Police probe Sabri connection to Lilligren mailings

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December 14, 2009
By: Dylan Thomas and Cristof Traudes
Dylan Thomas and Cristof Traudes
Search of printer turns up unregistered political mailings

WHITTIER — Police were looking into the possible connection of local developer Basim Sabri to illegal campaign materials distributed to 6th Ward residents prior to the November City Council election, according to a search warrant filed Nov. 20 in Hennepin County District Court.

City Council Member Robert Lilligren told police that postcards containing false allegations against him were distributed prior to Election Day Nov. 3. The postcards also lacked a disclaimer naming a registered political action committee as their source, as required under state law.

Minneapolis Police Department investigators executed a search warrant Nov. 20 on Brooklyn Center printer Franz Reprographics, where they found copies of the campaign materials and invoices related to the 6th Ward election. The postcards were sent to 6th Ward addresses through the mail, and police used the metered mail code found on two cards to trace them back to the printer, according to the search warrant.

The warrant authorized investigators to search for invoices or contracts connected to Sabri or Jenn Anderson, who was listed as a treasurer on one of the anti-Lilligren mailings. The investigators also searched for documents affiliated with “People of the 6th Ward” or “People for the 6th Ward,” an organization that’s named on some of the mailings but is not a registered political action committee.

Lilligren, who won re-election in November, said he first noticed election literature showing up in his ward in the spring, asking people to run against Lilligren. Later, he said he found similar-looking literature that listed three candidates — Mahamed Cali, Andy Exley and Mike Tupper — as alternatives to him. In the days leading up to the election, a mailing said Lilligren was “against all immigrants, minorities and women in the 6th Ward.”

They also claimed Lilligren was guilty of drinking and driving and attending meetings intoxicated. While the City Council member acknowledged an April 2005 arrest for driving while intoxicated, he described the other claims as “outrageous.”

Lilligren said he and about two dozen supporters spent the very early morning hours of Election Day placing about 2,600 pieces of campaign literature on vehicles parked all over the 6th Ward.

“It took a crew to get that done,” Lilligren said, but hours later, all of the literature had either been removed from the vehicles or been replaced with materials that looked similar to the earlier flyers.

While out door knocking with Mayor R.T. Rybak later on Election Day, Lilligren said Sabri pulled up in a vehicle and started a conversation with the mayor. Lilligren said Rybak told him he had seen “a bunch” of Lilligren campaign literature in Sabri’s vehicle.

Efforts to reach Sabri for comment were not successful. A message for him left with a Sabri Properties employee did not get a response.

Sabri has expressed a low opinion of Lilligren in the past. While speaking with a Southwest Journal reporter in September about his Karmel Village housing development in the Whittier neighborhood, he referred to Lilligren as a “loser.”

Sabri served time in federal prison after he was found guilty of bribing former 6th Ward City Council Member Brian Herron in 2003.

The Office of Administrative Hearings, a state agency, handles complaints about election activity. If the source of the mailings can be identified, the case would be fast-tracked for review by a three-judge panel, and if the panel were to find a violation occurred, it could assess a civil penalty, issue a reprimand or take other actions — including forwarding the case to the Hennepin County attorney’s office for possible criminal charges.

Lilligren won in the first round of voting on Election Day, receiving 1,020 of 1,930 votes, or 52.3 percent of all first-choice votes cast.