE. This area used to be the worst in North Minneapolis. Now it is being radically transformed.

However, crime stats don't tell the whole story, so I refuse to get all excited about such numbers. Crime happens constantly in the Eco Village, since 3020 6th St. N. continues to function (more or less openly) as a "pill house." Since the police are only going to raid 3020 6th St. N. from time to time, this ongoing drug crime doesn't show up on the stats, but it shows up in how people FEEL who are forced to live with constant crime happening right under their nose.

But even the horrible stuff that DOESN'T make the crime stats is changing. This is the "end game" at 3020 6th St. N. One day crackheads will stand at the door and knock, over and over...and nobody will answer. This is not a sunny prediction about a far-off utopian future. That day appears to be just weeks away.

Stupid North Minneapolis Property Repairs Takes A Classic Turn!

Photo by John Hoff 

It's funny how you can drive by a house hundreds of times, but then one day you look at it closely and notice...oh, the thrill of it! A STUPID NORTH MINNEAPOLIS PROPERTY REPAIR! 

This house is....

...on Lyndale Ave. N., and any Realtor (trademarked word!) worth his/her commission will tell you the houses along Lyndale are finer inside with nice wooden buffets, leaded glass, that kind of thing. This particular house shows something old and fine on the exterior which hints treasures which may reside in the interior: a porch column made to look like--good grief--a Greek or Roman column.

(Some people know the difference. I merely know there IS a difference)

But check out the replacement column in the middle. Clearly, Rome has fallen and barbarian hordes have overrun a once-proud empire.

Friday, April 24, 2009

JNS BLOG EXCLUSIVE: Open Letter To The Jurors In State Of Minnesota v. Larry Maxwell, From The Wife Of "The Real John Foster"

Photo by John Hoff, flowers in
North Minneapolis 

Melony Michaels, an insurance agent whose amateur investigation of an identity theft crime against her husband, John Foster, blew open what prosecutors called one of the most sophisticated criminal operations in the history of Hennepin County, a case which continues topple one domino after another, ensnaring increasing numbers of suspects....has asked me to post an open letter of thanks to the jury.

(This blog is now using Michaels' name because she has appended it to the letter and it has also appeared in the Star Tribune)

Not wishing to interfere with the jurors after their long duty, Michaels did not linger nor attempt to speak to the jurors after the grueling 7 week trial, but she forwarded this letter by email and (after checking with, among others, Detective Cardenas) she asked via a third party to please quickly post the letter. Here it is...

Open Letter to Jurors,

I cannot even begin to express our most sincere and heartfelt appreciation for the time and effort and heart you put into this trial of State of MN vs. Larry Darnell Maxwell.

The sacrifices you all made and the honor you all brought to our system was so far beyond what anyone could have expected or anticipated and your diligence was the final work of many people who trusted all their hard work would be both recognized and validated by your verdict. All the faith was well placed.

I had to think that in some ways it appears to be a very difficult position to have such a heavy burden that must be kept silent from those you love and trust and would otherwise be discussing such important matters with. I also thought how such a dedication of literally weeks of your life brings a climatic ending of one chapter for those of us, who worked so hard for this end, and yet we were unable to shower you with praise and thanks for all you did. I know from the dedication you showed throughout this trial that doing the right thing is a reward in itself, but you deserve so much more.

I was not able to speak with you, or testify before you, but you listened and weighed many of the facts that have affected our lives for the past three years.

Maxwell, and those working with him in these crimes you have had to listen to in grave detail again, and again, had damaged our lives in such a way that it will take years to recover, if ever completely. So few know how identity theft really affects the victims, and especially in our situation, complete strangers quietly and with swift precision stole things from us we took a lifetime to build.

My husband, a very gentle, intelligent and hard working person, took great pride in the credit history he built. He took great pride in his well laid plans of when to retire and knowing he had made many sacrifices over the years for the end to be able to spend precious and quality time with his family and to travel.

All of our plans have been destroyed. Our credit was demolished. Our options taken away from us. We had creditors calling endlessly; we had foreclosures on our credit report on houses we’d never seen. We lost the credit we had because of random credit checks that came back so low our creditors no longer trusted us with any line of credit and our rates were raised significantly. We had two daughters we were so proud of beginning college that we couldn’t help, because we couldn’t co-sign loans for them. We couldn’t refinance our home, buy a car, and take a vacation. Our lives were filled with stress and pain and shame forced upon us by predators that stole money, trust, the freedom and lifestyle of others to enrich their own.

We have been told numerous times that taking a case like this to trial is such a risk of the time, resources and finances of the community that often cases go untried because the business aspect sometimes weighs the risk greater than the outcome expected for these criminals.

We were told, it’s too complicated; it’s so complex that it’s not been cost-effective to go after these thieves. One of the statements I will relay in our victim impact statement is that we cannot send the message that because these criminals are clever they get a free pass. They don’t need a get out of jail free card, because it’s too risky to invest in trying to send them to jail!

We are so incredibly proud of all those who decided, it’s not okay to get away with these vicious crimes because the crimes are hard to take to trial, that jurors are smart enough and dedicated enough to see through these crimes and that they will be held accountable.

