Who the stranger was became clear when 63 law-enforcement officers from 10 agencies swarmed the town of 1,700 and arrested 42 people.
Sunday, November 19, 2006
Larry Oakes - Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune
"In retrospect, say people in Warroad, Minn., it's not surprising that "Doc" the junk man was actually a professional snitch.
"He left just as suddenly as he came," Jackie Bengtson, owner of Main Street Bar & Grill, said. "We didn't feel creeped out by him, but he was a shady character."
Doc - the only name he gave most people - breezed into the bar several times a day last summer for a Dewar's and water before returning to his rented secondhand shop, Bengtson said. The balding, 55-ish newcomer opened Doc's Superthrift Store in the former Hardware Hank last May and stayed in business four months.
Outwardly, he bought and sold what local grocer Steve Hagen described as "stuff you would find at a garage sale."
But Doc also had a back room, police say, where he peeled bills off of a wad of federal Drug Enforcement Administration cash to buy drugs and guns from townsfolk who allegedly were on the wrong side of the law.
The "buy room" was fitted by police with hidden cameras and microphones wired to a hidden "monitoring site" less than a block away, police said.
"We suspected (illegal) things were going on over there, but we thought he was the one doing them," Bengtson said.
What he actually was doing became clear this week when 63 law-enforcement officers from 10 agencies swarmed the town of 1,700 and arrested 42 people. Eleven more are wanted on warrants.
"Most of them immediately denied that they had done anything," said Warroad Police Chief Robert Cudaback. "Then we showed them the complaints describing what we had on the recordings and their mouths just dropped."
Roseau County Sheriff Jule Hanson said the operation yielded some illegally traded firearms and "a large quantity" of methamphetamine, cocaine, ecstasy, marijuana and prescription narcotics.
Those charged ranged in age from 17 to mid-50s and included a father and his adult daughter and a mother and her adult son, said County Attorney Michelle Moren. Several defendants' children were placed with relatives or in foster care, Moren said.
Cudaback said that authorities organized the sting with the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and the Paul Bunyan Gang and Drug Task Force after they became concerned about a rise in drug-related crimes.
Extraordinary steps were taken to prepare for Tuesday's arrests. Cudaback said he pretended his department was hosting 60 outside officers for a training event.
Hagen, co-owner of Doug's Supermarket, said that as news of the sting flashed through town, many people recalled Doc's sudden departure a few weeks ago and said it made sense.
"He took out an ad in the paper before he left, putting his business up for sale and saying that his new 'calling' was in Detroit," Hagen said. "He was a strange duck."
Hagen said he and many others are pleased with the result. "I think everybody knew drugs were a problem," he said. "If it gets these people off the streets and protects my kids, I'm all for it."
Brian Hardwick, the lone public defender in Warroad, said the influx of cases will stretch the public defender system in northwestern Minnesota.
But Hardwick said he'd be the first to say that the cases are "interesting" and that Doc was an unusual visitor with some remarkable traits.
"He set some land-speed records going between his store and the bar," recalled Hardwick, whose office is nearby. "He could slam a Scotch quicker than you could say 'Doc.' "