Thursday, March 29, 2012
Minneapolis firefighter Larry Wajda repeatedly sold meth to undercover police informants out of Fire Station 19 across from the University of Minnesota's big new football stadium, newly released documents claim.
Wajda, a 20-year veteran of the Minneapolis Fire Department, allegedly made the sales even though he was already under legal scrutiny and awaiting trial on drug charges in Anoka County, according to affidavits that a Minneapolis police officer used to get warrants to search Wajda's truck, locker and other items at the fire station.
Wajda, 42, made his first court appearance Thursday, March 29, a day after he was charged with fifth-degree drug possession. Hennepin County District Judge Marilyn Brown Rosenbaum set his bail at zero. The Coon Rapids man was then transferred to Anoka County, where new charges were filed against him Wednesday.
Those charges accuse him of possessing meth, receiving stolen property - namely, a 9mm Glock handgun taken in a burglary - and possession of a sawed-off shotgun.
Wajda was to go on trial in Anoka County on April 16 on charges of possession of methamphetamine, conspiracy, and a misdemeanor count of possession of marijuana in a motor vehicle. The counts stem from his Aug. 9 arrest after prosecutors say he agreed to sell $200 worth of meth to an undercover informant.
He was free on bond in that case when he was arrested in the Minneapolis case.
Minneapolis city and fire officials declined to say if they knew
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- of Wajda's August arrest and upcoming trial. They say state privacy laws prohibit them from talking about the firefighter. The fire department's Standard Operating Procedures manual requires that "any member arrested or incarcerated for any reason, shall promptly notify their superior officer, and notify the chief of the department, through the chain of command within 24 hours of the event."
Mark Lakosky, president of International Association of Firefighters Local 82, said he'd heard Wajda had told superiors about his August arrest.
"From what I was told, he did notify the administration," said Lakosky, whose union represents Minneapolis' force of about 390 firefighters. "I don't know who he informed, but I had been told that they did know about it."
Lakosky said the arrest of a firefighter "resonates through the department."
"He's in a world of hurt if he doesn't take care of this," he said of Wajda. "We're held to a higher moral code, the highest level of moral standards. And you get that from 99.999 percent of the firefighters. I saw this and thought, 'What the heck, a fire station?' "'"
"It's just ugly. We hate it," he said.
Wajda's attorney, Mark Kelly, did not immediately return a call for comment.
The search warrant affidavits in the Minneapolis case were written by Jeff Carter, a Minneapolis officer assigned to the Safe Streets Task Force. The unit, led by the FBI, was set up to replace the scandal-plagued Metro Gang Strike Force.
He wrote that the task force began to investigate Wajda after a confidential informant told officers the firefighter was selling meth and marijuana from the fire station at 200 Ontario St. S.E., on the University of Minnesota campus and across from TCF Stadium.
Carter wrote that he and other officers knew Wajda "from previous narcotic investigations where...numerous sources, including multiple confidential reliable informants" claimed Wajda was distributing meth in northeast and southeast Minneapolis.
Carter and a colleague, officer Kerry Mraz, had a confidential informant set up a transaction with Wajda - identified in the affidavit as "LW" - and it allegedly took place sometime over the weekend. The informant came back with some meth; the affidavit doesn't say how much.
"During the course of this investigation your affiant and Officer Mraz have conducted multiple controlled buys of crystal methamphetamine from LW, from Fire Station 19," Carter wrote.
A judge approved the search warrants 8 a.m. Tuesday, and by 10:30 a.m., police were searching Wajda and the fire station.
The search inventory claims officers seized a bag containing meth and a Minnesota lottery ticket from Wajda's left pants pocket; they also took a cellphone.
When they searched his locker, a gym bag and sleeping area at the station, they found an apron containing a glass pipe with drug residue, a single Ecstasy pill, a bag containing material they suspected to be meth and two more cellphones.
A woman at the fire station at the time, Autumn Marie Ronning, 33, of Foreston, Minn., told police that the Ecstasy pill was hers.
Ronning was arrested When she was being booked into jail, a deputy recovered a bag with 0.2 gram (0.007 ounce) of meth, as well as eight tablets of Suboxone, a prescription-only narcotic used to control pain and treat addiction to certain drugs, the complaint said.
Ronning was charged with three counts of fifth-degree drug possession.
The woman made her first court appearance Thursday, also before Rosenbaum. The judge set bail at $10,000 and ordered a chemical-dependency evaluation and a "risk and needs assessment."
After officers searched Wajda at the fire station, police sought a warrant to search his home in Coon Rapids; that search led to more criminal charges.
The criminal complaint by Assistant Anoka County Attorney Jessica Rugani says that once in the home, officers found a suspected meth pipe made out of a beer bottle, as well as a digital scale with meth residue.
Officers reported finding a loaded Glock handgun in a linen closet. A check of the serial number showed it had been reported stolen in a burglary in Savage, Rugani wrote.
A search of the dresser in Wajda's bedroom yielded three boxes of 9mm ammunition, a small bag with suspected meth residue and a drinking straw that had been cut short and contained residue, the complaint alleges.
They also found two glass smoking pipes that appeared to contain meth residue, the complaint said.
In a room next to the bedroom, officers found a bolt-action 12-gauge shotgun. The stock had been shortened, and the barrel sawed off to a length of 13.5 inches; state law says they have to be at least 18 inches long.
An officer "noted that the muzzle was poorly cut and uneven," Rugani wrote.
Later, Carter went to the jail to get a DNA sample from Wajda. Rugani wrote that when the officer told the suspect they wanted to see if his DNA matched any they might get off the firearms, Wajda allegedly replied, "Guns? I got those out of junk cars."
Rugani wrote that the firefighter's father, Lawrence Wajda Sr., 63, of Minneapolis, "owns or has close ties with a towing company."