Port: Was it appropriate for Fargo Mayor Mahoney to intervene in investigation involving his son?
After a October 2021 robbery incident, Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney contacted police detectives, presuming to tell them not to follow a particular line of inquiry, and casting himself as part of the investigatory team. Mahoney says his son was a victim in the robbery.
MINOT, N.D. — Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney said his son was the victim in an October 2021 robbery incident that is still under criminal investigation by the Fargo Police Department.
It's not clear what happened from the publicly available information.
When I made an open records request for information about the incident I received a report that was so thoroughly redacted only a few words could be read (the redactions were made under state law exempting information related to victim information, criminal investigations, and 911 calls).
What we do know, from other public records, is that Mayor Mahoney took an active interest in this case involving his son, Dylan Mahoney.
While I wasn't able to get a clear picture from the investigation records, I was able to obtain Mahoney's emails with Fargo police investigators, and they paint a picture of a public official walking a line between the understandable actions of a concerned father and an elected official exerting undue influence over law enforcement.
In an Oct. 19, 2021, email sent to Detective Troy Hanson, Mahoney references an in-person meeting he and his wife had with investigators and instructs Hanson not to pursue the theory that the incident was related to a drug deal. "Dylan did not have any cash on him for a buy of drugs and no intent so I would not pursue that angle," he wrote.
In a Nov. 10, 2021, email, Mahoney tells investigators he's spoken to the chief of police in Moorhead and secured their cooperation with the investigation.
In a Nov. 11, 2021, email, Mahoney appears to be directing detectives on who to interview, and writes as though he were part of the investigatory team. "Have we called the mother again for interview with Hailey?" he wrote, referring to another individual involved in the investigation.
For context, remember that Mahoney is not just the mayor of Fargo, but also the member of the city's commission who holds the portfolio for the police department.
He wields an enormous amount of influence over city government and the police department, to the point where it caused some rancor with fellow commissioners earlier this year when the mayor was accused of not being forthcoming about problems in the department .
"You weren't doing your job," Commissioner Dave Piepkorn told Mahoney during a fiery January meeting .
When reached for comment about his involvement with the investigation of the incident involving his son, Mahoney cast himself as nothing more than a concerned father.
"A lady picked him [Dylan] up and drove to a certain place and a door opened and they beat the s--- out of him," Mahoney said in a phone call Sunday, describing the incident under investigation. "Dylan was robbed," he added, describing his son as the "victim" of the incident.
"I'm just trying to help them solve the case," Mahoney continued. "I'm not trying to influence the investigation," adding that he feels "frustrated" that the investigation has been ongoing for months with little progress.
Fargo Police Chief David Zibolski echoed Mahoney's insistence that Dylan Mahoney was the victim, and that the mayor was just acting as a concerned parent.
"As the father of an 18-year-old robbery victim, the Mayor’s inquiry is not unusual. The investigation is being conducted in the same fashion as any other, which is based on the facts and evidence the investigators uncover," Zibolski told me in an email Sunday. "The Mayor’s inquiries are information only and do not guide our investigative approach to the case."
Yet Mahoney, unlike the parents of any person involved in a police investigation, is the mayor and holder of the police department's portfolio for the city commission.
When he emails a detective and writes "I would not pursue that angle," do you suppose that might resonate differently coming from the mayor and not just another member of the public?
Also, all we have are the emails. There were clearly other contacts between Mahoney and investigators outside of email.
Just based on the written correspondence, the detectives were certainly aware of who they were talking to. Mahoney was emailing them from his official city of Fargo email account, and one of them, Capt. Chris Helmick of the Criminal Investigations Division, used Mahoney's title when addressing him by email.
Zibolski even told me that he was first made aware of the incident due to Fargo Police Department Policy 327 which requires the notification of department leadership when there's a "major incident" that may draw "significant media attention."
It seems clear that this incident, because it involved Mayor Mahoney's family and personal life, was considered significant by the department, and yet no steps seem to have been taken to ensure that the mayor did not exert undue influence on the investigation.
One that, for now, remains unsolved.
"I remain confident in our investigators ability to solve it and refer charges for those involved to the States Attorney’s Office, at which time more information will become public record," Zibolski wrote.