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Case against North Dakota businessman alleges offers for five killings

In his quest for North Dakota oil riches, James Henrikson employed a cadre of would-be hit men to kill those he perceived as threats or who had jilted him, federal prosecutors plan to argue at a trial later this year.

The new details in the case alleging offers for contract killings on at least five men emerged recently in court records that read like a gangster movie script.

Six men, including Henrikson, are scheduled to go on trial this fall on charges related to the shooting death of Henrikson’s business partner, Doug Carlile, who was killed in his South Hill home in December 2013. Most of the men, but not Henrikson, appear to be cooperating with federal investigators.

One of the others allegedly targeted by Henrikson, Kristopher Clarke, was bludgeoned to death by the same man, Timothy Suckow, who is the suspected trigger man in Carlile’s death, according to court pleadings unsealed last month. Clarke’s body has not been found, but based on testimony from several of the men allegedly involved, he was killed in a North Dakota machine shop owned by Henrikson and buried on state park land in February 2012.

The information was released by U.S. District Court Judge Salvador Mendoza, over objections from the U.S. attorney’s office that the pleading contains “sensitive information.” The 50-page document outlines what prosecutors intend to prove at a trial tentatively scheduled for October, backed by testimony of the defendants themselves, cellphone records and forensic evidence.

Attorneys for Henrikson, whose voice is absent from the court filings except through the perspective of others, say the document includes information that was not originally contained in a grand jury indictment handed down in September 2014. They’ve sought to sever some of the criminal charges against Henrikson, claiming the conduct alleged constitutes separate acts that should be handled in different trials.

Todd Maybrown, one of the attorneys for Henrikson, wrote in court filings there have been gross exaggerations in statements made to federal investigators in the case. He called reports of a planned escape attempt by Henrikson, involving a rich relative in Turkey and an attack on a U.S. Marshals van, “beyond belief” and based on the unsubstantiated claims of a “convicted felon and experienced cooperator.”

Henrikson, Suckow, Robert Delao, Todd Bates, Robby Wahrer and Lazaro Pesina face lengthy prison sentences on charges of contract killing and heroin distribution. The prosecution’s case is based in part upon statements of the men, including Suckow, who was arrested in Spokane Valley and reported not taking prescribed mental health medication when he was taken into custody. Earlier court records indicate he experienced auditory hallucinations.

Calls to the attorneys representing Henrikson and Delao were not returned. Others declined to comment on the ongoing case.

Investigators uncovered a web of deceit and violence dating at least to February 2011, when Henrikson and his wife, Sarah Creveling, moved from Texas to North Dakota in hopes of getting in on the oil boom occurring on the Bakken shale. According to allegations contained in prosecutors’ filings, Henrikson first turned his ire toward Clarke, whom he suspected of starting a rival trucking firm.

Related: Henrikson indicted for murder-for-hire

The missing man

The concrete floor of Henrikson’s trucking firm in Fort Berthold, North Dakota, contains no trace of his former employee’s DNA.

But if the murder-for-hire plot goes to trial, investigators plan to rip up the cement to look for clues about Clarke’s death, which Suckow told them occurred abruptly the morning of Feb. 22, 2012.

Henrikson feared Clarke would start a rival trucking company on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, home of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation, where he’d been operating for a little less than a year, according to court documents. He brought Suckow, who he knew through Delao, by train to the oil patch and told Suckow that morning that Clarke needed to be killed because he was planning on stealing some of Henrikson’s employees, according to court documents.

Suckow was introduced to several employees, who told investigators they believed Suckow was going to be a janitor. Two employees, who have not been indicted, stood watch while Henrikson took Clarke into the shop. Suckow says he hit Clarke in the back of the head with a “metal handle” about four times until Clarke’s head “went soft,” according to Suckow’s statements to investigators.

Suckow cleaned the pooling blood with “bleach and oil,” records say. Investigators say they were unable to detect any trace of Clarke’s DNA at the shop to support Suckow’s story, according to court documents.

Suckow and Henrikson eventually took Clarke’s truck and body to nearby Watford City, Suckow told investigators. They dumped Clarke’s truck with the keys still inside, hoping someone would steal it, according to court documents. They then drove to nearby parkland, where Suckow dug a grave while Henrikson pointed a gun at the back of his head, according to his statement to investigators.

“Do me a favor, don’t shoot me in the back of the head while I’m digging this hole,” Suckow told investigators he said to Henrikson as he dug. One of the employees who stood guard at the shop sat dozing in his truck as the men dug the grave.

Suckow later was paid $20,000 in cash for the killing, according to statements included in the court record. Clarke’s truck eventually was moved to Williston, North Dakota, where Suckow returned several weeks later with his wife. He wiped down the car in cotton gloves with WD40, taking a Ruger pistol and ammunition from the inside of Clarke’s truck, according to investigators.

Ammunition for that gun was discovered in January 2014, when Spokane police searched a garage belonging to one of Suckow’s co-workers at IRS Environmental, an asbestos-removal company. The gun was destroyed in a vice, captured in photo text messages that Suckow and Delao sent to Henrikson after federal authorities began investigating Clarke’s disappearance, according to court records.

