Minnesota Now September 21, 2022

A woman smiling by a microphone
MPR News host Cathy Wurzer

Federal prosecutors in Minneapolis have charged 48 people in the nation's largest COVID-19 fraud scheme. We'll hear more about the charges and who they say was involved.

The United Nations designated today as the International Day of Peace — one woman shares her story about bringing international peace keeping efforts to Minnesota communities.

Most Minnesota voters say they have high confidence in the state's voting system but county officials are still hearing from election skeptics. We'll find out how they are securing our votes.

And an archive at the University of Minnesota is the Midwest's largest treasure trove of artifacts and documents in LGBT history. We talk with the collection's new curator.

Before you keep reading ...

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Audio transcript

SPEAKER: --evening. And then mostly cloudy, lows in the mid-fifties.


MELISSA TOWNSEND: It's Minnesota Now. I'm Melissa Townsend, in for Cathy Wurzer, who's on vacation.

Federal prosecutors in Minneapolis have charged 48 people in the nation's largest COVID-19 fraud scheme. We'll hear more about the charges and who they say was involved. The United Nations designated today as the International Day of Peace. One woman shares her story about bringing international peacekeeping efforts to Minnesota communities.

Most Minnesota voters say they have high confidence in the state's voting system. But county officials are still hearing from election skeptics. We'll find out how they are securing our votes. And an archive at the University of Minnesota is a Midwest's largest treasure trove of artifacts and documents in LGBTQ history. We'll talk with the collection's new curator. All that, plus the song of the day and the Minnesota Music Minute, right after the news.

LAKSHMI SINGH: Live from NPR News in Washington, I'm Lakshmi Singh. President Biden is calling on world leaders to step up their condemnation of the war in Ukraine. NPRs Windsor Johnston reports. Speaking before the United Nations General Assembly today, the president accused Russia of attempting to erase the sovereign state from the map.

WINDSOR JOHNSTON: President Biden accused Russia of shamelessly violating the core tenets of the United Nations charter, adding that Ukraine has the same rights that belong to every sovereign nation.

JOE BIDEN: This war is about extinguishing Ukraine's right to exist as a state, plain and simple, and Ukraine's right to exist as a people.

WINDSOR JOHNSTON: Biden directly placed the blame for the global food crisis on Russia, accusing Moscow of pumping out lies about Western sanctions amid the invasion of Ukraine. The president also announced nearly $3 billion in US support for humanitarian and food assistance. Windsor Johnston, NPR News.

LAKSHMI SINGH: Former President Donald Trump and his three eldest children are facing the threat of $250 million in penalties, being banned from doing business in the State of New York, and possibly state and federal criminal charges. Today, New York Attorney General Letitia James announced her office has filed a civil suit against the Trumps and other defendants for allegedly inflating the company's net worth by billions of dollars to unjustly enrich themselves and quote, "cheat the system."

At the end of its two-day meeting the feds widely expected to announce another big interest rate hike to cool wage price pressures. Here's Steve Beckner.

STEVE BECKNER: The fed has raised the federal funds rate four times since it seized holding it near zero in March. And Powell has vowed to keep boosting that key money market rate to lower inflation. This afternoon, the fed is apt to hike it another 3/4 point, to over 3%. Fed officials eagerly awaited rate projections may well point toward further hikes, to more than 4% by year's end.

LAKSHMI SINGH: Steve Beckner reporting. Hurricane Fiona, now a powerful category 4 hurricane headed toward the Island of Bermuda. It hit Puerto Rico earlier this week. NPRs Greg Allen reports from San Juan. Residents are beginning the cleanup.

GREG ALLEN: Most communities here still don't have power or running water. Heavy rains from Hurricane Fiona flooded thousands of homes, many in places that were hit hard five years ago in Hurricane Maria. In Toa Baja, the floodwaters have receded in most neighborhoods, but some residents are discouraged. Gilbert Hernandez says he struggled for months with his insurance company after Hurricane Maria and doesn't want to go through that again. He's planning to move and let the mortgage company take his home.

GILBERT HERNANDEZ: Who wants to live here now? Who wants to buy here? Am I going to take a hit on my credit? I ain't going to come back.

GREG ALLEN: The power company says a significant part of the island should have its electricity back by today. Greg Allen, NPR News, San Juan, Puerto Rico.

LAKSHMI SINGH: The Dow is up more than 100 points this hour. This is NPR News.

SPEAKER: Support for NPR comes from NPR stations. Other contributors include Fisher Investments. As a fiduciary, Fisher Investments is obligated to act in their clients' best interest. Learn more at Fisherinvestments.com. Investments in securities involve the risk of loss.

TODD MELBY: For NPR News in the Twin Cities, I'm Todd Melby. Police were called to schools in at least three Minnesota cities this morning, on reports of someone with a gun and what officials say may be a series of hoax calls across the country. Officials in Mankato say officers responded to a call about a supposed active shooter at Mankato West High School. Police searched the school and found no signs of a shooting or an armed person. They say they believe the call was a hoax, saying other schools in the region, quote, "received similar calls providing identical details."

Rochester police say they were called to Lourdes High School in that city just after 10:00 AM on a report of someone with a gun. An initial search of that building also failed to turn up anything. The Cloquet school district's middle and high schools were on lockdown while a hoax threat was investigated there. Cloquet police say the threat was unfounded.

A former Minneapolis police officer was sentenced this morning to three years in prison for his role in the killing of George Floyd. That was the expected sentence after Thomas Lane pleaded guilty in state court in May to a charge of aiding and abetting manslaughter. Prosecutors agreed to the sentence and dropped a more serious charge in exchange for the guilty plea. Judge Peter Cahill made the sentence official this morning.

Lane will serve it concurrently, with a 2 and 1/2 year federal term, for violating Floyd's civil rights. Lane was the officer who held down Floyd's legs while Derek Chauvin kneeled on Floyd's neck for more than nine minutes, in May, 2020.

