Trial Begins for Former North Dakota Workers’ Comp Director

December 16, 2008

During the last two years, former North Dakota workers’ compensation Director Sandy Blunt has been the focus of criticism from auditors, legislators and advocates for injured workers.

Starting this week, a group of 12 jurors starts reviewing prosecutors’ arguments that Blunt is a felon.

Blunt, 44, faces allegations that he misspent more than $11,000 on food, gifts and trinkets for Workforce Safety and Insurance employee meetings and functions _ including a $211 deli lunch tab for a group of state legislators _ and doled out $7,200 in illegal bonuses for three WSI executives.

In court filings, prosecutors have hinted they may raise other allegations at Blunt’s trial, including questionable sick-leave payments to a former WSI executive and an alleged agreement to award a $150,000 safety grant to the North Dakota Firefighter’s Association.

State regulations required Workforce Safety to set up a framework for distributing safety grants before any were given, Cynthia Feland, an assistant Burleigh County state’s attorney, said in a court filing.

“No grant program existed at the time of the award,” Feland wrote.

Blunt’s attorney, Michael Hoffman, of Bismarck, argued in pretrial court documents that prosecutors have been closemouthed about evidence they intended to present against his client. Feland declined comment.

“To be honest with you, I have never seen anything like it,” Hoffman told South Central District Judge Bruce Romanick at a hearing last month. “I don’t mean to be flippant here, but it’s almost like the movie where they’re on double secret probation.”

Prosecutors have listed 33 possible witnesses in the case, including present and former Workforce Safety executives, its entire staff of attorneys, state Budget Director Pam Sharp and Gordy Smith, a state audit manager.

Smith supervised an October 2006 state performance audit that raised questions about WSI’s spending and management practices. Prosecutors relied on its findings in deciding to bring criminal charges against Blunt last year.

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