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Kenneth Dahlberg, his high-profile Minnesota friends, and a long ago accident


By MIKE KASZUBA

Many of Minnesota’s leading citizens, including two U.S. Senators, the governor and an array of prominent bankers, lined up in the late 1960s to vouch for the “excellent character” and “moral standards” of Kenneth Dahlberg.

A successful businessman and Republican fundraiser in Minnesota, Dahlberg was at the time being considered for a presidential appointment by then-President Richard Nixon.  Dahlberg would go on to inadvertently play a small – but critical – role in Watergate, the political and financial scandal that led to Nixon’s resignation from the presidency in 1974.

But FBI records recently obtained from the National Archives by Public Record Media (PRM), a non-profit based in Saint Paul, have shed further light on one other aspect:  How some of Minnesota’s most influential people effusively praised Dahlberg at the time but made no mention of the fact that Dahlberg was responsible for an auto accident that killed four teenagers in a suburb of Minneapolis.  A police officer who was at the scene of the August 1953 accident – and who later became the city’s police chief -- said Dahlberg was likely intoxicated and should have been charged with criminal negligence.

The FBI records offer a stark mixture of eager praise for Dahlberg as well as the gruesome details and the aftermath of the fatal auto accident.

Three federal judges in Minnesota, including then-U.S. District Judge Miles Lord, praised Dahlberg when interviewed by the FBI in late 1969, according to the National Archive records.  Lord told the FBI at the time that he had known Dahlberg for “many years”, and “commented favorably” on Dahlberg’s “character, reputation, morals, habits and loyalty.”

Others including Minnesota’s then-governor, the chairman of Honeywell Co. and future U.S. Vice President Walter Mondale all praised Dahlberg’s morals and character when questioned by the FBI.

The praise for Dahlberg, who died in 2011, came as the FBI files reviewed the details of the 1953 tragedy, including the fact that a Hennepin County grand jury chose not to indict Dahlberg over the accident.  The files also showed that a local justice of the peace told the FBI that “representatives for Mr. Dahlberg” contacted him shortly after the accident and “attempted to influence him to drop [the] charges” against Dahlberg.

The three-car crash in suburban Crystal, which left nine people injured, caused one car to catch fire.  One eyewitness told the Minneapolis Morning Tribune that one of the victims was himself on fire as he was pulled from the wreckage.  Though at least one police officer at the scene told the FBI he pressed for harsher criminal charges, Dahlberg instead paid a maximum of $110 in fines for this role in rear-ending the car full of teenagers.

The justice of the peace, Burton Holmes, told the FBI in 1969 that he “personally felt [that] Dahlberg took the lives of four fine young men because he was drinking and driving and will never have to answer to this act.”  Holmes told the FBI he could not identify the people who visited him representing Dahlberg just days before a court hearing, but said that he refused to drop the charges and advised them to seek a change of venue.

The latest FBI files are in addition to earlier documents obtained by PRM that first outlined the Nixon White House’s interest in Dahlberg.

The latest FBI files do not make clear whether those vouching for Dahlberg’s character knew of the fatalities, which received widespread newspaper coverage at the time.  None of those praising Dahlberg mentioned the accident, according to the FBI files.  The files also do not disclose why Dahlberg was ultimately not given a job in the Nixon administration.

(In his biography, “One Step Forward, The Life of Ken Dahlberg”, Dahlberg said that in 1970 he declined an offer from the Nixon administration to be the deputy undersecretary of defense.   The book recounts Dahlberg’s life, including his days as a fighter pilot during World War II and his early successes as a rising businessman and political fundraiser in Minnesota.  In the book, Dahlberg talked of his being an extra in the 1940 film, “Knute Rockne, All-American”, which starred future U.S. president Ronald Reagan.  The  book also discussed how Chuck Yeager, the U.S. test pilot who broke the sound barrier, and Wally Schirra, one of the original astronauts selected for Project Mercury in 1959, once served on the board of directors for Dahlberg’s company.

The book does not give details on the fatal accident).

