Sponsored By
An organization or individual has paid for the creation of this work but did not approve or review it.



Investigations don't worry self-made Fargo millionaire

There's been a target on Pete Sabo's back for a long time. He's been investigated for dealing drugs, failing to fix depressed rental properties and removing vehicle identification numbers. Now, the 54-year-old Fargo entrepreneur may l...

There's been a target on Pete Sabo's back for a long time.

He's been investigated for dealing drugs, failing to fix depressed rental properties and removing vehicle identification numbers.

Now, the 54-year-old Fargo entrepreneur may lose his liquor license at the Bison Turf, a popular hangout near the North Dakota State University campus.

The scrutiny comes as part of life for the self-made millionaire, who says he learned his work ethic growing up on a Minnesota dairy farm.

"I've been incredibly successful," Sabo said. "Every day is an 18-hour day. It's from working on that dairy farm."


Fargo police investigators are looking into how Lance Jerstad, a 21-year-old NDSU student, nearly drank himself to death Nov. 23 after celebrating his birthday with friends at the north Fargo bar.

"The Turf has done nothing wrong," Sabo said. "When you're 21, you're responsible for yourself."

Jerstad drank 17 shots of alcohol in less than an hour. The binge was part of a ritual known as "power hour," where someone tries drinking 21 shots in an hour on their 21st birthday.

Jerstad spent 2½ weeks hooked up to a ventilator while recovering in the hospital.

Sabo maintains Turf bartenders never served Jerstad -- his friends bought him the birthday drinks.

Fargo Police Chief Chris Magnus said the bar faces sanctions including revocation of its liquor license. He will make a recommendation based on the report of a police investigator who is interviewing college students and looking into events the night of Jerstad's binge party.

The city's Liquor Control Committee likely will hear the recommendation at its Jan. 14 meeting before the City Commission makes the final decision on any sanctions.

"They could do anything from a slap on the wrist to revoking the license," Magnus said.


Most likely, the license will be suspended, but Sabo doesn't see the city revoking it for good.

"We never, ever had a problem with the power hour," Sabo said. "They were forcing him to drink all those drinks. This guy we never served."

From farm to Fargo

One of seven children, Sabo grew up working on his parents' dairy farm near Newfolden, a town of about 350 people in northwestern Minnesota.

After high school, Sabo bought and worked a farm until he turned 21.

Then he set off for Florida with a girlfriend, but the couple stopped in Fargo. Sabo never left the area.

"I've never had a job," he said. "I've never gone to work."

Each morning, he rises before 5 a.m. He attributes his success to the work ethic he learned as a child. A father of three, he has never married.


Once Sabo settled in the Fargo-Moorhead area, he bought a car dealership and, by 1974, began buying homes.

"As I fixed the houses up, I raised rent," said Sabo, who spends much of his day on a cell phone talking shop. "Regardless of what I do, I'm successful."

Sabo says he owns about 35 rental properties in Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo, most of them single-family homes fetching $800 to $1,100 a month.

Housing inspection records on file with the city of Fargo show Sabo as owner of 21 properties. He also owns nine homes in South Padre Island, Texas.

Sabo said he owns three transportation businesses: All American Auto Rental Inc.; Superior Transportation Ltd., a trucking company; and Superior Enterprises, a car dealership. The businesses share the same Fargo lot at 2705 5th Ave. S.

This week, he expects to sell the auto rental and trucking companies, along with the land, for more than $1.3 million.

His joint businesses generate $30,000 to $35,000 per month or more, he said.

"I've got $4 million in real estate," he said. "I can't help but make a lot of money."


As landlord, Sabo said he's fixed homes by installing new carpet, fixing walls and replacing roof shingles.

"I worked my ass off," he said.

Fargo city inspectors have repeatedly returned to Sabo-owned homes to check code violations, many of which went unfixed for months.

Often, Sabo hires amateurs to install equipment and claims he doesn't own homes to avoid paying for repairs, said John Mrozla, the lead housing inspector for Fargo.

"He continues to give us trouble," he said. "He's one of our most troublesome landlords."

However, Sabo defends his properties and claims all of them meet code, with a few minor exceptions.

"I don't have any vacancies at any of my houses, and everybody is really happy to be there," Sabo said. "I think they are nice houses."

A turf war


For decades, the Bison Turf flourished by selling beer to students and a college lunch crowd.