Authorities have visited the area where Suckow and the other employee say Clarke is buried, but his body still has not been recovered, according to court records.

Henrikson would call upon Suckow again, and several others, in the ensuing months, prosecutors allege.

Related: Henrikson’s wife cooperates with investigators in weapons case

Other targets

Tim Scott introduced Henrikson and Carlile several months prior to the alleged slaying of Clarke, as preparations were beginning in Russia for the Sochi Winter Olympic Games.

Henrikson told Carlile he was working to secure contracts to build roads for the games, at the same time he was trying to persuade Delao to secure a supply of heroin to put in pills in the winter of 2011. Henrikson and his wife, Creveling, were also in talks with Tex Hall, then-president of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation, to provide trucking services for Hall’s energy company, Maheshu Energy.

The relationship with Hall was necessary because Henrikson had had a falling-out with another tribal member several months prior about operating on tribal lands. Tribal members must obtain a card for workers who want to do business on ancestral lands. Henrikson had been doing side jobs, and the tribal member fired him.

Henrikson would eventually speak to Suckow, through Delao, to kill that tribal member, but that job was never completed, court documents say. In November 2012, Hall learned that Henrikson had impregnated his daughter, and that Henrikson and Creveling had stolen several hundred thousand dollars’ worth of cash from him after Henrikson took over Maheshu’s trucking operations, court documents allege. Henrikson would later float the idea of killing Hall to his associates, according to allegations in court records.

Delao, acting as a middleman for Henrikson, would reach out to Bates, Suckow and others to kill men in Chicago and Arizona, one of whom had stolen a machine used for making illicit drugs. A man nicknamed “The Wiz” in Chicago was paid $10,000 to kill a target in Chicago but never pulled the trigger, according to court records. Henrikson also asked Bates to kill another one of his employees, Jay Wright, whom Henrikson suspected of starting a rival company, much like Clarke. Bates told investigators he traveled several times to North Dakota but never intended to kill Wright.

Meanwhile, Henrikson was engaging in discussions with Carlile and other Spokane geologists to drill reservation lands thought to be worth billions.

The Spokane killing

Delao and Suckow met beneath the Ferris wheel in Riverfront Park in early September 2013, three months before Carlile’s slaying, to talk about selling drugs.

At that meeting, Delao brought up the fact that Henrikson wanted his business partner dead, according to court records.

Henrikson and Carlile signed a deal that May for 320 acres of land near Exxon oil fields on the Bakken shale. But they quickly learned they’d have to raise hundreds of millions of dollars to start drilling, and as the summer dragged on it became more and more apparent that investors weren’t flocking to the project.

In September, Henrikson, Carlile and two other investors who haven’t been indicted met at the Davenport Hotel. Several people, including Henrikson and Creveling, had put hundreds of thousands of dollars into the project and weren’t seeing a return. Legal action was threatened, and buyouts were offered to keep the case out of the courts. Carlile, who had trusted Henrikson so much he’d given him the spare key to his home at one point, offered shares in various companies to appease Henrikson, all the while trying to attract other investors to buy out Henrikson and others.

Henrikson also was seeking alternative investors, one of whom said he wouldn’t join in the company if Carlile was a partner in the project. Henrikson asked Carlile to take a buyout, but Carlile refused. Carlile told his sons he was fearful of Henrikson.

Delao and Suckow were exchanging texts and emails while these business deals transpired, talking about violence against Carlile, according to court documents. It was decided in October that Henrikson wanted Carlile dead, not just assaulted, court documents say.

A botched attempt was made on Carlile’s life a week before his killing, according to court records. Carlile wasn’t home that night, and a pistol round removed from a nearby street lamp supports Suckow’s story that he attempted to shoot it out. Investigators say Carlile was in Moses Lake, baby-sitting grandchildren at the time.

Nine days later, Suckow hid behind the house as Carlile and his wife returned home from church. Carlile had been given a gun by his son a few days prior, after Carlile revealed that on his last trip to North Dakota, Henrikson had choked him and threatened his life.

Suckow kicked the back door of the home open, clad in a face mask and a SWAT-type vest. A welder’s glove he’d brought along in case he needed to break glass was dropped in the Carliles’ backyard, eventually found by Spokane police and tied through DNA to Suckow, who’d spent 15 years in federal prison. Carlile’s wife ran upstairs to hide in a closet, according to court records. Suckow told investigators he saw Carlile’s hand move and fired until his pistol was empty, then ran out the back door. Surveillance cameras on Hutton Elementary School and a nearby house captured a man running away from the scene shortly after 7 p.m.

Tim Scott, the man who had initially introduced the pair, texted Henrikson to let him know Carlile had been shot and killed that night. Creveling told police her husband was “weirdly calm” after the call, and he avoided questions from a Spokane police detective who called later that night.

Days later, Suckow texted Delao wondering when he would get paid for the killing, court records say. According to testimony, Suckow said Christmas was coming and he needed cash for gifts.

A few weeks later, police arrested Suckow, triggering a series of arrests and an investigation that jailed the other five men alleged to be involved in the conspiracy.

This article was written by Kip Hill from The Spokesman-Review and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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