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Friday, November 19, 2010


Beware Minot, of the city’s power brokers manipulating the levers of power from behind the curtain. Consider the growing influence over our state of a small, but powerful group from that city.  Jon Backes, current of the State Board of Higher Education; Bruce Christenson – former president State Board of Higher Education1; John Stewart2, Board of the Bank of North Dakota; Lee Peterson3– former head of the State Department of Commerce, etc.  

They all have one thing in common – Jack Hoeven, Orlin Backes and Lynn Aas – aka the Minot Mafia. Hoeven, Backes and Aas have worked tirelessly to control everything in and around Minot and now, are working to spread their manipulative influence county and statewide.

How the Control and Intimidation Game is Played

Jack Hoeven, through First Western Bank & Trust, which he owns, buys influence, pays off those to do his bidding and pressures those who don’t.  The long time Mayor of Minot works for First Western Bank & Trust.  The wife of Minot’s Chief of Police works for First Western Bank.  The wife of Hoeven’s handpicked candidate for Ward County Sheriff (Kukowski) works for First Western Bank.  The web goes on and on.   

The McGee, Hankla, Backes & Dobrovolny law firm, of which Orlin Backes is the senior partner is First Western Bank & Trust’s law firm of choice4.  Jack Hoeven uses this firm to threaten those that take issue with anyone that does or potentially may interfere with the goals and activities of his little clique of Minot manipulators.  

Economic Development Schemes at Taxpayers’ Expense

I brought suit seeking to have the courts declare the state and local economic development schemes in violation of our state constitution. .  

Why would banks be in favor of some other entity (i.e. public economic development departments) giving away or loaning money?  It’s simple; the banks make a killing, at taxpayer expense.  They do not have to risk their money on questionable adventures; when they do make loans to the “clients” of local economic development agencies they don’t risk their money.  Instead they make sure the loan is guaranteed by, you guessed it, we the public taxpayers. Apart from directly conflicting with the clear words of Article X, Section 18 of the North Dakota State Constitution, these economic development schemes are designed to favor the good ol’ boy network and connect banks directly to taxpayer dollars. One such bank is First Western Bank & Trust owned by Jack Hoeven.

It should be noted that banks like First Western Bank and Trust receive the majority of the benefits of the economic development spoils.  Loans to the “clients” of these public economic development schemes are guaranteed by state or local taxpayer dollars.  That way, if the business goes under (as most of them do after the free taxpayer-paid money runs out) the banks come out whole – the taxpayers pick up the bill.   What Jack Hoeven and his clique have done for Minot and North Dakota is exactly what the big national banks have done to our federal government.  While those banks gambled trillions, then when their gamble went bust – they got the taxpayers to pick up the tab.  They won taxpayers lost.  Jack Hoeven is running the same scheme in North Dakota and has been doing so since 1990.

Controlling the Press and Taking Control of Law Enforcement Agencies

About ten years ago I had a weekly opinion column (which had been running for almost 5 years) with the Minot Dailey News.  The publisher at the time believed all views – even conservative views opposing taxpayer giveaways – should have an opportunity to be heard.  Then a new publisher came to town – Jim Eykyn.  Within ten days, Jack Hoeven and his wife had dinner with the Eykyns and another couple.  An individual heard this discussion and called me the next day telling me about “a deal”.  Immediately afterwards two things happened:  First Western Bank & Trust’s advertising in the Minot Daily jumped.  Second, my column was suddenly, without explanation discontinued.  

For the next 5-6 years, the citizens of Minot would see Jack and Jim out together on a regular basis.  It seemed that then, not only did Jack have significant influence over the City government (via mayor Kurt Zimbelman, a Hoeven employee) he now essentially “owned/controlled” the Daily News, making content decisions, what its editorials said, and most importantly, what stories wouldn’t be published.

Keeping Critical Information From the Public

It appears that in October 2010, Hoeven successfully quashed a very important story.  The story had to do with Hoeven’s handpicked candidate for Ward County sheriff, who has a most unsavory history as well as a significant First Western Bank & Trust connection.

