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Amy Dalrymple, Forum News Service, Published November 11 2010

Offutt contributed $25K toward Hecker’s legal fees

A prominent Fargo businessman has been linked to the legal defense fund of former Twin Cities auto mogul Denny Hecker, who is awaiting sentencing for federal fraud charges.

Ron Offutt, founder and chairman of the R.D. Offutt Co., gave $25,000 that was used for a lawyer’s retainer fee for Hecker.

Offutt’s friend Ralph Thomas, who used to own Gateway Chevrolet in Fargo after he purchased it from Offutt, gave $30,000 toward the lawyer’s fee.

Offutt, in an interview with The Forum, said he didn’t want anything to do with Hecker.

Thomas was in Offutt’s office when Hecker called to ask Thomas for $50,000 to change lawyers, Offutt said.

Thomas, who lives in Las Vegas, said he asked Offutt to contribute half.

Initially, Offutt said he told Thomas no.

“Denny was just an old-time friend. I’m not near as close to Denny as Ralph is,” Offutt said. “Ralph wanted me to participate in that deal. I didn’t have a bit of desire to do that.”

But after Thomas kept asking, Offutt said he eventually gave $25,000 to Thomas for him to do whatever he wanted with it.

“He wasn’t obligated to give money to Denny,” Offutt said. “But I wasn’t so naïve not to think that he wasn’t going to, either.”

Thomas said he wanted to help Hecker out because Hecker had made money for him in the past.

Hecker worked for Thomas 25 years ago as manager of the Minneapolis Auto Auction.

Thomas said Offutt gave the money to him, rather than Hecker.

“He didn’t want the newspaper calling him,” Thomas said.

But then Thomas had to testify in court about the lawyer fees, and Offutt’s name came out.

Thomas called Offutt a “victim of circumstances” for being connected to Hecker.

“If somebody else had been there, I would have hit them up for half of it,” Thomas said.

Offutt said he has not been asked to testify or participate in any court proceedings. Offutt said he has not given any other money to Hecker and he would not in the future.

“It’s going to sound like we’re kind of frivolous with our money, but I assure you, we’re not,” Offutt said.

R.D. Offutt Co. is the nation’s largest producer of potatoes. Offutt also is founder and chairman of RDO Equipment, which owns the largest network of John Deere construction and agricultural dealerships in the country.

Offutt recently retired as Concordia College’s Board of Regents chairman and contributed the lead donation toward the School of Business named in his honor.

Thomas, who also owns a home in Detroit Lakes, Minn., is semi-retired. He said he has given money previously to Hecker for legal fees and other reasons.

“Ralph Thomas has a heart on him as big as the whole world,” Offutt said. “He did it out of sheer kindness to Denny and to his family.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Amy Dalrymple at (701) 241-5590