Severe storms dropped large hail last night as they tracked from the Eastern Twin Cities' metro into Western Wisconsin. Weather spotters reported golf-size hail and Oakdale, Woodbury, and Lake Elmo at about 8:30 and hailstones larger than baseballs as those same storms tracked through the River Falls area. The storms fired ahead of a cold front sweeping across the state.

Ahead of that front, the Twin Cities airport reported a record high of 92 degrees yesterday afternoon. And in the wake of the front highs today across Minnesota are forecast to remain in the 50s and 60s, with much drier air. This is NPR News.

MELISSA TOWNSEND: This is Minnesota Now. It's 12:06. I'm Melissa Townsend.

Federal prosecutors in Minneapolis yesterday announced charges against 48 people in connection with what the Justice Department says is the nation's largest COVID-19 fraud scheme. Authorities say instead of feeding hungry families, the group behind Feeding Our Future embezzled roughly a quarter billion dollars through shell companies and spent it on things like travel, luxury goods, jewelry, and property. Reporter Matt Sepic has been keeping up on the details, and he joins me now. Hi, Matt.

MATT SEPIC: Hi there, Melissa.

MELISSA TOWNSEND: So Matt, who are the defendants in this case?

MATT SEPIC: Well, prosecutors say the ringleader was Aimee Bock. She's 41 years old and was the founder and executive director of a nonprofit that she set up called Feeding our Future. Like the others, she's facing charges, including wire fraud and bribery.

And according to the indictment against her the government says that starting in March of 2020, just as everything was shutting down at the start of the pandemic, Bock and her small staff recruited dozens of people in businesses all over Minnesota to open more than 200 meal sites throughout the state, where they purportedly served food to thousands of children.

But US Attorney Andy Luger says very few kids actually got meals. He says the conspirators filled out fake invoices and even used an online name generator, really geared toward fiction writers, to invent the names, invent the identities of non-existent children to put on phony attendance rosters.

MELISSA TOWNSEND: Hmm. And how did this alleged scheme operate?

MATT SEPIC: Well, here is one of the examples that prosecutors outlined in court documents. Luger says 30-year-old Abdikadhir Mohamud allegedly paid the owner of a small restaurant in Willmar $40,000 a month to use the business as a meal site. And here's what Luger had to say at the news conference yesterday announcing the indictments.

ANDREW LUGER: The defendant quickly claimed to be feeding 2,000 children per week, seven days a week. But only 33 names on the roster of children he supplied matched names registered at the school district.

MATT SEPIC: And just to put the size of this into context, Melissa, Luger noted that the Willmar School District has an enrollment of around 4,200 kids. So Mohamud allegedly claimed to be feeding close to half of them from a tiny storefront restaurant.

MELISSA TOWNSEND: Hmm. So how was this group able to allegedly steal so much money?

MATT SEPIC: Well, according to the court documents, Melissa, they took advantage of two government programs, federal government programs that have been around for decades, the Summer Food Service Program. The other is the Child and Adult Care Food Program. Now typically, these have been run through schools and child care centers, but when everything shut down at the start of the pandemic the federal USDA started letting restaurants participate. And authorities say Bock and her co-conspirators took advantage of these new rules to bilk taxpayers.

MELISSA TOWNSEND: Hmm. Now, I know this investigation has been going on for nearly a year-and-a-half. How did it begin?

MATT SEPIC: Well, in April of last year, the Minnesota Department of Education, which oversees the distribution of this federal money from the AG Department, contacted the FBI. The Education Department told investigators that they suspected that quite a few organizations were submitting fake reimbursement requests and vastly inflating the number of kids that they were serving. MDE was also concerned about the exponential increase in federal money going to Feeding our Future.

In 2018, this organization only got about $307,000. And, Melissa, by last year that figure had grown close to $200 million, $198 million, to be exact.


MATT SEPIC: Now, even though state officials were suspicious, they didn't have access to bank records to really prove the fraud, which is why they went to the FBI. And the other thing, too, Melissa, that's important to note, is that MDE, the Education Department, was on the defensive.

Feeding our Future actually sued the state in late 2020 alleging discrimination against low-income and minority communities, that Feeding our Future purported to serve, by withholding funding. They went to court. A Ramsey County judge sided with Amy Bock and Feeding our Future.

And Andy Luger, at the news conference yesterday, said those payments from the state, passing through federal money, those payments continued until news broke of the FBI investigation.


ANDREW LUGER: Their scheme was only shut down when this investigation went public, with the unsealing of search warrants in January of 2022.

MELISSA TOWNSEND: So many of the people charged, I understand, have strong business and political connections in Minneapolis. Is that right?

MATT SEPIC: Well, at least two of them do. The Minnesota news site, Sahan Journal, reported back in February that Abdi Nur Saleh left his job as a policy aide to Mayor Jacob Frey, the Minneapolis mayor, after Saleh's name appeared in a federal seizure lawsuit that was public along with the search warrants earlier this year. It included allegations that he used stolen money to buy property in South Minneapolis.

The Star Tribune reported around the same time that the mayor's office fired Saleh. Saleh was the founder of a nonprofit called Stigma-Free International. It's listed in the indictments as having misappropriated federal money. Sahan Journal also reported that Minneapolis City Council member, Jamal Osman, was a founder of Stigma-Free, along with Saleh. However, we need to point out and be clear that Council member Osman is not among those charged with a crime. He told the Star Tribune earlier in the year that he had no association with the nonprofit Stigma-Free after mid 2020.

Another person indicted who has political connections, Sharmarke Issa, a former board chair of the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority. Prosecutors say he set up a company called Minnesota's Somali Community and managed a restaurant. And Issa allegedly stole $7.4 million in federal child nutrition program funds.

MELISSA TOWNSEND: Wow. Now, I saw that the Minnesota Department of Education released a statement yesterday, saying they reported their concerns immediately. Attorney General Keith Ellison's office said they took action quickly. But some Republican lawmakers are saying they didn't. What's happening there?