Detective Cardenas, Brad Johnson, Liz Johnston, Glenn Miller, the Commerce Department, my dear friend Janet Havlish, all gave months of their lives to this case. My husband and I lived it, and refused to give up though it took over a year to get it in the capable hands of those to take it to the next step, and our lives have been affected EVERY SINGLE DAY by the losses we incurred, financially, emotionally and even physically. It stressed our marriage, our home, and our family and robbed our children of things we had promised and could no longer provide. They stole our ability to move forward in our business, to buy a car, to buy or sell a house, to take a vacation and even to answer our own phone in order to avoid repetitive conversations trying to convince others we didn’t deserve to be in this situation.

I tend to be the one to speak for my husband and I, because he finds it difficult to do these things, but he expressed his most heartfelt thanks and feels the same relief I do in the thoughts that we will move ahead and rebuild our lives from this point.

Thank you again, again and again,

John Foster (the REAL John Foster) and his wife, Melony Micheals.

(End of Letter)

JNS says: 

Though eager to speak to jurors, I mostly refrained, merely telling a few the URL for my blog so they could read the coverage if they were inclined. I had the longest conversation--naturally--with The Dude Who Loves Sports. He pointed out Greg Coleman had spoken to HIM first, and he only responded, politely, to Coleman's casual questions about football. In his hand, Dude had a letter in nice letterhead envelope, bearing the name and address of Judge Chu. It was, I presumed, some kind of formal thank you letter.

Free advice from JNS: keep that letter with your tax info. You can get a tax break for jury duty.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

JNS BLOG EXCLUSIVE: Jury Composition In The Brian Flowers Murder Case

Photo By John Hoff

Mainstream media have extensively covered the Brian Flowers murder trial but I, for one, find most newspaper and television stories lack enough details to keep me satisfied.

Let's face it, some folks want EVERY NUGGET OF INFO THEY CAN GET about certain stories. Knowing the blogosphere could contribute something, even on a story covered well by the other media, I ducked into the Flowers trial yesterday during a break in State of Minnesota vs. Larry Maxwell. With a sense of entitlement, I took a seat in the row marked "For Media Only."

Wow, I thought. Now there's a jury that looks like it will put Brian Flowers away for a long, long time...

Why, it almost reminded me of...the jury in State v. Maxwell!

While a prosecution witness testified about blood evidence tracked all through the house and 3639 1st Ave. S, and images flashed on a screen of--among other things--a smashed television set used as a murder weapon against a child--I wrote down the vital vitals about the jury and alternates.

There are fifteen of them, which means three are alternates. They consist of eight white males, five white females, one young female who looks (to me) Hispanic, and one young female who looks (to me) Asian or Amerasian. Here are their descriptions and, of course, the nickname designations readers have come to expect.

# The Close Sitter. You've heard of Seinfeld's "close talker?" Well, this guy is a close sitter. A college aged male wearing a red shirt, he doesn't have a regular jury seat but a chair placed so close to the witness stand and the evidence projector screen that he will surely be scarred for life from these proceedings. Voted most likely to wake up screaming during proceedings.

# The Tennis Fan. A white woman in her early 50s, she moves around more than the other jurors. As questioning takes place, she glances back and forth at the verbal exchanges. Sometimes she will even look over in ANTICIPATION of a response, as though looking for an expected reaction. She crosses her arms, uncrosses them, shifts in her seat. Voted most likely to annoy her fellow jurors by talking more than other people.

# Mr. Grim. A white male, not overweight for his age but just very LARGE, probably Scandinavian. His arms are VERY crossed and his expression is GRIM. If, moments after Flowers is convicted, (I'm calling it, here) there were a request for volunteers to thrash Flowers within an inch of his life before sending Flowers off to prison, Mr. Grim looks like he would step forward and teach that little punk the meaning of pain.

# The Rogue. A blonde woman whose age shape-shifts in front of me. First I think early 30s, but then I think she could surely pass for late 20s. There are deliberate and extreme blonde highlights in the hair above her forehead, reminding me of the X-men comic book heroine "Rogue." However, it takes more than individualized hair to hang a jury: "Rogue" is on the side of good, not evil. The murderous Mr. Flowers will not escape the wrath of Rogue.

# The Bearded One. A man in his 50s with an immaculate gray "Colonel Sanders" style mustache and beard. Looks like he may care deeply about things like lawn care and picking up litter. Voted Most Likely To Participate In Civil War Re-Enactments Playing The Role Of Stonewall Jackson. If not for the EXTREMELY grimmy nature of "Mr. Grim," this guy would be Mr. Grim.

If Mr. Grim volunteers to thrash Flowers within an inch of his life, The Bearded One would step in and take leadership, make sure the thrashing is ORGANIZED so it lasts a while.

# Miss Respectable. Possibly in her late 40s, but she could easily pass for mid to late-30s. Dresses like a person with money and status. Her white sweater--possibly cashmere--is long sleeved so as to cover even the bottom of her palms, and has a turtle neck, too. She wears an understated dark necklace. I thought I saw a wedding band before she moved her hand. Elegantly thin but not anorexic, with smartly-coifed short dark hair, she appears to be wearing a look of suppressed horror.

