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Across the Region: May 4

IOWA

Gig is up for fugitive Iowa lawyer

Authorities said Thursday that former Coralville lawyer Dennis Bjorklund was arrested last week in Colorado, ending a five-year search for one of the FBI’s most-wanted white-collar fugitives. Bjorklund, 50, is in federal custody and will soon be transferred to Iowa to face federal mail and tax fraud charges.

Bjorklund left behind a trail of former clients who say they were ripped off, angry former law partners and baffled investigators when he vanished in 2010. A federal grand jury indicted him that year on charges that he defrauded 11 clients facing drunken driving charges by recommending they make contributions to a phony charity he established and controlled.

He is accused of telling clients the donations would reflect well on their character and likely convince judges to give them lighter sentences. Instead, prosecutors say Bjorklund received the money.

Bjorklund is also charged with drastically underreporting his income to reduce his tax bill — at a time when he was making handsome profits by falsely advertising himself as the nation’s leading drunken driving defense attorney.

“Now the fun begins for me,” said Cedar Rapids lawyer Charles Hallberg, who worked under Bjorklund from 2003 to 2006 and hopes to see his former boss convicted and sentenced. He remembers showing up to work in 2006 to find the firm’s doors locked and Bjorklund gone, and then spending two years untangling the legal mess left behind.

Even before the indictment, Bjorklund was notorious in legal circles for committing ethical violations that led the Iowa Supreme Court to take the unusual step of disbarring him in 2006. Saying he “lies with reckless abandon,” the court detailed how Bjorklund misled, overcharged and improperly solicited clients, violated rules on advertising and publicity, and dodged professional regulators looking into complaints.

Bjorklund repeatedly avoided being served legal papers during the disciplinary case, once denying his identity by claiming his name was “Jake” and another time losing a shoe while successfully running from a process server.

Federal authorities unsealed the indictment against Bjorklund in 2013 so the FBI could publicize its search for him, saying he was likely traveling with his longtime girlfriend.

The Pueblo, Colorado, County Sheriff’s office arrested Bjorklund in Pueblo on April 15 during a traffic stop after receiving a request from the FBI to pull over a vehicle that he was believed to be inside, spokeswoman Laurie Kilpatrick said. Bjorklund was taken into custody without incident, she said, and turned over to federal authorities.

Federal authorities declined to release additional details about what prompted the arrest. Search warrant materials unsealed Wednesday at the request of The Associated Press show officers raided two Coralville homes in December as part of an investigation into Bjorklund, his girlfriend and a former Bjorklund business associate.

Investigators said the former business associate appeared to be living in one of the homes still owned by Bjorklund, paying its property taxes, picking up the mail and mowing the yard. He also had ties to the other home and paid vehicle registrations for cars that were under Bjorklund’s girlfriend’s name, the records show.

Investigators told a judge they may “discover evidence to the location of Dennis A. Bjorklund” during the searches, in which they seized several cellphones and computers.

Hallberg said he was amazed Bjorklund managed to hide for so long, questioning how he earned a living. But attorney Raymond Tinnian, who once worked for Bjorklund and later testified against him, said he was surprised only that the fugitive remained in the United States.

“We are all wondering what he’s been up to and what he’s been doing,” he said. “I can’t wait to find out.”

Ex-egg executives appeal jail sentences

Two former egg industry executives are appealing the three-month jail sentences a judge has ordered for their roles in a 2010 food poisoning outbreak.

The appeals filed Monday by Austin “Jack” DeCoster and his son, Peter DeCoster, had been expected.

U.S. District Judge Mark Bennett ordered the jail time earlier this month, citing a “litany of shameful conduct” that happened at their large Iowa egg production company. But Bennett allowed them to stay free while they appeal to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Federal investigators traced the 2010 salmonella outbreak to eggs that came from the DeCosters’ company, Quality Egg. Thousands of people were sickened and more than 500 million eggs were voluntarily recalled.

The DeCosters’ attorneys argue that jail time is unconstitutional for the crime.

WISCONSIN

Supreme Court upholds DUI conviction

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has upheld the drunken driving conviction in a case where Justice David Prosser withdrew after he or his staff apparently contacted the state crime lab for information.

The court ruled 6-0 on Thursday with Prosser not participating.

The case involved Michael Griep, who was convicted of third offense drunken driving in 2007.

Griep challenged his conviction, arguing that his right to confront a witness was violated because a crime lab supervisor testified about a co-worker’s determination that his blood alcohol level was above the legal limit.

The Supreme Court determined the testimony was allowed under exceptions to the law. It upheld a state appeals court ruling which also agreed with the conviction.

 SOUTH DAKOTA

Court asked to reconsider Indian child welfare ruling

A South Dakota state judge and other defendants have filed motions requesting a federal judge reconsider his ruling in which he found state officials in Rapid City set policies that violate the federal Indian Child Act Welfare Act.

U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Viken issued the opinion on a lawsuit last month that was brought by the Oglala Sioux and Rosebud Sioux tribes and three Native American parents.

Viken wrote that state Judge Jeff Davis and other defendants have failed to protect American Indian parents’ fundamental rights at preliminary 48-hour custody hearings. Some of the violations Viken cited included not allowing parents to testify and not allowing them a court-appointed lawyer.

Davis and other defendants raised factual and legal challenges in their motions to reconsider that they filed this week.

NORTH DAKOTA

North Dakota can join fracking suit

A federal judge in Wyoming has allowed North Dakota and Colorado to intervene with Wyoming in a lawsuit challenging new rules for oil and gas drilling on federal land.

The Obama administration announced in March that it will require companies that drill on federal lands to disclose the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing. The rule takes effect in June.

The three states assert the move is unlawful in part because it interferes with their own regulations that address the process.

Wyoming filed its lawsuit last month. U.S. Magistrate Judge Kelly Rankin of Cheyenne this week granted permission for both North Dakota and Colorado to intervene alongside Wyoming.

North Dakota regulators say the new federal rule could add years to the permitting process and hamper the drilling of thousands of wells in the state.

“I am pleased the court has allowed North Dakota to participate as a party to uphold our state’s strong and comprehensive fracking regulations,” North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said Friday in a prepared statement. “We will be there alongside Wyoming in protecting our own state’s authority to regulate the industry.”

Colorado Attorney General Cynthia H. Coffman issued a statement saying the lawsuit raises the issue of whether the U.S. Bureau of Land Management can impose its own regulations on hydraulic fracturing. She stated federal law does not give the agency that power and leaves it to the states to regulate.

“Colorado has robust regulations on oil and gas development, including hydraulic fracturing, and our agency regulators are doing a good job implementing them,” Coffman said in a prepared statement. “I believe it is important to test BLM’s novel assertion of regulatory authority in an area that has been traditionally — and in this case expressly — reserved for the states.”

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