What’s Going On In Armstrong, Iowa?

Photos courtesy of Iowa DCI

If your town, allegedly, had a mayor who abused his power, a city clerk who embezzled funds, and a corrupt police department—all at the same time—then you might be from Armstrong, Iowa.

The town of around 875 people in Emmet County near the Minnesota border was rocked last February when Armstrong’s mayor, police chief, and city clerk—plus a former city clerk—were arrested on 21 different criminal charges, including felonies.

Mayor Greg Buum, Clerk Tracie Lang, and former Clerk Connie Thackery were all arrested Feb. 12, 2021, by the Emmet County Sheriff’s Office and the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation after a years-long investigation. Police Chief Craig Merrill was arrested Feb. 13, 2021, by the Martin County Sheriff’s Office in Minnesota and extradited back to Iowa.

The criminal charges against the four include those related to “misappropriation of city funds, the presentation of fraudulent public records, deploying a TASER against a civilian in exchange for cash, and falsification of ledgers to conceal embezzlement.”

And the arrests keep coming.

Former Armstrong Police Officer Benjamin Scheevel was arrested last week on April 12 in Martin County, Minnesota, on a whopping 84 criminal counts.

The Iowa Attorney General’s Office is prosecuting all of the cases because of “a potential conflict of interest” with the Emmet County attorney, according to DCI.

What are they charged with?

Scheevel, also a former Estherville police officer, is charged with 33 felonies of the 84 counts against him.

Those felonies include second-degree theft, second-offense stalking, stalking with a dangerous weapon, ongoing criminal conduct, three counts of perjury, two counts of evading state income tax, and nearly two dozen counts of unauthorized dissemination of intelligence history data, according to online court records.

Scheevel’s other charges include obstructing prosecution or defense, assault while displaying a dangerous weapon, dozens of counts of unauthorized dissemination of criminal history data, and non-felonious misconduct in office.

According to KILR News, some of the charges stem from an incident when, while he was an officer with the Armstrong Police Department, Scheevel allegedly deployed a TASER at a party in April 2016, and then obtained money from partygoers to replace darts in the weapon.

Charges against Mayor Buum, who has since resigned, include six felonies dating all the way back to 2014. Those felony charges are first-degree theft, two counts of second-degree theft, ongoing criminal conduct, first-degree fraudulent practice, and felonious misconduct in office.

The remainder of Buum’s 11 charges include third-degree theft, three counts of non-felonious misconduct in office, and tampering with records.

Lang faces 10 charges, all from 2016 and 2017. Eight of the 10, all except two counts of tampering with records, are felonies. The felony charges are first-degree fraudulent practice, four counts of felonious misconduct in office, and three counts of falsifying public documents.

Chief Merrill’s six charges date back to 2016 and include first-degree theft and ongoing criminal conduct, both felonies. The remaining charges are two counts of assault while displaying a dangerous weapon and two counts of non-felonious misconduct in office.

Thackery faces four charges dating back to 2014: Ongoing criminal conduct and second-degree theft, both felonies; as well as third-degree theft and non-felonious misconduct in office.

Bumm, Merrill, and Thackery pleaded not guilty and waived their rights to a speedy trial. Their next joint hearing is April 29.

Lang pleaded guilty but has not yet been sentenced. Scheevel is scheduled to be arraigned this week.

What’s the reaction?

It seemed as if a few commenters on the Emmet County Sheriff’s Office Facebook post about the first four arrests weren’t surprised by them.

“Finally,” commented one person. “Their misdeeds have been an open secret for years.”

“‘Bout time we get to the bottom of this,” wrote another. “There has been questions for years. The taxpayers deserve answers.”

“Have always wondered why we pay 2x what we should for our water,” one person wrote.

“Very sad situation and unfortunately too easy to get away with in the smaller communities,” another person added.

Others worried the scandal would brand their town for life.

“It will be the only thing people not from around here will ever know about Armstrong,” wrote another commentator.

 

By Amie Rivers
4/20/22

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2 Comments on "What’s Going On In Armstrong, Iowa?"

  • Sheriff Mike Martens deserve a lot of credit for this. He went against a lot of powerful people to bring to light this corruption. He was tenacious in his investigation.

  • Thank you, Gregory R. Stevens, for sharing that information. Good for you, Sheriff Mike Martens, and thank you.

    As for the fear expressed in the story that Armstrong will only ever be known for corruption, a few decades are likely to change that. Most Iowans now alive never knew about or have forgotten the political scandal that made Mingo famous. And that scandal had to do with sex, which lingers longer in the public memory.

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