MATT SEPIC: Well, since news of this broke in January, when the search warrants were unsealed and we learned about this vast FBI investigation, State Senate Republicans have been criticizing the Walz administration, particularly the Education Department, for what they say is a lack of oversight that allowed this alleged fraud to continue.

You may recall, earlier in the year there were hearings in the State Senate, with education officials in the hot seat. But the narrative that they are putting together really hasn't gotten too much traction in the broader consciousness, I would say. And I think that's due in large part to the fact that MDE officials really did contact the FBI. And, as I mentioned earlier, they were defendants in a lawsuit that Feeding our Future filed and a judge ordered the state to continue making these payments to Amy Bock's organizations.

MELISSA TOWNSEND: Right. Well, there's lots more, I think, to come on this story, Matt. Thank you for being here today.

MATT SEPIC: Hey, you're welcome.

MELISSA TOWNSEND: That's NPR reporter Matt Sepic.


(SINGING) Ya, ya, ya. And into the fire I go. My heart is burning. I want you more than you can know. You've got my head in the clouds, feet on the Nimbus. I'm flying right in this. I ain't seen the ground in like a minute. You're pretty in pink, but you're wearing that power you got like a gown. Strong as the pull of the moon on the tide I get lost in your eyes. I don't want to be found. And when we were kids--

It's your Minnesota Music Minute, and this is Nur-D with Chi-Chi. He's performing this Saturday, the 24th, at Mystic Lake Casino. He's opening for rapper and actor Ludacris.


(SINGING) All I can feel is my heart pounding inside of my ribs. I'm not quite sure how to start. But if I gathered all the seven, I would wish for your kiss on my lips. Chi-Chi, I kind of feel like you're my heaven. If I gather--

This is Minnesota Now, on MPR News. I'm Melissa Townsend, in for Cathy Wurzer.

President Joe Biden is speaking at the United Nations today. He's calling on countries to rebuke Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. His speech happens to coincide with the day the United Nations has designated as the International Day of Peace. There are events across the globe in honor of this day.

But we wanted to talk with a local organization that's working year-round in communities who want to avoid violence. Amy Hansen works with St. Paul-based Nonviolent Peaceforce. She's been doing this work for nearly a decade. And she joins me now. Welcome to Minnesota Now, Amy.

AMY HANSEN: Hi, Melissa. Thanks for having me.

MELISSA TOWNSEND: Yeah. Happy to have you here. So when the Nonviolent Peaceforce started about 20 years ago, I understand it had a mission to send peace builders not to places in Minnesota but to places like South Sudan, Iraq, Sri Lanka, where there were major conflicts. And I understand you went to South Sudan, is that right?

AMY HANSEN: Yes I did.

MELISSA TOWNSEND: Tell me about what made you want to do that.

AMY HANSEN: What Nonviolent Peaceforce does is we really work on relationship building and living within the communities ourselves. We also have a lot of national staff, too. People think that guns are automatically going to keep you safe. Like, when I was in South Sudan, we were in this camp for people who were displaced. I was being guided around by one of our staff, one of our protection officers. We're all paid. They're not volunteers.

And we went out of the camp where there was-- the people who are displaced had settled on these people's land. And so it was pretty peaceful, but the people who had welcomed the displaced community were upset that the people who were displaced were bathing in their drinking water. And so we went to talk to them about that.

And they were like, we don't want to fight. We came to NP because we want to resolve this peacefully. But when we stepped out of there, there was a man who had walked into a picture that my colleague was taking, and he got really upset because he didn't want to be in the picture, understandably.

And so my colleague was explaining, I was taking a picture of the landscape. And we're nonviolent. And we're humanitarian workers. And he said, well, if you had been armed, I would have shot you. And if you think about it, we were coming to that person's community, that person's home. You don't show up to someone's home with a gun. That's not going to make them feel safe, and it's probably going to make them retaliate, if you have a weapon, so.

MELISSA TOWNSEND: Yeah. A lot of people are buying guns, particularly among women. But you are pursuing something quite different.

AMY HANSEN: Yeah, like in one instance that I was talking about, there's a young man called Hunter Dalli. And someone in his community was-- a cousin of his was killed. And so he went to the chief of his community and was advocating for them not to go and do a revenge killing. And the chief was like, well, this Nonviolent Peaceforce, they don't care about us. And he said, they're here. These international people are here because they do care about us.

And then he said, well, we need to take revenge for our honor. And he said, that was my cousin who was killed, so if anything, I should be the one that gets to decide. And so the chief was convinced that, OK, we won't do this. I'll tell the youth not to get involved in killing.

Then Nonviolent Peaceforce international staff started going between the two communities, delivering messages. This takes a long time. It took six months. After six months, both the communities, after hundreds of people had been killed, came together and had a celebration and signed a peace agreement.

Yeah, people are tired of the violence. They've lived in it their whole lives. And they see that war doesn't work. And they see that Nonviolent Peaceforce provides a solution that does work.

MELISSA TOWNSEND: When I think of the word peace, I often think of war. And so it makes sense to me that you're going into these places where there's serious war happening. But now I hear you're working locally, in communities across Minnesota. So what changed your focus, and how do you think about peace here?

AMY HANSEN: With the pandemic and the murder of George Floyd in 2020, I think we were seeing a lot of signs that lead up to civil war in other countries, the deepening of political divisions, a rise in hate crimes. So Nonviolent Peaceforce felt that we have the tools from places like South Sudan and Iraq, that we could do work here that would be useful to the communities as well.


AMY HANSEN: So one of the groups that we met with was Emerge, North 4 Program. Emerge works with young men who've been formally involved with gangs, or cliques, or criminal activity, and provides a work readiness program. And then they are placed in internships for different work locations.

So Nonviolent Peaceforce provided training in de-escalation, nonviolent communication. The method we use is called unarmed civilian protection, which is basically trained unarmed civilians who protect each other.