Many well-known Minnesotans meanwhile praised Dahlberg as the FBI contacted them as part of a sweeping background check for the Nixon White House that involved interviewing nearly 50 of Dahlberg’s friends and business and political associates in a matter of days in December 1969.

Head of Honeywell:  Dahlberg “above reproach”
An FBI report in late 1969 – 16 years after the four auto accident fatalities – quoted the board chairman of Honeywell Inc., James Binger, as saying Dahlberg was an “able businessman whose ethics and moral standards [are] above reproach.”  The chief deputy attorney in the Minnesota Attorney General’s office, Arnie Scoeller, likewise told the FBI that Dahlberg “has a reputation for honesty and integrity.”

Though Dahlberg was a prominent Republican, the praise for him crossed political party lines.

Then U.S. Senator Walter Mondale, a Democrat who would later serve as vice president under President Jimmy Carter, told the FBI that he had at the time known Dahlberg for more than 10 years and was a “close personal friend.”  FBI officials said Mondale told them that Dahlberg’s “civic and public reputation is outstanding.  [Mondale] knows of no unfavorable information concerning his character, associates, reputation, or loyalty.”

A spokesman for Eugene McCarthy, Minnesota’s other U.S. Senator at the time and also a Democrat, told the FBI that McCarthy likewise considered Dahlberg a “close personal friend” and that Dahlberg had a “good professional and public reputation.”

Then-U.S. Congressman Clark MacGregor, a Minnesota Republican, meanwhile told the FBI that Dahlberg was a “political confidante” and that MacGregor had been a house guest at Dahlberg’s home.  After leaving Congress, MacGregor managed Congressional liaisons for the Nixon White House and then led President Nixon’s re-election campaign in 1972

Several prominent bankers in Minnesota also praised Dahlberg, according to the FBI files.

Edward Brown Jr., the president at the time of National City Bank of Minneapolis, told the FBI that Dahlberg lived in the same neighborhood where Brown lived, and that Dahlberg had “outstanding integrity.”  Brown added that he had known Dahlberg for 20 years, and that Dahlberg was on the bank’s board of directors.

Elmer Bratsch, the present of Golden Valley State Bank, said he was “closely associated” with Dahlberg over a 12-year period, and “considers [Dahlberg] one of the most outstanding successful businessmen [he] has ever known.”  Robert Frick, the executive vice-president of Wayzata State Bank, told the FBI he had known Dahlberg at the time for nine years and that Dahlberg was a “high class individual.”

The then-chairman of the University of Minnesota board of regents, Lester Malkerson, told the FBI that Dahlberg was a business associate and personal acquaintance whom he had known for 20 years and that Dahlberg was a “man of integrity.”  Everett Frandsen, the then-police chief of Golden Valley, a Minneapolis suburb, said he had known Dahlberg since the 1940s – before the accident fatalities – and viewed him as having “excellent character.”

Robert Galvin, the chairman of the Motorola Corp., at the time one of the America’s leading electronics companies, told the FBI that Dahlberg was a “loyal American of excellent character.”  Galvin told the FBI that Dahlberg had sold his hearing aid company to Motorola, and that the company was later sold back to Dahlberg.

The headmaster at Blake School, a prominent private school in the Minneapolis area, told the FBI in 1969 that he had known Dahlberg and his family for approximately seven years.  James Henderson Jr., the headmaster, described Dahlberg as “highly capable, honest, and a man with high ideals.”

Minnesota Gov. LeVander:  “Whole-heartedly” endorsed Dahlberg
Then-Minnesota Gov. Harold LeVander, a Republican, also joined in with praise for Dahlberg.  LeVander told the FBI that he had known Dahlberg for “many years” and that he was a “highly respected businessman, and endorses him whole-heartedly, enthusiastically and unequivocally [in] all respects.”

Wheelock Whitney, a former U.S. Senate and gubernatorial candidate in Minnesota, also praised Dahlberg when interviewed by the FBI.  A former mayor of suburban Wayzata, Whitney was the chief executive of JM Dain & Company, a Minneapolis-based investment firm, and served at one time as the president of the Investment Bankers Association of America.