Enter Steve Kukowski - Minot police detective who was passed over for many a promotion until his friend Jeff Ballentine became Minot’s Chief of Police.  

Why did prior Chief Carroll Erickson pass him over for promotions?  Perhaps because Chief Erickson knew Steve Kukowski all too well.  He knew Kukowski had lied to him – point blank – when he asked three detectives (Steve Kukowski, Boyd Galgerud, and Larry Bolenko) if they had been misusing confidential information - specifically pawn shop slips required to be filed with the City police.  

All three said no, but one was lying.  Chief Erickson eventually learned the truth.  Kukowski had lied; he had been using the confidential information to personally enrich himself.  The Chief instructed Detective Galgerud to document the meeting where Kukowski lied and place it in his personnel file.  Is this document still in Kukoski’s file?  Has the file been purged by Steve Kukowski and his best friend the current Chief of Police, Jeff Ballentine?  

We may never know.  I am in the middle of a lawsuit involving the City of Minot’s police training range.  According to the City’s own testimony the range is hazardous and is endangering the public.  In fact, because of the dangers created by the range, David Gowan, a neighboring property owner was prevented from developing his own property. Mr. Gowan has been prohibited from building homes on his property because the use of the City range is endangering neighboring properties.

In 2007 city and county law enforcement officers testified before the Ward County Commission objecting to David Gowan developing his property.  He was prohibited from building houses on his property because of the dangers created by the irresponsible use of the range.  The range is used to test and deploy chemical weapons, sniper rifle training goes on, bombs are detonated, and the rifle range line of fire actually crosses County Road 12 – a road used by me, my neighbors, and Des Lacs Burlington school buses.

After learning of these dangers I brought suit seeking to have the dangers abated because they were creating a public and private nuisance.  City appointed, as their spokesman for this suit, Steve Kukowski.

On April 1, 2010 we took Kukowski’s deposition.  I sat through the deposition watching and listening to this man – who had just announced he was running for sheriff of Ward County.  Kukowski obfuscated, lied, and feigned ignorance on virtually every question asked.  A deposition that should have taken an hour stretched to an entire day and had to be continued.  Prior to the deposition I had never met Mr. Kukowski.  I concluded he was deceptive, untrustworthy and quite possibly an accomplished liar.

At the continuation of the deposition on October 1, 2010, we knew a lot more about Steve Kukowski.   Word of the April deposition had circulated through the Minot and Ward County law enforcement departments.  We were contacted by many law enforcement personnel who had worked with Steve Kukowski over the past thirty years.  They wanted to tell us about Mr. Kukowski.  

We learned:

•    He lied on a police report in a DUI case5.
•    He improperly and illegally used the NCIC (criminal background check system) until his superiors found out and directed him to cease6.
•    He took and used government property, without permission, for personal benefit7.
•    He used confidential information to cheat pawn shops for his own enrichment8.

Lying Again and Again During His Deposition

I listened to Kukowski lie numerous times at his deposition of October 1, 2010.  Kukowski was:

•    Caught lying about misuse of public property,
•    Lying about whether the property in question was public property,
•    Lying about using confidential information (pawn shop slips) for personal gain,
•    Lying about using the NCIC illegally to check on persons who have applied for non-law enforcement positions.
•    Lying about the police rifle range line of fire going over County Road 12,
•    Lying about the bullet holes exiting the metal plates attached to the fence directly across County Road 12,
•    Lying about the damage to the Shaw memorial sign by a bullet exiting also across County Road 12,
•    Lying about whether the City had ever budgeted money for the range,
•    Lying about the R-1 designation of his property (he lives right across from the range and is its “caretaker”), and
•    Lying about whether all his efforts to keep the range open are in reality an attempt to keep his neighbors from developing their property.

What does all this have to do with the Minot Daily News?  