We did poll protection. There was a lot of concerns in 2020, if you remember, about violence during the election. Recently, there was an armed conflict in the street. Two young guys were armed, going to fight each other. And these guys, they knew them. They had relationships with them. Were able to intervene and stop that armed fight from happening.

MELISSA TOWNSEND: Mm-hmm. As you know, violence in schools and gun violence in schools, specifically, is a problem on many people's minds. Some propose having armed guards or arming teachers to protect students. I imagine you take issue with that. What's your thought on what should happen?

AMY HANSEN: So when the Minneapolis City Council voted not to renew the police contracts in the Minneapolis Public Schools, Nonviolent Peaceforce was asked to do training for the safety and security advisors who are providing security in the school now. And that's based more on relationship building, working with students.

So right now we're also part of a project. We're contracted by the CDC and the Minneapolis Public Schools. And there is a student advisory board. There's about 30 students. They're having discussions about how they can keep the school safe. One of the discussions was around digital security.

If there's a fight on that's videotaped and people see it afterwards, and someone wants to save face, how do you convince your friend not to get involved in that fight? So I think really working on building those relationships, getting the students involved.

There is a school in Minneapolis who was hearing gunshots go off during the day. And so they consulted a security organization, who did an assessment for them. And they wanted to put armed guards at the doors. And the administrators didn't feel comfortable with that.

So they contacted Nonviolent Peaceforce. We did a risk assessment. This was done with the guys from Emerge, North 4, the youth who live in Minneapolis. After that was done-- they looked at the school bus route. Is it safe? And they hired four of those young men to be unarmed security guards for them.

MELISSA TOWNSEND: It sounds like training is ongoing. I'm sure people are learning as they're doing. But what do you say are a couple of things that are key in the training, for people who want to do this work?

AMY HANSEN: There's a lot of different things. There's unarmed accompaniment, accompanying people to safety, interpositioning, where you're between the people who are armed and civilians. In the United States, I would say de-escalation and using nonviolent communication is very important. So some of those methods might be like when you're in a situation when violence is happening, distracting someone, working on building relationships so that when violence happens you can talk to the people who are involved in it and ask them to step back from the situation.

MELISSA TOWNSEND: OK. Well, thank you, Amy, for talking to me about your work. It's really interesting.

AMY HANSEN: Thank you very much. I hope I did OK.

MELISSA TOWNSEND: Amy Hanson has been part of the Nonviolent Peaceforce since 2013. Her group works in Minneapolis and in greater Minnesota in communities who are experiencing conflict but want to avoid violence. She'll be sharing stories from her experience at an event in Minneapolis tonight, marking the UN Day of Peace. It's at the Lake of the Isles Lutheran Church, and it starts at 5:30.

Programming is supported by Bremer Bank, with bankers who know that in business relationships matter more than ever and understanding is everything. More at Bremer.com.

SPEAKER: Programming is supported by the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, where students from all backgrounds find personal and professional purposes, creative, cultural leaders. Discover more or schedule a tour at MCAD.edu.

MELISSA TOWNSEND: Well, after a steamy Tuesday, we're in for a chilly rest of the week. It's 65 degrees in St. Paul, 62 in St. Cloud, 60 in Rochester, 58 in Duluth. Gusty winds out of the Northwest. High temperatures today in the 50s in northern Minnesota and the 60s in Southern Minnesota. In St. Paul we should get to about 67 degrees. Tonight will be the coldest night since May 27. A few showers are possible tomorrow. It's 12:25. Let's turn to Todd Melby for news headlines. Hi, Todd.

TODD MELBY: Hey, Melissa. Thanks. President Joe Biden is declaring that Russia has shamelessly violated the core tenets of the United Nations charter with its brutal, needless war in Ukraine. Earlier today, Biden delivered a forceful commendation of Russia's invasion, to the international body, saying, abuses against civilians in Ukraine, quote, "should make your blood run cold."

New York's attorney general sued former President Donald Trump and his company today, alleging business fraud involving some of their most prized assets, including properties in Manhattan, Chicago, and Washington, DC. Attorney General Letitia James's lawsuit, filed in state court in New York, is the culmination of the Democrats' three-year civil investigation of Trump and the Trump organization.

Hurricane Fiona has strengthened into a category 4 storm after lashing into two islands and devastating Puerto Rico. It's forecast to squeeze past Bermuda later this week. The storm is directly blamed for at least four deaths during its march through the Caribbean, while the winds and rains it unleashed in Puerto Rico left most people without power and half without running water amid what officials called historic flooding.

Lottery officials say two people, who wish to remain anonymous, have claimed a $1.3 billion Mega Millions jackpot, after a single ticket was sold in a Chicago suburb during a late July drawing, opting to take a lump sum payment of $780.5 million. This is NPR News.

MELISSA TOWNSEND: This is Minnesota Now. I'm Melissa Townsend. Former Minneapolis police officer Thomas Lane was sentenced this morning to three years in prison for his role in George Floyd's killing. He was one of the officers who held Floyd down on the pavement as he died under the knee of Derek Chauvin. NPR reporter Jon Collins was in the courtroom this morning. And he joins me now. Hi, Jon.

JON COLLINS: Hey, Melissa.

MELISSA TOWNSEND: Hey, so what was former officer Thomas Lane charged with?

JON COLLINS: So Lane was initially charged with aiding and abetting both murder and manslaughter. And the more serious charge of abetting murder was dropped in this plea deal. So Lane pleaded guilty to the manslaughter charge, and in return, he got a three-year sentence that he'll serve in federal prison.

MELISSA TOWNSEND: Hmm. And I understand this three-year sentence is shorter than the state guidelines. How much shorter, and why is that?

JON COLLINS: So it's six months less than the presumptive sentence that's in state guidelines. And prosecutors said they agreed to this deal because Lane was quote, "less culpable" than the other officers who were charged in George Floyd's killing. And Judge Peter Cahill also said he was granting this, it's called a downward departure, due to Lane's actions that he observed while watching video and other evidence as he presided over Derek Chauvin's trial.

