Businessmen agree to apologize for campaign letter

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 2, 2003

Three Austin businessmen accused of Minnesota election law violations have agreed to "apologize" to the candidates they were accused of impugning.

"This matter has now been put to rest," said Mower County Attorney Patrick W. Flanagan. "The investigation has been completed. As a result of the hard work and willingness of all the parties involved, an agreement was reached. A grand jury will not be convened."

The case began in September when a letter to Austin Area Chamber of Commerce members solicited financial assistance and support for Mower County Commissioner candidates Dick Lang and Harry Willmott and Austin City Council candidates Dick Chaffee, Jeff Kritzer and Mickey Jorgenson.

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The letter appeared on Usem stationery. It bore the signatures of Jim Cavanaugh, a Hormel Foods Corporation attorney, Charles Moline, an Austin businessman and Tom Sherman, the general manager of Usem's Inc., an auto dealership. None of the three signed the letter.

Coming in the midst of hotly contested city and county races, the letter immediately caught the attention of opponents of the five candidates named in the letter.

Wayne P. Goodnature, Vaughn "Spud" Bothun and Richard Pacholl, each a candidate for Austin City Council seats, wrote a letter in October to Sandy Forstner, the executive director of the Austin Area Chamber of Commerce, asking that Moline be removed from an Chamber-sponsored candidates' forum.

Lang and Jorgenson, two of the five candidates which Cavanaugh, Moline and Sherman sought support, won. Goodnature and Pacholl, whom the businessmen didn't endorse, also won.

Lang, who also had the businessmen's support, beat incumbent Mower County Commissioner Len Miller. Willmott, who also had the businessmen's support, lost to incumbent Garry Ellingson for a seat on the county board.

A complaint was filed with the Mower County Attorney's office.

Then-Mower County Attorney Patrick A. Oman referred the matter to Freeborn County Attorney Craig Nelson.

That occurred when Oman lost in the November election, when he was beat by Flanagan.

Nelson turned over the results of his investigation, including obtaining an opinion from the Minnesota Attorney General on the Minnesota statute the businessmen were accused of violating.

"I would like to thank the parties on both sides of this issue for the great concert they showed; not only for the issue at hand, but also for the concerns of the community in bringing this to an equitable resolution while raising awareness to a sensitive and important political topic," Flanagan said.

Flanagan also thanked Nelson for his investigatory efforts in helping "bring this matter to resolution."

Flanagan said the three businessmen will sign the letter of apology and then return it to him. Then, the letter will be shared with the complainants.

Lee Bonorden can be contacted at 434-2232 or by e-mail at