Grand Forks attorney accused in conspiracy to murder confidential informant
GRAFTON, N.D. — Longtime Grand Forks criminal defense attorney Henry Howe was arrested Thursday and charged here with conspiring to murder a confidential informant who is a key witness against one of his clients in a drug case.
Wearing shackles and jail clothes at his bond hearing in state district court here Thursday on the Class AA felony charge, Howe, 72, said the charge appears to be “payback” by the court system for his years defending criminals and that he expects to be exonerated.
Howe bailed out Thursday evening by posting $10,000 on his $100,000 bond.
The count of conspiring with two suspected drug dealers and a male undercover informant to kill a female undercover informant carries a top penalty of life in prison without parole if Howe is convicted.
The female informant bought drugs last spring in a sting operation against Howe’s client Paul Lysengen. Howe, Lysengen and Wesley Smith are charged in the alleged conspiracy.
The female informant was not killed, but investigators last week asked her to leave the area because they were concerned she would be murdered.
News of the charges had people buzzing in the courthouses in Grand Forks and Grafton, where Howe is well-known for decades of work as a criminal defense attorney.
Howe and his wife, Mary Seaworth, have had an office downtown at 421 DeMers Ave. for three decades. He was admitted to the North Dakota bar in 1973, according to state court records.
Seaworth recently opened an office in Minot, and Howe has been battling in recent months with the state officials over his law license being suspended for a time for alleged lack of professional conduct with clients.
On Thursday, state District Judge Richard Geiger set Howe’s bond at $100,000 surety or $10,000 cash, as requested by Walsh County State’s Attorney Barbara Whelan. He has no criminal history, she said.
Geiger set bond for Howe’s co-defendants, Lysengen, 62, recently of East Grand Forks, and Smith, 57, of St. Thomas, N.D., at $200,000 cash or surety.
Lysengen has a long history of drug felonies and Smith is on federal probation on drug convictions.
Howe, in asking for lower bail, told Geiger he had no history of crime “or violence or antisocial behavior,” but a career of defending people accused of crimes.
“I believe this is, in some sense, it will turn out this charge against me will turn out to be payback for that representation,” he told Geiger.
A native of Virginia, Howe said he has lived in Grand Forks since 1980 and that his wife is a native of North Dakota. They have four children and five grandchildren, he said.
The charge brought by Whelan claims the three men conspired with a male confidential informant working undercover for investigators to kill the female informant who worked with the Grand Forks Narcotics Task Force in May to buy methamphetamine from Lysengen from his then-home in Minto, N.D., a few miles south of Grafton.
The female informant used task force money to buy two “eight-balls,” of meth from Lysengen, a transaction recorded by a “wire” worn by the informant. That sting resulted in a search a few days later of Lysengen’s home, and he was charged with eight more felony drug charges. That search also resulted in felony charges against Lysengen’s stepson, Anthony Haase.
The female informant was listed as a key witness for the trial scheduled for April in which Lysengen faced up to life in prison with a mandatory minimum of 25 years because of his previous felony drug convictions, Whelan said in court documents.
Lysengen grew up in Grafton but has spent much of his adult life in the state prison, Whelan said today in court.
Howe has been representing Lysengen in those drug cases. Lysengen told Judge Geiger he is being treated for liver cancer diagnosed recently.
In an affidavit, Grand Forks Sheriff’s Deputy Delicia Glaze of the regional drug task force said she took part in the “controlled buy,” last May involving Lysengen and the female informant.
According to Deputy Glaze, in November, Lysengen called his stepson, Haase, who was in the Walsh County jail here on charges resulting from the May search of their home, several times, telling Haase he had discovered the identity of the female informant who bought meth from him in May.
Meanwhile, the male informant reported to investigators that he had been staying with Lysengen, whom he met in jail, in East Grand Forks and that two weeks ago he, Lysengen, Smith and two women had a “serious discussion … regarding a plan to murder” the female informant, Glaze said.
The group listened to an audio recording, provided by Howe, of the wired female informant making the meth buy with Lysengen last May so the group could identify her voice. Smith produced a hand-written map he had made of the female informant’s rural home in Walsh County where he had visited her, and Lysengen passed around a photograph of the female informant. Smith told the group he had warned the female informant that if he ever found out who had turned in “Flash,” — as he called Lysengen — “I was going to kill them,” according to Glaze.
Smith said the female informant would end up “as fish bait on the north side of the Drayton (N.D.) dam.”
The male informant said that in January he was with Lysengen and Howe and heard Howe say “It would be good if the (expletive) died or went away.”
At a later meeting in Howe’s office in downtown Grand Forks, Howe told Lysengen and the male informant, who was wearing a wire installed by investigators, “it would be better if she just didn’t show up,” at court hearings on Lysengen’s drug case. Without her testimony, prosecutors would not have a cases against Lysengen, Howe told the men.
According to Glaze’s affidavit, a recording made by the male informant Jan. 24 at a meeting with Howe and Lysengen “clearly picks up numerous statements by Howe evidencing Howe’s knowledge and complicity of the plan to make (the female informant) ‘go away’ so that she could not testify in the cases pending against Lysengen and in which Howe was representing Lysengen.”
Howe tells the two men the female informant must be “gone five days before trial … because otherwise it looks suspicious.”
Lysengen and Smith discussed with the male informant how to set up a “pretext” meeting with the female informant so he could “drug (her) and get (her) body into (her) car to make it look like she died of asphyxiation,” Glaze said in her affidavit.
Based on the recordings made by the male informant, task force officers became concerned about the safety of the female informant and on Jan. 23 she was asked “to leave the area for safety purposes.”
Howe and Lysengen were arrested when they appeared in court for a scheduled hearing on Lysengen’s drug charges. Smith was arrested shortly afterward.