And it's important to remember that Lane was the officer who held down Floyd's feet. And he asked Chauvin twice if they should turn Floyd over to what's called a recovery position, which Chauvin disregarded. And then Lane afterwards helped paramedics treat Floyd in the ambulance.

MELISSA TOWNSEND: So those are the actions that Judge Cahill was noting.

JON COLLINS: Yeah. Both prosecutors and Cahill spoke to why they approved of the downward departure in sentencing.

MELISSA TOWNSEND: Got it. Now, Lane was previously sentenced in federal court. Remind us why there were two cases and two sentences.

JON COLLINS: So these are two different jurisdictions. It's Minnesota and the federal government. And they operate under different statutes. So the federal charges were based on allegations that Lane violated George Floyd's civil rights by not providing him with medical treatment. And then the state charges would be more familiar to most listeners, that's aiding and abetting, murder and manslaughter.

And as far as the sentences, apart from pretty unusual circumstances it's typically presumed that sentences for the same act, even if they're from different jurisdictions, will be served concurrently, meaning at the same time.

MELISSA TOWNSEND: OK. And how long was his federal sentence?

JON COLLINS: He was sentenced federally to 2 and 1/2 years. And that's less time than the other three defendants, who also faced federal charges in this case.

MELISSA TOWNSEND: Mm-hmm. And he's already in prison. Where is he serving, and what level security is it?

JON COLLINS: Yeah, right now he's at a minimum security facility. It's in Littleton, Colorado. But the federal judge presiding over his case did recommend that Thomas Lane serve his time in a facility that's closer to here. Yes, he will serve both the federal and the state sentences at the same time.

But when you factor in what's called good time and how the actual prison sentences are served, in both federally and in Minnesota, Lane will have served, at the end of this, a little more than two years in prison. And the rest will likely be under supervised release.

MELISSA TOWNSEND: OK. And this isn't over. We should note there's still another trial in state court. I think that's scheduled to start next month?

JON COLLINS: This will be the third trial on George Floyd's killing. And this is the trial for the two remaining officers charged in George Floyd's death. That's J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao. And the charges, again, are aiding and abetting, murder and manslaughter. And both men have rejected plea deals similar to the one that Lane took.

So that trial for those two men is scheduled to start on October 24, which means it's going to be one more time that bystander witnesses and others will be called to the stand to relive those moments. And it's going to be one more trial for George Floyd's family and friends to go through.

MELISSA TOWNSEND: Mm. How are they doing? I know they spoke in court today. What are they saying, George Floyd's surviving relatives?

JON COLLINS: They sent in a victim impact statement, and it was read by a prosecutor. And they expressed lots of understandable frustration about all these different court processes, which have dragged on for more than two years. And they asked how many victim impact statements they would have to give. And they said they're trying to work through their grief on this very public killing.

MELISSA TOWNSEND: Mm-hmm. This morning, I understand the sentencing was very short, just 10 minutes. Did Lane say anything?

JON COLLINS: No, he didn't. And previously the only thing he has said about the incident involving George Floyd was during his testimony in federal court, where he and his lawyers argued that he didn't realize how bad off Floyd was, that he tried to intervene, and that he was depending on the paramedic expertise to assess George Floyd's medical condition.

MELISSA TOWNSEND: All right. Well, thank you, Jon.

JON COLLINS: Thanks, Melissa.

MELISSA TOWNSEND: That's NPR reporter Jon Collins. There's more on this story on our website. You can go to nprnews.org.


This is Minnesota Now. I'm Melissa Townsend, in for Cathy Wurzer. The first day of early voting is Friday. And there's a lot of conversation about election integrity, how sure we are that our vote is being counted accurately. An NPR News-Star Tribune-KARE11 Minnesota poll released just this week shows 56% of Minnesota voters say they have a high amount of confidence in our state's voting system. Another 27% have a moderate amount of confidence.

But still, across the state, county officials are hearing from people demanding changes to the voting process. MPR reporter, Kirsty Marone, has been looking into this. And she joins me now. Welcome back to Minnesota Now, Kirsty.

KIRSTY MARONE: Thanks, Melissa.

MELISSA TOWNSEND: So you focused on a few counties in greater Minnesota. How did you hear about what was happening there?

KIRSTY MARONE: Well, I kept hearing about some counties in the region that I cover, where there were people coming to county board meetings week after week and asking these same similar questions. And that's kind of unusual, right, because there's generally not a lot of public interest in the election process. It's sort of this technical thing that most people don't really care a whole lot about.

But in this case, they were asking questions about the process, the voting machines, and making public data requests, that in some cases were copied and pasted or the questions were very similar. Clearly, they were getting them from similar sources.

So election officials have been trying to answer those questions. But these groups, these people have not been satisfied. And the election officials are saying it's because, in large part, people are reading information online that maybe doesn't pertain to Minnesota elections or is just not accurate.

MELISSA TOWNSEND: In that poll I mentioned in the intro, 91% of Democrats have a high amount of confidence in the state's election system versus 21% of Republicans and 53% of independents. So these folks in greater Minnesota, do you have a sense of their political affiliation?

KIRSTY MARONE: Well, I cover Central Minnesota. Crow Wing County, up in the Brainerd area, is one where this has been happening quite frequently. Also, Sherburne County, I think in Crow Wing, about 64% voted for Trump in the last presidential election. And Sherburne County was like 65%. And they do tend to lean more conservative and also, I think, tend to turn to more conservative media sources as well for their news and election coverage.

MELISSA TOWNSEND: Mm-hmm. Got it. Well, let's take a listen to your story.

KIRSTY MARONE: With the November vote less than two months away, Deborah Erickson is deep into all the planning and prep work that goes into running a countywide election, like finalizing ballots and training election judges. But Erickson, Crow Wing County's administrative services director is also spending considerable time talking about the last election, almost two years ago.

