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Lawyer: Probable cause lacking in drug case

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Police should have never entered an alleged drug dealer's Woodbury home based on the information they had, an attorney argued in court last week.

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Brian Karalus, the attorney representing Frank Santovi Jr., issued a pre-trial motion to suppress information about drugs taken from Santovi's house during a Wednesday, Jan. 16, court hearing. Karalus argued the information police investigators used to generate a search warrant lacked probable cause.

"It's so vague and ambiguous," he told 10th District Court Judge Mary Hannon, who will decide whether to grant the motion to suppress at a future hearing.

Karalus' argument centered on the use of a "concerned citizen" listed in an affidavit used to request a search warrant that granted investigators entry to Santovi's Upper Afton Road home on Dec. 29, 2011.

According to a criminal complaint, the drug raid turned up more than 35 pounds of marijuana, three ounces of cocaine, other drugs and thousands of dollars in cash. Santovi was later charged with one count of first-degree drug possession, one count of third-degree marijuana possession and a tax-related drug crime.

The "concerned citizen" - a legal classification that carries a heightened status in police investigations - turned over information "about an individual with a large amount of marijuana inside of their residence," according to the affidavit. The concerned citizen named that person as Santovi and provided police with his address and told investigators that he had also violated a domestic abuse no-contact order with a woman.

But investigators never laid out the "legal predicate" to qualify the person as a concerned citizen, as other affidavits do, Karalus said. And instead of being a legitimately concerned citizen, the tipster - who is anonymous to everyone but investigators - could have been a person with a motive to turn on Santovi.

"If they're allowed to draft affidavits like this, everyone's in trouble, Karalus said.

The affidavit also refers to a Dakota County Drug Task Force agent who had arrested Santovi's "associates" in possession of pounds of marijuana. That agent had received ongoing information about Santovi's drug trafficking throughout 2011, the affidavit states.

"It's literally, 'This person said this person said there's drugs in Mr. Santovi's house," Karalus said. "This could be double hearsay, triple hearsay."

Assistant County Attorney Tomas Wedes refuted the claims, calling the affidavit "unambiguous" and noting that investigators conducted surveillance to substantiate claims of short-term traffic outside Santovi's house. That the information was exchanged - and corroborated - among different agencies represented effective policework, he said.

"Who cares? That's law enforcement doing their job," Wedes said. "It keeps building and building and building and that's what the detective did."

Karalus countered: "The only thing building is vagueness and ambiguity."

He said probable cause is normally established by pulling electricity bills, removing items from a trash bin or by setting up controlled buys.

Lawyers' briefs in the case are due in February; Hannon will have seven days to decide on the motions once they are received.

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Mike Longaecker
Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker
(715) 426-1072
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