Man accused of taking ax to GOP senator's Fargo office entrance federally charged
Thomas Alexander Starks was initially charged in Cass County District Court last month for allegedly vandalizing Sen. John Hoeven's Fargo office.
FARGO —A Lisbon, N.D., man accused of smashing a Republican U.S. senator’s office windows with an ax last month has been arrested on federal charges, U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley announced Tuesday, Jan. 19.
Thomas Alexander Starks, 30, was under federal criminal investigation after allegedly smashing two glass windows and an intercom system next to the door of Sen. John Hoeven’s Fargo office on Dec. 21. A federal grand jury has now indicted him on one felony count of destroying federal property.
Starks was initially charged in Cass County with a Class C felony of criminal mischief in connection to the vandalism at 123 Broadway N. The maximum sentence for the charge in Cass County is five years. If convicted in federal court, Starks could face up to 10 years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000, or both.
Security video of the incident shows a man wearing a black mask, dark sweater and jeans walk up a set of stairs to Hoeven’s door around 9 a.m. at Suite 201, according to an incident report. The man rang the intercom but walked away after several seconds.
Minutes later video shows the man returning with what appears to be an ax and smashing the intercom and windows before walking away.
Wrigley's office worked with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Cass County Sheriff's Office, the Fargo Police Department, and Cass County prosecutors on the investigation. A member of the public alerted police to Starks' identity after the Fargo Police Department posted a video of the incident to Facebook, Wrigley said. Starks was arrested without incident at his home in Lisbon on Christmas Eve.
A property manager estimated damages to Hoeven's office entrance totaled about $3,800, according to an incident report. An exact motive was unclear when Starks was first charged in December, but court records said Starks was "very vocal" about his left-leaning political views.
Starks pleaded not guilty Tuesday to one felony charge of damaging government property. While Starks has not responded to requests for comment on the case, his wife has maintained her husband's innocence.
“Tas (Thomas) would never pointlessly put his family’s well-being in jeopardy with reckless vandalism,” Laura Starks wrote on a GoFundMe campaign page she set up to raise money for legal expenses. “Indeed, Tas makes his political statements openly and non-violently.”
Starks' attorney, Tatum O'Brien of the O'Keeffe O'Brien Lyson Foss law firm, declined to comment on the case after the hearing. A detention hearing set for Wednesday, Jan. 20 will determine if Starks remains in jail until his trial scheduled on March 23.
Wrigley wouldn't comment if the Dec. 21 incident led to increased security at Hoeven's offices but said a tumultuous political environment has had many officials on high alert over the last year.
"Government officials (and) people are rightly concerned based on the evidence from the last days, weeks, months, the last year," Wrigley said. "We haven't escaped that."
Since rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 in an attempt to stop Congress from certifying the 2020 presidential election results, government offices and state capitols across the country have been taking precautions against further violence.
Wrigley said after the 2020 downtown Fargo riot, he pledged to law enforcement that his office would pursue every possible federal case against people who commit political violence. He added that the pledge also extends to elected officials.
"You've lost the ability to exercise your Constitutional rights to debate and engage in politics and push for public laws when you've crossed that bold blue line," he said of perpetrators of political violence.