DEBORAH ERICKSON: I did not think I'd still be talking and working on 2020 stuff in September of 2022.

KIRSTY MARONE: For months, a group of area residents has been speaking at Crow Wing County board meetings, questioning the 2020 vote and the process the county uses to count ballots.

[? CAROL: ?] I'm not saying any of us are involved in manipulation of votes, but I hope you would realize with machines it can happen right under our noses, and we would never even suspect a thing.

KIRSTY MARONE: That's Carol [? Oddison ?] of Cross Lake, at a board meeting in August. She and others have questioned the county's use of Dominion voting machines, suggesting that they could be hacked or tampered with. They've asked for detailed voting data from 2020 and unsuccessfully asked for a state audit of the election results.

Erickson says she's happy to answer questions, even welcomes that part of her job. But she says some are based on misinformation that's being spread online, that's either inaccurate or doesn't pertain to elections in Minnesota or Crow Wing County.

DEBORAH ERICKSON: With information available at our fingertips, whether we like it or not, sometimes the information that people are seeing is not true and accurate.

KIRSTY MARONE: Erickson says the 2020 election went very smoothly in Crow Wing County, in spite of the pandemic and more people than ever casting ballots early or by mail. She says there was no evidence of any discrepancies.

DEBORAH ERICKSON: What we've been trying to do is explain our processes and show what all the safeguards are that are in place, hopefully, to instill some confidence in folks.

KIRSTY MARONE: In Minnesota, those safeguards include testing optical scan machines in public before election day, not connecting the machines to the internet during voting so they're not vulnerable to hacking, using paper ballots, so there's a record that can be checked, having election judges from different political parties at polling sites, and auditing the votes in randomly chosen precincts after the election.

The Crow Wing County Board recently voted to double the number of precincts it will audit this fall from two to four. But that didn't satisfy everyone. Some want the county to stop using vote counting machines altogether and return to the days of hand counting paper ballots. Erickson says with the number of races on the ballot, that's impractical and likely would be less accurate.

DEBORAH ERICKSON: It would take multiple days, oodles of dollars, and there is more opportunity for error with a hand count process than there is in using a trusted verified system, like an optical scan system.

KIRSTY MARONE: These questions aren't being raised only here in Crow Wing County. Local residents and sometimes outside activists have attended board meetings in Sherburne, Carver, and other counties, sometimes repeating unproven or debunked claims of election fraud. Jennifer Petersen-Ross, a Crookston business owner, recently voiced her concerns at a Polk County Board meeting. She says she hasn't been politically active in the past but has grown concerned about election integrity after learning of allegations of fraud from alternative news sources and documentaries, like 2,000 Mules.

JENNIFER PETERSEN-ROSS: I didn't approach this from the left or the right. I am just an American that wants a free and safe election. I want to know that when I cast my vote that my vote is ultimately what the vote is. And just the defensiveness that I have been met with, the most bizarre thing.

KIRSTY MARONE: Elections officials say they've tried to respond to the call for more transparency. But the group's demands keep changing.

STEVE SIMON: Every citizen should feel free to ask questions, including hard questions, of their government at every level.

KIRSTY MARONE: DFLer Steve Simon is Minnesota's Secretary of State.

STEVE SIMON: But this feels very different. This isn't about finding common ground on election administration. This is about an organized outside effort to undermine and poison well-earned public confidence in our election system.

KIRSTY MARONE: Simon says many of the accusations are baseless, like claims about Dominion voting machines. He says six of Minnesota's 87 counties use them, and there have been no issues.

STEVE SIMON: And we know, because of the various checks and balances we have in our system in Minnesota, that all those tabulating machines perform up to very rigorous standards. And all of that checking and that balancing is done in full view of the public.

KIRSTY MARONE: Simon says some requests are impossible to meet, like numerous data requests counties are receiving for the cast vote record, an electronic record of how an individual voted. He says vote tabulating machines can only produce a cast vote record if that feature is turned on ahead of time, which no Minnesota county did in 2020.

And there are questions whether such data is even public under Minnesota law. Erickson says the Crow Wing County Board agreed to produce cast vote records for this fall's election for anyone who requests it. But she says the report needs to be randomized so a ballot can't be traced back to an individual voter.

DEBORAH ERICKSON: Every voter's right to cast a secret ballot is ultimately that bedrock of our democracy, of making sure that we have that safeguard in place.

KIRSTY MARONE: In Sherburne County, a group has repeatedly raised concerns about election integrity. Although, county auditor, treasurer, Diane Arnold says there were no inconsistencies with the 2020 results.

DIANE ARNOLD: The only thing that was unusual was COVID, COVID-19, you know?

KIRSTY MARONE: Arnold says she and her staff follow election procedures carefully. In fact, she says a recount in a close state senate race two years ago found no discrepancies in the vote total.

DIANE ARNOLD: And I'll stand behind my numbers. They're there. I know what they are, and they're solid.

KIRSTY MARONE: State and local officials and groups like the League of Women Voters of Minnesota have launched efforts to try to debunk misinformation about elections. They're also encouraging people to sign up to be one of Minnesota's 30,000 election judges, a critical role that offers a first-hand look at the voting process. Michelle Witte is the League's executive director.

MICHELLE WITTE: And in a lot of ways I feel like that could be a good cure. Because once you get in and see how the system is run, you'll see that what you think can happen, can't.

KIRSTY MARONE: Meanwhile, election officials say they'll continue to be open to answering honest questions as they gear up for the next big challenge on November 8. Kirsty Marone, MPR News, Brainerd.

MELISSA TOWNSEND: Really interesting story, Kirsty. It sounds like the election judges and the election officials are like, we promise everything is fine, but there's this insatiable kind of criticism or concern. Do you feel like there will ever be a point or that there is something that the election officials can say that would satisfy the critics or the folks who are skeptical?

