Suspect held in Fargo dentist slayingA man is in custody in Oklahoma in connection with the slaying of a Fargo dentist, police announced Saturday, crediting tips from the public. Authorities said formal charges will be filed Monday against the 41-year-old man, who was arrested Saturday morning at his home in Oklahoma City. Cass County prosecutor Birch Burdick said the man may face a number of charges.
By: Jonathan Knutson and Steve Wagner, The Forum
Technology, public tips and good police work led to the arrest Saturday of an Oklahoma City man for the death of a Fargo dentist who once had a practice there, police said.
The man, Michael Allen Nakvinda, 41, is in an Oklahoma City jail. He may face a number of charges for Philip Gattuso’s death, Fargo police said at a Saturday night news conference.
Gattuso’s brother, Roy, said the arrest “provides some sort of closure” to the family.
Philip Gattuso, 49, was found dead Monday night in his condo, 2536 S. University Drive, after he didn’t pick up his 3-year-old daughter, Kennedy, at day care. The home was ransacked, and his Porsche was gone.
Previously, police — who described the death as a homicide – said Gattuso died of a head injury but won’t say if a weapon was used. The neighbor who found the body said Gattuso was covered in blood.
No details of how Gattuso died were released Saturday.
Fargo Police Chief Keith Ternes and Lt. Pat Claus wouldn’t say Saturday if there was any previous relationship between Gattuso and Nakvinda.
But they did say they were aware that Gattuso once had a practice in Oklahoma City and that knowledge was a factor in their investigation. Gattuso also had met his deceased wife, Valerie, while she worked as a restaurant waitress in Oklahoma City.
Police said previously that they believed locating the Porsche would be a key to solving the crime.
The Porsche still hasn’t been found, police said Saturday.
Witnesses in Fargo saw an extended-cab mid- to late-1990s GMC or Chevrolet pickup, dark-colored or black with tinted windows, pulling the car away from the area Monday morning on a flatbed trailer with straps to hold the vehicle.
One tipster told police Wednesday that a pickup pulling a trailer with a car, covered by a tarp, was at a rest area about two miles south of the North Dakota/South Dakota border.
Fargo police said Saturday that video from a surveillance camera at the rest area showed an Oklahoma license plate on the trailer.
Police contacted the Oklahoma Bureau of Investigation, and Oklahoma authorities were able to identify the person who rented the trailer.
Two Fargo investigators went to Oklahoma to coordinate the investigation with officials there and back in Fargo.
At about 7 a.m. Saturday, Nakvinda was arrested at his home without incident, and investigators conducted a search of the house.
Claus said Nakvinda has an extensive criminal history, which includes felonies dating back into the 1980s.
According to the Oklahoma City Oklahoman newspaper, Nakvinda was among several people of an organized gang that were convicted for a rash of brutal 1993 home invasions.
The case, prosecuted under Oklahoma’s racketeering laws, outlined 100 counts for such crimes as armed robbery, rape, kidnapping and assault with a deadly weapon.
Prosecutors claim the gang leaders targeted victims known to have large amounts of jewelry and money, enlisting robbers to carry out the invasions.
Nakvinda pleaded guilty to numerous robbery charges and received a 10-year prison term for his role in the home invasions.
A search of the Oklahoma State Courts Network also showed Nakvinda was convicted of a 1992 firearms charge. The court granted a divorce to his wife, Carrell, in 1998.
Claus wouldn’t say whether anyone else is being investigated in connection with either the theft or Gattuso’s death.
“An arrest is not always the end of an investigation,” he said.
Cass County State’s Attorney Birch Burdick said he anticipates charging documents to be filed Monday in Cass County District Court.
“There are a variety of charges we’re looking at,” he said.
Authorities will then begin the extradition process, which if challenged, could delay Nakvinda’s return to Fargo.
Nakvinda must first appear in Oklahoma.
If he waives extradition, he will be transported to North Dakota within 10 days. If he challenges extradition, which requires a request by Gov. John Hoeven, the process could take up to 60 days.
Ternes and Claus said Fargo officers remain in Oklahoma as they continue to investigate whether anyone else was involved.
“This is a complex case,” Claus said. “It’s stretched halfway across the country.”
“We have a number of video clips and video leads still to go through that we believe may build on or enhance this case,” Claus said.
Fargo officials acknowledged the public’s help on the case, and thanked officers for their work around the clock.
Claus described the case as one “of inches. An inch here, an inch there. It’s a combination of the great support the chief referred to from the public, the use of technology, the use of good legwork by detectives and patrol officers – a culmination of a number of small things that’s led us to this point, the midpoint of the investigation.”
Police said they still want to be contacted by anyone with information that may be relevant.
Roy Gattuso spoke briefly with the media and praised Fargo police and other officials.
He said he had never heard of Nakvinda and has no reason to think there was any connection between him and his brother.
Roy Gattuso said this has been an extremely difficult time for his brother’s family and friends.
Valerie Gattuso died in March after living on an artificial heart for 18 months.
Kennedy, because of her age, doesn’t know yet that her father has died. She’ll likely end up in the custody of Valerie’s sister, who lives in Oklahoma and also has a daughter Kennedy’s age.
A funeral is planned Wednesday in Gattuso’s home state of Louisiana. A memorial service will be held in Fargo at 2 p.m. Nov. 7 at Bethel Evangelical Free Church, where Gattuso was a member.
The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and the Herald are Forum Communications Co. newspapers.