AP Exclusive: Officials claim $36K fees after critical audit
BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota State College of Science's president and two vice presidents are billing the state more than $36,000 in legal fees after a prosecutor declined to pursue criminal charges against them in the wake of a critical audit report, records obtained by The Associated Press show.
Attorneys for the Wahpeton-based school President John Richman and vice presidents Tony Grindberg and Dennis Gladen argue their clients are due the fees under North Dakota law, although state lawyers have not made that determination.
Auditor Josh Gallion issued the report earlier this year that focused on management of the school's career workforce program. It alleged that Grindberg, the school's vice president of workforce affairs and a former state lawmaker, failed to disclose that his wife's company that was paid $39,500 to formulate a marketing plan for the program.
The audit said the contract was a conflict of interest. It also alleged the Wahpeton school hid emails from investigators.
Cass County State's Attorney Birch Burdick said in a letter last month that there was no proof the school’s top administrators committed crimes of obstructing or misleading state auditors. Burdick said school administrators did not benefit "directly or indirectly" from the "marketing services.
Records obtained by the AP show Richman is claiming about $17,750 in legal fees. Gladen is claiming $9,420 and Grindberg is seeking $8,890.
“The true damage done to Mr. Grindberg and his family is incalculable,” wrote Grindberg’s attorney, Mark Friese of Fargo.
Gallion, the state auditor, declined comment on the legal claims.
Tag Anderson, director of the state’s Risk Management division, said Wednesday his agency is reviewing the claims in consultation with the state attorney general’s office.
“We’re in the preliminary stages of gathering the documents and trying to apply the law to the facts and come to some conclusion,” he said.
Attorneys for the college administrators are basing their claims in part on a 2016 case that charged several high-ranking employees of the North Dakota Department of Human Services with conspiring to impede the investigation into the drowning-related death of a 5-year-old girl.
That case was later dismissed and the state paid more than $78,000 to settle legal claims by the employees.
State budget director Joe Morrissette said no other claims have been filed as the result of recent audits by Gallion’s agency. But more may be coming.
State Commerce Director Michelle Kommer said last month that she has hired a private attorney to defend herself against any charges that may result from an audit found the agency allegedly violated state law on contract bidding.
The attorney general's office last month tapped authorities in South Dakota to help investigate the allegations.
Separately, North Dakota’s attorney general decided last month it won’t pursue criminal charges against state library employees after an audit found some misallocated funds, including nearly $12,500 to two public libraries that were not eligible to get it.
Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said the issue did not reach a level of “criminal culpability.”
Assistant State Librarian Cynthia Clairmont-Schmidt, who took responsibility for the misallocated funds, said Wednesday she did not hire an attorney and would not bill the state as a result of the audit.
“I’m just happy it’s over,” she said.