Because of these lies he engaged in under oath and the other abuses of office I filed charges against Steve Kukowski for perjury and false statements.  I gave a copy to the Minot Daily News.  What did the Minot Daily News do?  Not a word; not a story.  Nothing.

Why not report that the person running for sheriff has a history of lies and misconduct?

According to the City Editor– after running it by all his stellar “investigative” news reporters – they concluded the people of Minot would not be interested in this information and did not need to know.  The allegations9, he claimed are insignificant.  He equated them to - failing to put a quarter in the office coffee jar!  When asked if they were going to even look at Kukowski’s personnel file, the answer was a crisp “nope”.

Apparently, a sheriff who has a history of filing false reports, lying to the Chief about misuse of confidential information, misusing government property and confidential information, lying repeatedly in a recent deposition –the Minot Daily believes it is all insignificant.  It is apparent to me that, based on prior action, Jack Hoeven’s influence likely made certain that the Minot Daily News it did not report any of this.

Power and money. Influence and corruption. Where will it ever end? Will it ever?

Is there a Minot Mafia?




[1] The State Board of Higher Education, under the Hoeven Administration to buy votes and secure a political constituency.  Half the student body our higher education system is non-resident students.  This might be a good thing.  For North Dakota families and taxpayers it is not good.  Every nonresident student attending our colleges and universities (almost 20,000 FTE’s are nonresident) cost North Dakota families more than $9,000 per student per year.  Hundreds of millions in our tax dollars are used each year to pay for the college education of children whose parents have never paid a dime in taxes in North Dakota.  This is the Hoeven Administration’s definition of economic development.  Growing higher education in North Dakota is being done exclusively to build a political base to sustain a system and an administration.  

[2] John Stewart is a CPA and one of the owners of Fischer Honda in Minot.  He was one of Hoeven’s point men when John Hoeven decided to run for Governor.  He lived in the 38th Legislative District and had never participated in any District activities and was not a registered or dues paying member of the District Republican party.  At that time I was the Chairman of the 38th District.  John called and requested a meeting. When he arrived he handed me a list of names and told me these were the people I was to appoint as Delegates from the 38th District.  All but one or two I had never heard of, some were and had been active Democrats in Minot.  I informed John that was not how Delegates were selected.  Delegates were selected by a vote of those that were active dues paying members in the District.  He then came to my office with a check to pay for the District membership dues for all the people on the list.  I accepted the memberships.  He again requested I appoint those on his list to be Delegates.  I refused.  Subsequent to that, during the Minot Area Republican Committee (MARC) Lincoln Day Dinner, Pat Finken pulled me aside and informed me that it would be prudent if I complied with Stewart’s request.  So much for subtlety – and a classic example of how the Minot Mafia operates.

[3] The City of Minot began the public “economic development” schemes in 1990 with its taxpayer funded “Magic Fund”.  The concept was initiated by, among others, Jack and John Hoeven.  Shortly after its beginning Lee Peterson was hired to essentially run the Magic Fund and dispose of Magic Fund tax dollars.  When John Hoeven was elected Governor he built the new Commerce Department office building, greatly increased the Commerce Department budget and brought Lee Peterson to Bismarck to run it.

[4] A number of years ago I initiated a petition to repeal the first piece of legislation signed into law by the then new Governor – John Hoeven (son of Jack Hoeven).  The organization created to repeal was called Protect Our Privacy (POP).  The legislation was the first one to reach the desk of the new governor and he immediately signed it.  The issue had to do with the PRIVACY of the financial information banks had and collected from their customers.  As it turned out Jack Hoeven was instrumental in getting this legislation through the legislature.  In short, the legislation required that customers notify their bank each year they did not want the bank to use or sell their private personal financial information.  Failure to notify the bank would allow banks to use private customer financial information in any manner they wished.  A web-site was established and First Western Bank’s “PRIVACY POLICY” was used on the web-site to illustrate how the legislation put bank customers’ financial privacy at risk.  Within days the McGee law firm sent me a cease and desist letter threatening me with aggressive legal action if I did not immediately remove the policy from the web-site, recant it and publically acknowledge it was used in error and failure to do so would result in litigation being initiated.  I immediately sent a letter telling them to initiate the litigation immediately.  The next day I received a call from a friend of Jack Hoeven telling me that Hoeven wanted to have a meeting with me.  I accepted.  Hoeven told me I was wrong in my interpretation of the bank policy.  He told me his bank had spent two years developing the policy.  This was a lie.  The policy First Western Bank was using was a standard form policy and it was NOT developed by the bank.  He proceeded to tell me that he had not directed the McGee law firm to threaten to sue me – that they just got carried away.  When the petition measure reached the ballot the citizens of North Dakota overwhelmingly reversed the legislation and threw out Jack Hoeven’s attempt to legally use your private financial information for the enrichment of his bank.