Stiff competition arrived, though, when Jim Lauerman's No. 2 Saloon opened in north Fargo and cut sales at the Turf in half.

By late 1994, Sabo looked to boost sales when he paid $250,000 for the liquor license owned by the Flame Tavern, a defunct downtown bar.

A bidding war preceded the sale because it was the only available license which allowed the permit holder to sell all types of liquor.

Sales at the Bison Turf tripled after it began stocking a full bar, Sabo said.

"The only ingredient you need is liquor," he said. "This is a big industry. It's an important industry."

Sabo said he isn't concerned about losing his license.

"I still have a lot of faith in the city," he said. "Taking a quarter-million-dollar liquor license is unfair."


Loves nice cars

One of Sabo's favorite hobbies is working with wrecked cars.

"I love wrecked cars," he said.

But one vehicle has Sabo in trouble with the law.

Court records show he is charged with unlawfully removing a sport utility's identification number, a felony carrying a penalty of up to 10 years in prison.

His next court appearance on the charge is Jan. 16. Sabo said he may plead guilty to the charge if it is reduced to a misdemeanor.

The charge stems from a North Dakota Highway Patrol investigation in 2000.

Sabo said he took a damaged vehicle and rebuilt it with parts from another smashed vehicle. He transferred the ID number from one vehicle to the other, he said, and gave the vehicle to a daughter to drive while at college.

"If there was a crime, you think you would have a victim," he said.

While Sabo says wrecked cars are his hobby, his affection for exotic cars -- such as Ferraris, Porsches and Lotuses -- have sparked suspicions.

"There's been rumors that I was a drug dealer all my life," Sabo said. "Having nice cars does not make you a crook."

Troubled tenant

Authorities have searched his Minnesota lake home, a warehouse where he stores antique cars and a shop he rented to Michael Gamboa, who went on trial last week in federal court for selling meth.

Gamboa's auto detailing shop was in the same building as Sabo's All American Auto Rental Inc. A raid at Gamboa's shop in May prompted federal charges against six men.

Law officials looked into possible ties to Gamboa's alleged meth ring, but Sabo wasn't charged.

The only relationship shared by the two was a landlord-tenant agreement, Sabo said.

The property sat empty for a year before Gamboa offered to pay cash rent to set up an auto detailing shop there, he said.

"He couldn't have been a nicer guy," Sabo said. "He appeared to be working. He was cleaning cars and polishing cars."

After a few months, Gamboa fell behind on rent but promised to pay Sabo for shop space and cars he had agreed to buy.

Gamboa used a fire ax to chop at least two of Sabo's vehicles, including a 2000 Cadillac Escalade, and officers found drugs in a third titled to Sabo. However, Sabo said each of the vehicles was being purchased by Gamboa.

"Everybody was getting scared of him at the time, including me," Sabo said.

He held off calling police until six weeks before the raid at Gamboa's shop.

"I told police this guy was dangerous," Sabo said. "I told them, 'I need some help.' "

Friends have told Sabo he should leave the area, a prospect he's not ready to consider.

"If you haven't done anything wrong, why leave?" Sabo said. "I can't imagine anyone with my assets to consider messing with drugs to get ahead. There's no need to."

Blame to share

The police contend Lance Jerstad shares responsibility for his binge-drinking episode.

However, bartenders also share the blame because they allowed or facilitated his overdrinking, Magnus said.

"The Turf didn't pour booze down his throat," he said. "There are plenty of parties to spread the responsibility around, including the victim himself."

The police aren't looking to make an example of Sabo but "to the degree it did happen, he (Sabo) has to take responsibility for that," Magnus said. "A liquor license carries with it some significant responsibilities."

But Sabo contends the bar and its employees aren't responsible for Jerstad's stay in the hospital.

"It wasn't 10 seconds after we saw his condition, we told him that he had to leave," Sabo said. "If you see a drunk person, kick 'em out. We don't over-serve."

Jerstad and his friends left when asked to by bar employees. Bartenders told his friends that they should be "ashamed of themselves," Sabo said.

While Sabo considers any sanctions against his license to be unfair, he is a survivor.

"I don't want to get any bigger," he said. "I want to get smaller. I want to travel.

"If I lost everything and had a good credit rating, I would be a millionaire again in 10 years. I know how to do it."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Steven P. Wagner at (701) 241-5542

What To Read Next
Get Local