KIRSTY MARONE: I think some of these election officials are starting to feel like nothing they say will satisfy these skeptics. And in part, I think there's some concern-- I think you heard it there, from the Secretary of State, Steve Simon-- that some of these concerns are being driven by outside groups that are really trying to foster disbelief and mistrust in the system, which is really a concern.

I think there are a lot of local people who just really want to understand the process better. And election officials say they're happy to answer questions. But you're just seeing, in some cases, like I said in the story there, they're asking for data that it's just really difficult to provide.

And they, in some cases, want changes to the system that election officials say would make it actually less accurate. If you go back to hand counting ballots and get rid of the vote counting machines, that's actually-- tends to be less accurate. It happens late at night. People are tired. When you've got humans involved, there's just bound to be more mistakes. So I think they're really saying, transparency is great, but let's make sure we're doing it right.

MELISSA TOWNSEND: Right. One of the election officials invited people to become a voting judge, right? And I remember a story in the last election about there being a shortage of election judges because of threats and harassment. Do you know if, in this coming election, folks are nervous about playing those roles at the polls?

KIRSTY MARONE: Well, it's interesting. I know that election officials at the county and state level are thinking about election security and making sure that the polls are safe. I thought that there might be some impact on the number of people signing up to be election judges. But actually, in the counties I spoke with, they said they're seeing an increase in the number of people signing up, which they think is a great thing.

Obviously, we need a lot of them. Like 30,000 in Minnesota are needed. So it's a really important job. And getting involved in the process is a great way to get those questions answered that you have and kind of see firsthand how that process works.

MELISSA TOWNSEND: Mm-hmm. Last question for you. You mentioned several things that voting officials are doing to try and maintain the integrity of the vote. Based on your research, is there anything they're not doing?

KIRSTY MARONE: Ah, that's interesting. I think Minnesota is recognized for having a good system. And these safeguards are in place in all counties in Minnesota. The other thing we have here that some other states don't have is we still vote on paper ballots. If there is some question or a concern about the counting machines, they always have that paper record.

I think the counties are following kind of a statewide procedure in things like not having the optical scan machines connected to the internet, only at the very end when they're sending the final tally in, but not during voting, just to make them less vulnerable to hacking, those kinds of things.

And election officials say, of course, no system is perfect. They're always concerned about the potential for something to happen. So they're always looking for ways to improve it.

MELISSA TOWNSEND: Mm, interesting. Kirsty, great reporting. Thank you for this important story.

KIRSTY MARONE: Thanks, Melissa.

MELISSA TOWNSEND: Kirsty Marone is a reporter for MPR News, based in Collegeville, Minnesota.


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MELISSA TOWNSEND: This is Minnesota Now. A few decades ago, a person named Jean-Nikolaus Tretter, in Little Falls, Minnesota, started collecting documents and objects related to LGBT culture and communities. They were concerned those artifacts might be lost to history and with them, an understanding of the history of LGBT communities.

A few years ago, in 2000, that collection came to the University of Minnesota. And it's now called the Jean-Nikolaus Tretter Collection in LGBT Studies. Producer Britt Emmett was curious about the collection. So she spoke with its new curator, Aiden Bettine.

BRITT EMMETT: I was doing research on the HIV/AIDS crisis in Minnesota, and the place to go, for me, was the Tretter Collection at the University of Minnesota for the original documents from that era. And I heard that the Tretter had a new curator, and I was really excited to talk to him. He's here with us now. Aiden?


BRITT EMMETT: So for those who might not be familiar, what is the Tretter Collection?

AIDEN BETTINE: So the Tretter Collection is in GLBT studies, so it's an all LGBTQ, or queer, archives. We hold books, periodicals, magazines, journals, and then personal collections, organizational records, and then other types of ephemera relating to queer life, so t-shirts, buttons, different types of posters, maybe some hats. So we're really about the materiality of LGBTQ life. We certainly prioritize the Twin Cities in Minnesota but also collect broadly across the Midwest, the nation, and internationally.

BRITT EMMETT: Are there any collections within the Tretter archives that really, really intrigue you?

AIDEN BETTINE: One that I'm particularly fond of, that I've found in the collection, is actually the gay and lesbian postal employees network collection. I'm a big USPS enthusiast and avid correspondent, so I love mail. This postal employees network started in the Twin Cities in 1992, so 30 years ago, and it was for gay and lesbian postal employees who wanted to meet each other but also advocate for their rights as federal employees, locally, in the Twin Cities.

And then in 1993, they went to the National March on Washington for gay and lesbian rights. Going to the march and meeting other LGBTQ postal employees turned into a national organization. And it looks like, from reading their newsletters-- punily enough, called Outpost-- they were advocating for things like domestic partnership benefits through USPS, working with different unions and associations, as well as an end to discrimination or harassment for same-sex attraction.

So again, we see a Minnesota first, where the Postal Employees Network, or PEN, started in the Twin Cities, but really had a national effect until the early 2000s, when it disbanded.

BRITT EMMETT: That's an amazing story. When we look back at the history of LGBTQ archives, when did we begin seeing that preservation of that history in the United States?

AIDEN BETTINE: Oh, that's a great question. So there certainly were early collectors. And I think Jean Tretter, the namesake and original curator and founder of this collection, is a great example of individuals who were personally and privately collecting LGBTQ history, really from the 1940s and probably a little earlier, through to today.

We have a lot of private, or personal, collectors, that are building apartment archives and keeping records, but we don't see formal organizations, whether they're community archives or become part of institutions, like the Tretter Collection, emerge until after gay liberation. So we're looking at the early 1970s.

Lesbian Herstory Archives, in Brooklyn, New York, was one of the earliest, in 1974, in the US, to open their doors and collect lesbian history very intentionally. We have a few that opened in the 1980s, like the GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco, the Gerber/Hart Library and Archives in Chicago.