[5] Kukowski was training a new officer (Bob Barnard) when they arrived at the scene of a vehicle stuck in a snow bank.  They stopped to investigate and assist the driver.  When they talked with the driver they smelled alcohol.  Kukowski wanted to charge the driver (Barros) with a DUI.  However, to do so the officer was required to have seen the individual driving.  Of course, this was not the case.  Nonetheless, Kukowski stated, in his report that he saw Barros driving when he did not.  When they arrived on the scene the vehicle was already stuck in the snow bank and not moving.   He made this false statement because he said he wanted to “get him” for a DUI.  This is how Steve Kukowski was training a new officer.  Not only was he lying he was teaching a new officer to lie.  

[6] The NCIC (National Criminal Investigation Center) provides a background check system for law enforcement agencies across the country.  The purpose of the system is for, and only for, checking the backgrounds of accused and suspected criminals and those applying to work in law enforcement agencies.  Users are instructed to use it only for that purpose.  Kukowski however used it regularly to run background checks on individuals applying for city positions that were not related to law enforcement.  He did this repeatedly.  When his superiors learned what he was doing they instructed him to immediately cease his illegal and improper use of the NCIC system.  

[7] While Kukowski lead the fight to deny Mr. Gowan’s desire to build homes on his own property he purchased land directly across from the law enforcement training range to build his own home.  When building his house he took range equipment and used it to assist in building his home.  He knew he was not permitted to do so without permission.  He did not request permission; he simply used it as he wished.  When it was learned he was doing this he was questioned and was instructed to stop.  At that time he was on the Board that oversaw the range operations.  In a tiff he promptly resigned.  Later he said he resigned because he was too busy with other things.  During his deposition he finally admitted he resigned because of his misuse of government property.

[8] Kukowski was taking “pawn shop slips” (reports pawn shop owners were required prepare and give to the police department of the items that were pawned at their shops).  These “pawn shop slips” are used by the police department to identify any items reported stolen that may have been pawned by the thief.  The information on the slips is confidential and to be used for no purpose other than to help reunite owners of stolen property with their goods and to assist in tracking down the thief.  Mr. Kukowski was engaged in his own private enrichment scheme.  He used the “pawn slips” as a private shopping list.  When he found items he wanted he used the confidential information to contact the person who had pawned the item he wanted.  He then attempted to work out a deal to get the person to reclaim the item and sell it to him at a favorable price.  The end result – he cheated the pawn shop and broke the law.

[9] Actually these are not “allegations”.  They are documented and conclusive facts.  It is not, as Kukowski loudly claims just “dirty politics”.  Jack Hoeven, is knowingly supporting a man that is dishonest and has perjured himself.

Robert L. Hale is an attorney licensed to practice law in Washington State and North Dakota. He is the founder and president of the Northwest Legal Foundation a 501C3 public interest law firm. He is also the CEO of Spectrum Care, LLC. Spectrum Care builds and operates retirement/assisted living  communities in the upper Midwest. He lives with his wife of 35 years in Minot, ND.

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Avatar for Apollyon

The truth finally comes out! They have been using the pawn shop lists for years. I’ve seen it first hand….

Apollyon on March 16, 2011 at 01:04 am
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