MOORHEAD — Three candidates running for Moorhead City Council have misdemeanor criminal convictions on their records, but they all say voters should focus on what they have to offer residents rather than their pasts.

Residents will decide Tuesday, Nov. 5, who will replace Ward 3 Councilman Joel Paulsen and Ward 4 Councilman Steve Gehrtz, both of whom resigned Aug. 31. In the interest of voters, The Forum checked the backgrounds of all 12 candidates.

Five candidates — John Bell, Troy Krabbenhoft, Edwin Hahn, Larry Seljevold and Brent Behm — are seeking the Ward 3 seat. Eric Smith, Ryan Larson, James McKinstra, Swede Stelzer, Marc Hedlund, Jeremiah Jones and Steve Lindaas are the seven hopefuls in Ward 4.

Searches of court records revealed that Hedlund, Krabbenhoft and Smith have misdemeanor convictions.

Smith, 39, pleaded guilty in four of five cases, the most of any candidate.

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In North Dakota, he admitted to sending threatening text messages to high school students in September 2008 when he was 29 years old, according to court records. A judge in Kidder County sentenced him to 30 days in jail, but that was suspended.

Smith also pleaded guilty in three Minnesota cases, all of which unfolded in 2017.

He avoided jail after trespassing Feb. 28, 2017, in Dilworth when he followed a woman whom he was in a relationship with into a female bathroom at a restaurant. Employees asked him to leave “approximately 30 times,” but he refused, according to a criminal complaint.

Complaints weren’t available for the other two cases, but Smith served three days in jail on a harassment charge for contacting a woman in Pelican Rapids via Facebook on July 18, 2017, in violation of a restraining order.

He served another three days in jail after pleading guilty to obstructing the legal process by interfering with a peace officer. Because Smith signed a plea agreement that said he admitted to resisting arrest on July 24, 2017, in Moorhead, charges of fleeing a peace officer and giving a peace officer false information were dismissed.

Smith told The Forum there will be people “slinging mud,” adding that he has moved on from the cases.

“There’s going to be false allegations,” he said, adding that people go after him because he supports President Donald Trump.

Smith sued West Acres Shopping Center this year, claiming the mall defamed him in the fall of 2018 when he helped U.S. House candidate Charles Tuttle sell Trump memorabilia near Chick-fil-A. Smith was accused of trespassing, a Fargo Municipal Court case that was ultimately dismissed.

Smith said mall security harassed him and Tuttle, but a Cass County District judge dismissed the $500,000 lawsuit. Smith said he is looking into filing a civil rights lawsuit against the mall and the city of Fargo for up to $1 million in punitive damages.

"We don't need to focus on a witch hunt," he said. "We need to focus on what the job at hand is in Moorhead."

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'Wasn't that big of a deal'

Krabbenhoft, 51, said the conviction on his criminal record has not affected his employment opportunities in the military, law enforcement and as a volunteer paramedic.

He avoided jail time after pleading guilty in the summer of 1994 to reckless driving based on a plea agreement that dismissed charges of escape, speeding and leaving the scene of an injury accident.

A Moorhead police officer said he spotted a motorcyclist, later identified as 25-year-old Krabbenhoft, going 54 mph in a 30 mph zone, according to a criminal complaint. The motorcycle sped away at an estimated 100 mph after the officer turned on his lights, the complaint said.

The officer followed the motorcyclist out of city limits before losing control of the patrol car and going into the ditch, the complaint said. The officer requested an ambulance.

Witnesses told police Krabbenhoft said “he thought it was 'cool' that he eluded police,” the complaint stated. But Krabbenhoft recently told The Forum he didn’t know the officer was pursuing him.

“I was speeding on a motorcycle; it happens,” he said. “It wasn’t that big of a deal.”

As a police officer, Krabbenhoft said he initiated pursuits of a few “crotch rockets,” a term for sport bikes like the one he was on in 1994. He would stop the pursuits, saying “it’s just a scared kid on that thing.”

Krabbenhoft said if the police department that employed him for six years, the military and volunteer paramedic service can forgive his past, he feels voters can, too.

'Who I am today'

Hedlund, 41, pleaded guilty to a 2003 DUI charge in Fargo and was ordered to serve five days in jail. In 2004, he was found guilty of driving under suspension and was ordered to serve four days in jail.

Hedlund told The Forum he’s been sober for 12½ years and that he doesn’t “allow my past to define who I am today.”

“I think everyone could look back 15 years ago and find mistakes that they’ve made in the past,” he said.

Candidates who have recently committed crimes may be an issue for voters, Hedlund said, but crimes shouldn’t define a candidate who's owned up to mistakes from their past and changed who they are.