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St. Paul asks for investigation of mayoral candidate

By Jessie Van Berkel and Pat Pheifer

Minneapolis Star Tribune

ST. PAUL — St. Paul city leaders have asked for an investigation into an allegation that St. Paul mayoral candidate Dai Thao’s campaign solicited a bribe.

Thao, who is also a City Council member, fired his campaign manager Saturday after Fox 9 News reported she attempted to solicit a bribe from a lobbyist. According to the news report, Thao repeatedly told the lobbyist “he needed resources so he could spread his message,” which gave the lobbyist the strong impression that Thao was also talking about a campaign contribution.

“All I have to say for now, is I look forward to cooperating with any investigation that may occur,” Thao said Monday morning.

On Sunday, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman contacted Police Chief Todd Axtell about the news.

“Clearly these are very serious allegations, so the mayor reached out to Chief Axtell to determine what the appropriate referral would be for an investigation,” Coleman’s spokesman Ben Petok said.

Axtell decided to ask the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) to look into the allegations.

“I’ve come to the conclusion that further investigation is warranted,” Police Chief Todd Axtell said in a statement. “It’s my duty and obligation as police chief to follow up any time allegations of criminal activity are made — regardless of who is involved or what position they hold. In addition, I have to avoid conflicts of interest.”

In a letter Axtell sent to the BCA on Monday, he said he would leave it to the agency’s discretion to determine whether the FBI should also review the situation.

The BCA will investigate and present its findings to the St. Paul City Attorney’s Office or Ramsey County Attorney’s Office, BCA spokeswoman Jill Oliveira said.

Thao met with an unnamed lobbyist and two of the lobbyist’s clients at a St. Paul coffee shop in February, where he asked for “resources,” according to Fox 9.

Thao declined to comment Monday on who he met with and what they discussed.

Hours after the coffee shop meeting, Angela Marlow, Thao’s campaign manager, texted the lobbyist, saying, “Dai asked me to see if I could get a donation from your clients or yourself for his mayor campaign? My understanding is that [the clients] are leaving tomorrow. We will certainly rethink this issue,” according to Fox 9.

The lobbyist reportedly told Marlow that her text could be interpreted as a bribe request.

Fox 9 talked to Marlow on Saturday as she was leaving a caucus in St. Paul. She said the lobbyist contacted her to set up a meeting.

“I’m playing the same game she is,” Marlow said. “She’s playing a game with her clients. You took up three hours of his time, you can give a donation.

“That is a rookie mistake one can make,” Marlow said. “If you want to hold me to the fire, go ahead but it’s not about Dai Thao.”