Benton County elected official may have not lived in county, as required by law

FOLEY — Benton County Auditor-Treasurer Nadean Inman is facing allegations that she did not live in Benton County for about one and a half years since she registered her bid for the elected office in 2018.

Under Minnesota law, a candidate for office must be a resident of the district where they seek election at least 30 days before the general election.

Cell phone records and other evidence in Benton County Board meeting documents — the result of a Sherburne County Sheriff's Department investigation brought on by an anonymous tip to the Benton County attorney — suggest Inman may have resided outside Benton County from October 2018 until April 2020. Her affidavit of candidacy for the office, filed in May 2018, affirmed she would be residing in the jurisdiction of her office.

If an elected official fails to maintain residency in the jurisdiction where they are elected, their position will be considered vacant, according to a letter from Assistant Benton County Attorney Michelle Meyer.

Benton County Auditor-Treasurer Nadean Inman
Benton County Auditor-Treasurer Nadean Inman

According to Benton County human resources records, Inman's home address from 2018-2022 was listed in Becker — which is in Sherburne County. These records show Benton County had evidence Inman may not have been living in the jurisdiction of her office whenshe started her term, even though Inman reported on her affidavit of candidacy that she intended to live in Benton County.

An investigation conducted by the Sherburne County Sheriff's Office in April 2020 found a Sauk Rapids address affiliated with Inman in the Minnesota Driver and Vehicle Services database, but no other associations between Inman and that address were found, according to documents from the investigation.

The Sauk Rapids residence listed with DVS was owned by a former Benton County employee who had worked under Inman and told investigators that Inman paid $100 a month in rent.

When Inman's former employee canceled the rental agreement in April 2020, citing COVID-19 concerns, Inman resided at her husband's home in Becker for several months while looking for a new home in Benton County, according to a December memo to Benton County Commissioners from Benton County Attorney Philip Miller.

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Inman signed a lease for an apartment in Sauk Rapids in January 2021, according to county board documents, and Inman occasionally spends time at her husband's home in Becker, the family cabin and her mother's home near Phoenix, Miller's memo said.

Inman did not respond to multiple requests for comment from the St. Cloud Times.

Anonymous tip leads to investigation

According to county documents, an anonymous tip was sent to Miller in April 2020, encouraging county officials to investigate whether Inman resided in Benton County.

The tip was forwarded to Benton County Sheriff Troy Heck, who sent it to Sherburne County Sheriff Joel Brott.

"Whenever we have a conflict of interest like that, we ask another law enforcement agency to investigate those things," Heck told the Times on Monday. "It wouldn't be proper for the Benton County Sheriff's Office to investigate allegations against another county official. Even if we were to do a proper job, there would always be people that would have a suspicion that it wasn't pursued properly."

The Benton County Courts Facility in Foley
The Benton County Courts Facility in Foley

A report from the Sherburne County Sheriff's Department in April 2020 showed Inman's vehicles were all registered to an address in Becker.

The owner of the Sauk Rapids home associated with Inman in the DVS database said Inman did not have family come to the house and said she did not live there full-time, according to the report.

When asked if Inman was using that residence to keep her employment in Benton County, the owner said, "That's what I would imagine," the report said.

When contacted by the Sherburne County Sheriff's department in May 2020, Inman declined to meet with an officer to give a statement about the residency issue.

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Phone records showed Inman spent little time at Sauk Rapids house

In July 2020 the Sherburne County Sheriff's Department requested a search warrant for Inman's cell phone usage from Oct. 1, 2018, to April 30, 2020.

According to the Sherburne County Sheriff's office report, Inman spent a "significant" amount of time at her husband's residence in Becker and there was "little to no cell phone usage" at the Sauk Rapids address.

"According to the MN State Statute 200.031, under the determination of residence, I do not believe that Nadean Inman follows any of the criteria of residing in Benton County when Nadean Inman completed her affidavit of candidacy," said Sherburne County Sheriff's Sgt. Luke McLean in a supplemental report.

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A letter sent from Chief Deputy Sherburne County Attorney Samuel Werthelmer II to McLean in October 2020 said the attorney was declining to pursue criminal charges against Inman because "I do not believe we could prove the elements of [a perjury charge] or any other criminal charge beyond the reasonable doubt."

Instead, Werthelmer said it would be up to Benton County authorities to determine whether to take civil action based on the evidence.

Records show Miller was aware of the investigation in 2020, but he did not bring it to the attention of the Benton County Board of Commissioners, who learned about the investigation in a June 2021 email from Assistant County Attorney Michelle Meyer.

Miller told the St. Cloud Times last week he first heard about the allegations against Inman in 2019, but did not inform the board of the investigation results because it was not his responsibility as county attorney.

"As far as I was concerned at that point, she had been cleared of any criminal wrongdoing. I was not aware of any information at that point to warrant a civil investigation. And it certainly could have been done," Miller told the Times. "But I had to recuse myself from things because my office works very closely with Nadean."

Several board members received inquiries from residents about Inman's residency before June 2021, Benton County Administrator Monty Headley told the St. Cloud Times Feb. 15. The board first saw the investigative file about Inman's residency three weeks ago, he said.

"Going upon the assurances of the auditor-treasurer, and also [that] our county attorney's office did not raise any red flags, we didn't request the investigative file back in June of 2021," Headley said.

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What happens next?

The Benton County Board planned to discuss and review the investigation at its Feb. 15 meeting,but because one board member was sick and could not come to the meeting, the board will be discussing the investigation March 1, Headley said.

Feb. 15 was the first time the investigation had been on the board's agenda, and "up to this point, there has been no formal discussion" on the issue, he said.

Headley said the board has obtained outside legal counsel to advise them, and the board expects to see more documents, including detailed phone records, at its March meeting.

Becca Most is a cities reporter with the St. Cloud Times. Reach her at 320-241-8213 or bmost@stcloudtimes.com. Follow her on Twitter at @becca_most

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This article originally appeared on St. Cloud Times: Benton Co. elected official Nadean Inman may not have lived in county