But other times, there are hints of other expressions: loathing and contempt.

# Miss Casual. A young female who seems Hispanic, she leans back into her chair, almost using the back of the chair for a pillow. She is more casual than any of the other jurors. She looks like she is trying to chew gum without making it obvious, or working a small candy like a Tic Tac around in her mouth. None of the evidence seems to be having much of an impact on her. She's probably watched too much television.

# Mr. Decent Shirt. A college aged male with straw colored hair, he wears a long sleeved white dress shirt, possibly new, not tucked into his blue jeans. He appears to be making an effort to look decent despite not having a lot of formal clothing. Whenever a new spectator enters or leaves the room, he looks over to see what's up, unlike the other jurors. Part of this is because of his position so near the spectators, but he's not REQUIRED to turn and look. It seems to me he is influenced by the opinions of others rather easily, and will go along with the crowd.

But, for that very reason, he might be more inclined to be sympathetic to Brian Flowers. The evidence appears to show Flowers didn't do most of the heavy work during the murder, but went along with his friend.

# Miss Horrified. Late 40s or early 50s, she has glasses which she wears to look at things far away, projected on the screen--and she dresses in a gray suit which appears like it might be a jogging suit. She's not in shape. She looks like she's spent a lot of time in her life doing things for others instead of for herself. A handful of times, I see the expression on her face: horror.

# The Model. Perhaps 19 to 22 years old, very thin and pretty enough to be in fashion magazines, wearing a skirt that comes up above her knees, Asian or Amerasian unless I miss my guess and she's Hispanic. The model is taking more notes than anybody else, clearly she has looks as well as brains. Classic overachiever. Sympathizing with Flowers PERSONALLY will be almost impossible, but she's probably read some social science stuff and may have a sort of impersonal, abstract sympathy for him.

But that won't go very far. A long time ago, The Model learned you don't hang out with friends who are going to be a bad influence on your grade point average. She takes notes like she's in a criminal law class and none of this is PERSONAL. Voted Most Likely To Read And Understand The Jury Instructions.

# Back Row Boys, 1 through 4. In the back of the jury is a solid row of four mature white males, very attentive and quite willing to lean forward to see images of evidence projected on the screen, like they're all looking together at a rattle-y engine and figuring out how to fix it. If Mr. Grim and The Bearded One were going to give Flowers a thrashing, the Back Row Boys would jump in, together, and truly make it a mob.

The last juror--and most worrisome of all to the prosecution, I would think:

# She Who Can't Be Seen. In the deepest corner of the jury box sits a female--not young but not old. Her hair MIGHT be in a bun, or it might not. It MIGHT be gray or it could be dark blonde. It was obvious I couldn't see her well but then I realized she can't be seen well from most angles--judge, witness, defense and prosecution. In fact, she's actually sitting directly below the court camera, so she's truly invisible.

Did she engineer that seating arrangement purposefully, or was it random? WHO IS THIS MYSTERIOUS JUROR AND WHAT POWER DOES SHE HOLD?

Voted Most Likely To Worry Somebody Associated With The Defendant Will Hunt Her Down After The Trial.

Here's your Johnny Northside Bookie Odds, and keep in mind I called the Larry Maxwell trial as a slam dunk for the prosecution roughly two weeks before conclusion.

Odds of Brian Flowers getting a hung jury: 13 to 2.

On another note: Brian Flowers often turns to see who is entering the court room when he hears the door open. Where he sits, the court room door is directly behind him, which must make him feel very vulnerable in light of all the angry family members associated with the victim who are, at various times, entering and leaving.

During one of these turn-and-looks, Brian Flowers accidentally met my eyes. He then dropped his eyes like a cowering dog, and quickly turned his face. If ever a young man looked guilty-as-all-get-out, that young man would be Brian Flowers, sitting in front of a jury of his peers. (Sort of...sort of his peers, and sort of NOT his peers)

But does Brian Flowers feel remorse? Oh, yes, he is DEEPLY remorseful. Note remorseful enough to plead guilty and take his punishment, however.

It's because of moments of personal connection like meeting the eyes of Brian Flowers that one feels the temptation to hang out at the courthouse, watching trials. When one is a blogger, the temptation is particularly severe. Interesting, complex dramas are happening all the time in our society. Does the media dig deeply enough into these stories to satisfy our needs, or desires for information?

No, they do not.

So you might be asking yourself, "What is a guy who blogs about NORTH MINNEAPOLIS doing writing about the Brian Flowers murder trial?

Good question. Here's an answer: even though this crime took place at 3639 1st Ave. SOUTH, some media like Fox reported the crime happened in NORTH Minneapolis.

It's not like the mainstream media have an AGENDA against North Minneapolis. No, they just have a stereotype. The errors made in the coverage of this murder reveal the reality of that stereotype.

But I can't point fingers too hard, because North Minneapolis still has the unsolved Annshalike Hamilton murder. At least in South Minneapolis, somebody spills their guts and the suspects are arrested.