Whitney’s business achievements in Minnesota would include being a part owner of the Minnesota Vikings, where he once served as the football team’s president.  He also played a role in bringing both the Minnesota Twins baseball team and Minnesota North Stars, a National Hockey League team, to Minnesota.

In addition, Whitney served during the 1980s as chairman of the National Council on Alcoholism, and co-founded the Johnson Institute, which focused on the treatment of chemical dependency.

The FBI files meanwhile did contain some references concerning Dahlberg and alcohol.

Dahlberg’s ex-wife, Alice Motley Glore, told the FBI that Dahlberg’s “drinking habits were moderate and sociable.”

Dwayne Andreas, another influential Minnesotan, told the FBI that Dahlberg was “a moderate to heavy drinker during evening social activities.  [But he was] definitely not considered to have a drinking problem.”

Andreas, who said he had known Dahlberg since the mid-1940s and that the two men’s wives were “close personal friends”, added that Dahlberg was a “fiercely loyal American of excellent character [and] reputation.”

Andreas was a business and political heavyweight whose influence extended far beyond Minnesota and who rose to prominence as head of Archer Daniels Midland, the giant farm products company.  At the time of Andreas’ death in 2016, the New York Times said Archer Daniels Midland controlled much of the world’s wheat, corn, cocoa, soybean and oil seed production.

Andreas was also politically well-connected – former U.S. vice president Hubert Humphrey, who was also from Minnesota, was the godfather to Andreas’ son.

But it was a $25,000 political contribution from Andreas that inadvertently put an uncomfortable spotlight on Dahlberg during the Watergate scandal.

The contribution ended up in the bank account of one of the burglars who in June 1972 broke into the Democratic National Committee offices at the Watergate hotel in Washington, D.C.  The money, according to the FBI, was given to Dahlberg by Andreas for Nixon’s re-election campaign.

The contribution was the first major evidence connecting the burglary to the Nixon re-election effort, and ultimately led Nixon to resign from the presidency in August 1974.

In his 2008 biography, Dahlberg recounted how he and Andreas exchanged the money at a country club in Florida.  “I’ll send my whirlybird up to get you in the morning,” said Andreas, according to the book.


“When the chopper landed at [the country club], Dwayne was there in his golf cart, and he had a little brown bag [with the money].  I put it in my golf bag and zipped it up,” Dahlberg said in the book.

Before Watergate, Andreas had meanwhile joined in the praise of Dahlberg to the FBI.

So did George Thiss, who at the time was the chairman of the Republican Central Committee.  Thiss said he lived in Minnesota and had known Dahlberg for 10 years.  Dahlberg, Thiss told the FBI, was “thoroughly honest, eminently capable, stable, [had] excellent personal habits, and [was a] loyal citizen.”

Harry Piper, the then-general partner of Piper, Jaffrey and Hopwood, an influential Minnesota investment firm, agreed.  Dahlberg, Piper told the FBI, would be an “excellent choice” to a position of “trust and responsibility.”


But not everyone interviewed by the FBI praised Dahlberg.

The police chief in suburban Crystal said Dahlberg “was never held accountable” for the automobile fatalities.  Robert Hasselstrom told the FBI that, as a patrol officer at the time, he was one of the first persons to arrive at the scene of the accident.  Hasselstrom said he was convinced Dahlberg “was under [the] influence of alcohol” when the accident occurred.  He said Dahlberg initially agreed to take a blood test at the scene to determine his alcohol content, but then “refused to participate in [the] test.”

Hasselstrom told the FBI there was “considerable ill feeling” in the community surrounding the accident and that he and others unsuccessfully pushed the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office to charge Dahlberg with criminal negligence.  Hasselstrom said he was never called as a witness before the grand jury.

It was, said Hasselstrom, “one of the most frustrating events of [my] career.”

(Supporting documents for this article can be accessed by contacting Public Record Media at admin@publicrecordmedia.org , or at 651-556-1381)

 


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