Safari Market attorney seeks investigation into what he says were false statements, law enforcement's role

Attorney David Thompson says new evidence suggests a small claims case brought against Safari Market owners was based on a false complaint. The small claims case set off a chain of events that resulted in an Oct. 24 search and seizure Safari Market owners are now contesting in court.

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Owners of Safari Market, which has operated out of its current location since August 2017, are asking the Grand Forks Police Department to return property that was seized during the execution of what the owners call a “fraudulent” search warrant Oct. 24. Hannah Shirley / Grand Forks Herald

Safari Market, represented by attorney David Thompson, has asked the Grand Forks County State Attorney's Office to investigate law enforcement's role in a small claims case brought last June against the store's owners.

The case set off a chain of events resulting in an October search of the Grand Forks restaurant and seizure of property as part of an investigation into an illegal money transfer business. Safari Market's owners say the basis for the investigation was illegitimate.

The owners are requesting an evidentiary hearing to have their property returned. A date for the hearing is expected to be set at a scheduling conference Jan. 13.

In June, Gebrestadik Gebrehiwot took Safari Market owner Sainab Yussuf to small claims court, alleging that a $100 money transfer was never delivered to its intended recipient. The judge ruled in Gebrehiwot's favor.

Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Special Agent Daniel Casetta sat in on that case, according to an affidavit written by Grand Forks Police Detective David Buzzo. Casetta's subsequent interview with Gebrehiwot about Safari Market's money transfer business and his own investigation into the legitimacy of the business formed the basis for Buzzo's search warrant, which Safari Market is now contesting in court.


On Wednesday, Dec. 18, Thompson submitted a supplemental evidentiary filing. According to Thompson, the new evidence shows Gebrehiwot's initial claim – that Safari Market failed to successfully transfer his money – was false. Included in the filing was a letter from a branch manager of Ethiopia-based Wegagen Bank confirming that a payment of $100 was delivered on June 18 to an account with a number that matched the account number on Gebrehiwot's payment voucher.

Thompson told the Herald he has asked the State's Attorney Office to investigate the alleged perjury. He also seeks an investigation into whether Buzzo or Casetta were involved in encouraging Gebrehiwot to commit perjury.

Wednesday, Thompson said he doesn't have evidence that law enforcement was involved in the procurement of Gebrehiwot's alleged false statements, but that he intends to subpoena both Buzzo and Casetta for the evidentiary hearing.

Grand Forks Police Lt. Derik Zimmel said the department will not comment on the case, citing the fact that both the criminal investigation and the civil court proceedings are active.

"Attorneys are paid to talk. We're not," Zimmel said. "We're an impartial party in all of this, and we're not going to be engaged in that."

Thompson said he intends to argue that because the affidavit used to obtain the search warrant was based on Gebrehiwot's alleged false claims made in court and his subsequent interview with law enforcement, the warrant is no longer justified by a factual basis.

Assistant State's Attorney Max LaCoursiere, who represents the state in the civil case, declined to comment.

State's Attorney Haley Wamstad said any allegations of criminal activity would need to be reported to law enforcement.


"From a prosecutor's position, we're very limited on the information that we can share because it is an active criminal investigation," she said. "I think it's up to the court to be the finder of fact and make a determination on the claims that have been alleged by the defense in this case, and at that point in time, we'll know how the court wishes to proceed."

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