July 16, 2007

Winsted man facing charges for false inspections

By Ryan Gueningsman
Staff Writer


That was the only way Lt. Tom Nelson of the Minnesota State Patrol’s Commercial Vehicle Division could explain what he has investigated over the past few months following a fatal accident involving a semi truck in Rochester.

Investigation of that fatal crash showed the semi involved in it had been inspected by Bert James Hertzog, 53, of Winsted.

However, Nelson said Hertzog had been “decertified” June 15, 2005, and could no longer perform the annual inspections. Minnesota law requires commercial vehicles to be inspected annually by inspectors who are certified through the state patrol.

According to Nelson, the decertification took place in 2005 due to Hertzog falsifying documents. Nelson said all Hertzog would have needed to do at the time was to “sit in the penalty box” for a bit, and eventually could become recertified. That allegedly wasn’t the road Hertzog chose to travel.

Six days after Hertzog was decertified, he went to Herald Journal Sign and Graphics in Winsted and inquired about printing inspection stickers.

“He gave us a sheet that looked like an official document from the DOT (Minnesota Department of Transportation) saying he was certified to do MnDOT inspections,” said Herald Journal Sign and Graphics Manager Troy Feltmann.

Because Hertzog presented what appeared to be proper paper work, Feltmann printed the inspection stickers Hertzog ordered.

“Our first order was in 2005,” Feltmann said. From July 2005 through June of this year, Feltmann said the shop printed 1,841 decals for Hertzog.

Each year, the color of the inspection sticker changes. Around the beginning of each year, Feltmann said Hertzog would ask for a proof of the sticker before printing a large quantity of them, saying he “had to get approval from the state.”

“He said he’d go to the state and have it approved.” Feltmann said, adding that it usually took three or four proofs before it met Hertzog’s satisfaction.

Nelson said the initial investigation showed Hertzog did 12 commercial vehicle inspections in 2006 and 2007. In each instance, Hertzog issued a vehicle inspection report to the owner and an inspection decal, according to a formal complaint.

The decal numbers issued with these 12 inspections were recorded and tracked. The decals appeared to be fake, because the state patrol showed that the actual decals with the same numbers given out by Hertzog had been issued to legitimate certified inspectors, and had been issued to commercial vehicles other than the 12 inspected by Hertzog, according to the complaint.

The state patrol investigated what it believed to be false decals, and obtained a search warrant for Hertzog’s residence on Common Street, in Wright County, that was executed June 14.

Hertzog was present at the time of the search warrant, and told authorities he had no knowledge that his inspector certification was suspended, even though the suspension letter was found during the search, according to the complaint.

Hertzog did admit to performing some of the inspections discovered by the state patrol during its investigation, but said he obtained the decals through the state, according to the complaint.

Authorities learned of Herald Journal Sign and Graphics, and were told by Feltmann the company had been printing inspection stickers for Hertzog, according to the complaint.

Several weeks prior to the search warrant, Hertzog came to Herald Journal and told Feltmann to delete the decal templates, and to “deny knowing him,” according to the complaint.

“I was walking from our main building to the sign shop, and he pulled up in his truck,” Feltmann said. “He didn’t even get out. He told me to get rid of those files, and said ‘you don’t know who I am.’”

The state patrol continued its investigation, learning that several businesses in Wright County had utilized Hertzog’s inspection services from 2005 through 2007.

It appears to the state patrol Hertzog engaged in a scheme to swindle money from commercial trucking customers by falsely representing himself as a certified inspector, according to the complaint.

“My concern is that he didn’t do thorough inspections,” Nelson said. “If you had something looked at by him (Hertzog), it’s not legit.”

Nelson encourages anyone who utilized Hertzog to inspect commercial vehicles to contact him at (320) 202-6430, and to leave a message if he is not in the office.

“Decals are purchased from us,” Nelson said. “They do not have their own made. It’s unbelievable someone would go to that length to make a buck.”

In order to become a certified inspector, a person must go through a certification course offered by the state patrol, Nelson said, which consists of a presentation, training on what to look for regarding violations, a test, and a fee.

Nelson said to locate a local certified commercial vehicle inspector, to call the Department of Public Safety Commercial Vehicle Enforcement information line at (651) 405-6171, or visit http://www.dps.state.mn.us/patrol/comveh/index.htm.

Hertzog is facing charges of felony theft by swindle and felony forgery, both which carry a maximum penalty of 10 years jail time, and/or a $20,000 fine if convicted, and a misdemeanor traffic regulation charge for unlawfully inspecting commercial vehicles without valid certification to do so, which carries a maximum penalty of 90 days or a $1,000 fine if convicted.

Hertzog’s initial court appearnace has been scheduled for Tuesday, Aug.
14, according to the Wright County Attorney’s Office.

Hertzog was reached at his residence by phone Tuesday morning, and referred questions to his attorney, Robert Adams of Buffalo. Adams was also reached by phone Tuesday morning, and said in order to preserve a neutral jury, he declined to comment on the case, but noted he will “defend it vigorously.”

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