For over a year, a county attorney in southern Minnesota was the target of a criminal investigation as detectives tried to understand whether she actually lived in the district where she was elected.
Now, nearly three years after investigators found she “does not reside” in Waseca County, Rachel Cornelius is running for re-election in the same county.
The Attorney General’s Office ultimately declined to charge Cornelius with a crime.
But the evidence, obtained by 5 INVESTIGATES through a public data request, raises serious questions that have derailed political careers in the past.
The criminal investigation into Cornelius’ residency involved months of physical and video surveillance by Owatonna police. Detectives determined Cornelius stayed at her home in Waseca just 30% of the time while spending the majority of her days at her family’s farm in neighboring Le Sueur County.
Minnesota law requires candidates to sign an affidavit of candidacy, swearing under oath that they live where they serve.
“It doesn’t mean you can kind of play games,” said political and election lawyer Charlie Nauen. “It’s a very real consequence.”
Throughout the criminal investigation, Cornelius maintained her innocence.
“The voters of Waseca County granted me the privilege of being their County Attorney,”