Stephen J. Lee, Forum News Service, Published August 21 2013
Thief River Falls man faces felony charges in extortion and tax casesTHIEF RIVER FALLS, Minn. - A Thief River Falls man faces felony charges of allegedly trying to use a crude threat to extort $500,000 from a former neighbor as well as an investigation of his handling of his parents’ money.
Gerald Sunsdahl, 52, was charged June 7 with threatening to kill a Pennington County man and his relatives — using a handwritten letter stuck in a mailbox — unless he delivered $500,000 in cash in three roadside installments.
According to the complaint from Pennington County Attorney Alan Rogalla, each of the two felony counts — making terroristic threats and attempted coercion — carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
But Rogalla said Tuesday he is finalizing six other felony counts against Sunsdahl, in conjunction with a state tax department investigation, alleging he misused his power of attorney over his parents’ assets and failed to pay taxes on his income from it.
It appears Sunsdahl extorted his neighbor in June to “replenish” his parents’ accounts he had drained, Rogalla said.
Sunsdahl remains in the Pennington County jail in Thief River Falls under a bond of $10,000 cash or $100,000 surety.
A call to the public defender’s office in Thief River Falls, which is representing Sunsdahl, was not returned Tuesday.
A woman at Sunsdahl’s home in Thief River Falls told the Grand Forks Herald Tuesday: “We can’t comment.”
‘We are professals’
According to a probable cause statement from Pennington County Sheriff’s Deputy Blaize Zimmerman, a resident of rural Pennington County reported June 3 that his brother had been threatened.
Someone had put a letter in the brother’s mailbox, two pages of a crude, hand-written mix of cursive and printed words, demanding $500,000 on threat of death.
The extortion letter was included in the court complaint and details the writer’s attempt to scare the man out of his money.
“We are asking For 500,000 Thousand dollor in cash. We have stacked out your place for 3 months. We got your house Buged We can hear you AT ALL Time’s.
There are 3 guy’s that are watching you at all times. Sharp shooters.”
The letter also says family members of the letter’s recipient are being watched by “6 other guys.”
“You call cop’s or tell anybody, they are all DEAD. We got all your phone’s tapped. We are Professals.
All of the Banks, we got people working there to. . . Don’t tell any body or we kill them all. By a push of a button. Give up your MONEY or we will kill . . . We have done over 50 of these jobs, no body hurt.”
The letter instructs the man to put the money at a certain mile marker on a certain highway near his home.
“You put a piece of white tape on the bottom so we can see that you have put 250,000 in a plasic bag … in the ditch south side, east side of the culvert.”
The letter writer instructs the man to tell bank officials, if they question his big withdrawals, that he’s helping family members and that he’s ill.
“Be Quite or your family dead.”
The letter appears to ask for a drop of $250,000, then $50,000, then another $200,000 in the same manner.
“We watch you like a hawk.”
“Write down the sign’s, then go out side. And burn this up. The 3 guys will be watching for this. They are going to be by you or in the trees.”
Investigation of spending
The investigation into the letter quickly led to Sunsdahl, who after being arrested, admitted to investigators he put the threatening letter in the victim’s mailbox, according to Zimmerman.
Rogalla said Tuesday the investigation of the extortion case uncovered evidence that Sunsdahl “took incredible amounts of money from his mom and dad,” up to $300,000, although some of it he spent on them.
Sunsdahl’s father has died, his mother is living and he has three sisters, Rogalla said.
Based on records online, Sunsdahl has lived in Goodridge, Minn., as well as Thief River Falls and has been involved in a farming operation.
Rogalla contacted the Minnesota Department of Revenue, which investigated Sunsdahl’s state tax filings. The revenue department agrees with Rogalla that crimes were committed, he said.
Ryan Brown, a spokesman for the state revenue department, said Tuesday that the department’s investigation of Sunsdahl has led to a complaint drafted against him that goes to Rogalla, the local prosecutor. But until it’s filed in court, the complaint is not public, Brown said.
Rogalla said, based on the revenue department’s investigation, within three weeks he plans to file six felony counts against Sunsdahl: three for filing false state income tax statements in the years 2010-2012 and three counts of not paying taxes due on income he appropriated from his parents, using his power of attorney.