And as you can see, through just some of that naming, these places were in big, urban cities and often on the coasts, in San Francisco and New York, and really became the pinnacle of where we understand and come to know LGBTQ history. So I think that's why you see something like Jean Tretter's collection moving to the University of Minnesota in 2000 as a kind of younger, more Midwestern-grown collection. Although, Jean was collecting well before the year 2000.

BRITT EMMETT: Well, what would we have lost if we didn't have somebody like Jean Tretter collecting these stories?

AIDEN BETTINE: Of what I've named, everything has been an independent, grassroots effort by LGBTQ community members, who may or may not be librarians or archivists by day, doing this work in their community historically and intentionally on volunteer time, maybe unpaid. And that trend has really continued. And I think it's because we, as LGBTQ people, especially in the library and history-oriented professions, are aware of whose history is being collected and whose is not.

And it was really evident to these early ancestors of LGBTQ libraries and archives that if nobody, if no other institutions were going to collect LGBTQ history, we were going to lose it. So we were going to lose the stories, the materials, the photographs, the memories. There's a lot of oral history projects around the country, including here at the Tretter, that really do capture the lives and stories of everyday LGBTQ people.

And we would lose this because other places don't essentially value it or prioritize it. Or sometimes, when you look in an archives and are trying to find LGBTQ people and their history, it's simply just not labeled that someone was part of the community. They're not identified as part of the community. They might have been a significant author, maybe a famous actor, or done something important in their local community that got them into the archives, but it wasn't because of their queerness or their identity. And so they're kind of hard to find.

And so LGBTQ archives, as a collecting focus, really make it easy to know that the material you're moving through and the people and organizations you're looking at are part of the LGBTQ community and part of our history.

BRITT EMMETT: Well, so I want to get to know you a little bit more. In 2017, I believe, you moved to Iowa to get a library of science degree. Now, you had come out as a trans man at a very young age. I think you were 17, is that correct?

AIDEN BETTINE: Correct, yeah.

BRITT EMMETT: And then you moved to the University of Iowa. And how was that period transformative for you? Because I think you were coming from Chicago and you're moving to college small town Iowa.

AIDEN BETTINE: Yeah. It was a really transformative moment in my personal life, but also in my career. So I'm originally from Milwaukee, and went to undergrad and did a master's in Chicago, so have been very much a part of urban LGBTQ life in the Midwest for most of my young adulthood, as a teenager, and then in my 20s.

And so moving to Iowa City, I won't say it was a culture shock, but there was an evident absence of LGBTQ spaces to inhabit, to go to, to avoid, whatever you might want to do. It was really hard to find LGBTQ-owned and operated businesses, support groups. There was only one gay bar in town. And a lot of organizations, you either had to be maybe an undergraduate student on campus-- and there's wonderful resources for them on campus, the University of Iowa-- or maybe affiliated with a church group.

For me, I went from urban spaces that had a lot of affordances for what it meant to be queer and trans and have time and space in community to a place that I knew there were LGBTQ people around me. But it was really hard for us to find each other. And so Iowa City, and I think Iowa more broadly, demanded building queer community space.

BRITT EMMETT: And you ended up building, or founding, the LGBTQ Iowa archives.


BRITT EMMETT: Is that right?

AIDEN BETTINE: --archives in the library.

BRITT EMMETT: Is that similar to the Tretter, or what is that?

AIDEN BETTINE: It is very similar to the Tretter. Definitely smaller scale, a very young community archives. But it's kind of-- in Twin Cities terms, it's like if you combined the Tretter Archives with the Quatrefoil Library. So there's a lending library and community space, where things like queer threads, a craft circle, happen, board game nights, book clubs, and different meeting groups. But then on the archive side, there's a really intentional effort to collect Iowa's LGBTQ history and ensure that it's preserved across the state.

BRITT EMMETT: Can you give us a sneak peek, perhaps, at some of the items that have just come in or will be coming in to the Tretter soon?

AIDEN BETTINE: Yeah. So we received six gowns, or dresses, from a female impersonator named Sonny Teal, who was active in the 1960s in North Dakota. These dresses were collected by Sonny's mother, or saved by Sonny's mother after she tragically died in a plane crash, in 1966. So it's just a really rich and beautiful collection, to have these gowns from queer history before the 1970s. Folks can come on a tour. And that'll probably be something that I'll love to pull and show off as one of my favorites, once those dresses are properly housed in the next couple of weeks.

BRITT EMMETT: Well, I'm wondering if there are collection areas you'd like to emphasize or explore, or stories you'd like to bring into the Tretter as a curator.

AIDEN BETTINE: There's too many areas I'd love to grow. Definitely, the already intentional efforts to collect Black, Indigenous, and communities of color collections and history up here in the Twin Cities, but also around the country and internationally.

I also really want to look at rurality. For me, as an urban-raised queer person, Iowa really opened my eyes to what does it mean to be in rural spaces and living out your LGBTQ life. And so I want to do more intentional collecting around rural life but also queer farmers.

BRITT EMMETT: Thanks so much for coming on to talk to us on Minnesota Now, Aiden.

AIDEN BETTINE: Absolutely.

MELISSA TOWNSEND: That was Producer Britt Emmett. She was speaking with Aiden Bettine. He is the new curator of the University of Minnesota's Tretter Collection in LGBT Studies.

Well, you might want to take your lunch inside today because it's chilly. We've got fall weather across the state. In St. Paul it's 68 degrees, 62 in St. Cloud, 60 in Rochester, 58 in Duluth. There are gusty winds out of the northwest at 15 miles-an-hour. You might even call it a little blustery.

Thanks for listening to Minnesota Now. I'm Melissa Townsend. I'll be back here tomorrow.

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SPEAKER: This is MPR News, 91.1, KNOW, Minneapolis, St. Paul. It's 68 degrees in St. Paul, with northwest winds at 16 miles an hour. Sounds like we could be in for some showers tomorrow. Clouds will be in Western Minnesota in the morning and then move across the state to Eastern Minnesota by the afternoon. We hope you have a terrific day. Thanks for listening to Minnesota Now.

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