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Official smeared as a child molester

St. Paul police think rejected job seeker posted phony fliers
10-20-2006 Minnesota:

Richard Wexler was just doing his job. Now the longtime state public servant finds himself the target of hateful and false fliers posted on St. Paul streets and in parks in Blaine and Lino Lakes.

One flier labeled him a child molester. Another leaflet listed him as a photographer trolling for young boys to model swimsuits. Both fliers are lies.

Wexler, 63, a senior attorney at the Minnesota Department of Health, handles appeals from prospective health care workers who have failed background checks. Many of those turned down have criminal records.

Police said they believe a rejected applicant posted the fliers. A detective said police are closing in on a suspect, who could be charged with harassment and stalking.

"Many people hold jobs where they are required to tell people what they don't want to hear," St. Paul police Sgt. Paul Schnell said. "It's one thing to be irritated. It's one thing to be yelled at. It's a whole other thing to be disparaged to this extreme and to have to live in fear in your own home."

The smear campaign ensnared another innocent victim, police said. In an apparent case of mistaken identity, the culprit got Wexler's address wrong on one of his fliers and blanketed Highland Park with the leaflets, creating headaches and fear for another man with a similar name.

More than reputations are at stake, police said. The culprit behind the fliers essentially posed as police by posting a flier labeled, "Predator Alert!" Fear surrounding sex offenders also could spur misdirected vigilantism, police said.

"The reality is that sex offenders in our current time are the people that people love to hate," Schnell said. "If people believe he is a sex offender, someone could target his house."

The harassment started in July with someone spray painted "Richard Wexler sucks" on the side of the Minnesota Department of Human Services building at 444 Pine St. in St. Paul, according to a search warrant affidavit filed in Ramsey County District Court.

On Aug. 5, a Health Department manager received numerous calls from alarmed Highland Park residents inquiring about a "Predator Alert!" flier identifying Wexler as a "registered sex offender" and pedophile living at an address in the neighborhood.

The flier listed the manager's phone number as a "predator alert hotline." More than 300 fliers had been distributed throughout neighborhood.

"This type of thing is very rare," said Doug Schultz, a Health Department spokesman. "We can't recall anything that has risen to this level recently. It does happen on occasion where there is some form of a threat."

St. Paul police officers passed out a second round of official fliers explaining that the leaflets were false. Schnell said he believes the culprit simply found the wrong Wexler in the phonebook. Richard Wexler does not live in St. Paul.

In October, the harassment resumed when Blaine and Lino Lakes police discovered new fliers in a park. The leaflets list Richard Wexler as a photographer interested in photographing boys age 12 to 16 in swimwear, "No experience necessary. Top $$ paid."

Investigators obtained confidential Health Department records with a search warrant Monday. Between July 2005 and June 2006, the department handled nearly 1,200 appeals from health care worker applicants who failed background checks.

Investigators are also working with employees of an OfficeMax copy center in Brooklyn Center who saw a man copying a leaflet designed to lure young boys. ..more.. BY SHANNON PRATHER

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