N.D. Supreme Court Asked To Revive Case Against Former Agency Director

January 16, 2008

Burleigh County, prosecutors are asking the North Dakota Supreme Court to revive two felony charges against the state’s former workers compensation director, who was fired from his job last month.

Sandy Blunt was charged in April 2007 with misspending $11,384 in state funds to buy gift cards, meals and trinkets for employees and legislators, and $7,200 on salary bonuses for three Workforce Safety and Insurance executives.

South Central District Judge Robert Wefald dismissed the charges last August, saying prosecutors had not offered any proof that Blunt used the money to benefit himself. If the Supreme Court reverses his ruling, Blunt could face a trial on the charges.

In a Supreme Court filing presented before Tuesday’s oral arguments in the case, Cynthia Feland and Lloyd Suhr, who are assistant Burleigh County state’s attorneys, said the law did not require that they prove Blunt spent the money on himself.

“By adding this additional element of ‘self-dealing,’ without any legal authority requiring its inclusion, (Wefald) acted in an arbitrary manner and accordingly abused (his) discretion,” the prosecutors wrote in their filing.

Wefald’s ruling assumed the Workforce Safety and Insurance agency’s board of directors were aware of Blunt’s spending, when there was no evidence of that, the prosecutors’ filing says.

Expenditures for gift cards, meals and trinkets did not advance the agency’s public duties, and the bonuses paid to three employees all exceeded a two-year, $1,000 limit in state law, they said.

Blunt’s lawyer, Michael Hoffman, of Bismarck, said the practice of giving gift certificates to employees began two years before Blunt began his job in April 2004. There was no evidence Blunt knew he was acting against his board’s wishes, Hoffman wrote in his own filing.

The payments to the three executives were considered retroactive salary increases, rather than bonuses, Hoffman said.

Wefald “found that no crime was committed,” Hoffman said. “The court found that Blunt did not act in a manner that he knew was not authorized. The court also found that Blunt did not act in a manner that he knew to involve a risk of loss or detriment to WSI or the government.”

Concluded Hoffman: “It is time for this case to end.”

Blunt was put on paid leave in April 2007, when the charges were originally filed. Wefald dismissed them in August.

In October, prosecutors dropped a separate felony charge against Blunt of conspiracy to disclose confidential driver’s license photos during an investigation. The WSI board then reinstated Blunt, and he returned to work Oct. 22.

Blunt was fired as WSI’s chief executive Dec. 6. The board’s
chairman at the time, Robert Indvik, said Blunt had done his work
well, and that his dismissal was not related to the criminal
charges. However, Blunt was hamstrung in carrying out his duties in
the aftermath of the investigation, Indvik said.

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