Charges against college officials declined after audit

November 5, 2019 GMT

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Prosecutors have declined to pursue criminal charges against North Dakota State College of Science officials accused of withholding records from investigators.

Cass County State’s Attorney Birch Burdick said in a letter Friday that there was no proof college President John Richman or vice presidents Tony Gridberg and Dennis Gladen committed crimes of obstructing or misleading state auditors.

Auditor Josh Gallion issued the report earlier this year that focused on management of the school’s career workforce program. It alleged that Tony Grindberg, the school’s vice president of workforce affairs and a former state lawmaker, failed to disclose 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 and Grindberg failed to disclose it. The audit also alleged the Wahpeton school hid emails from investigators.

Burdick said in his letter said the school administrators did not benefit “directly or indirectly” from the “marketing services.” Nor could the state prove Richman or Grindberg “willfully” obstructed or misled the auditor.

Gallion said Tuesday that he had not seen Burdick’s letter.

Gallion said he wasn’t upset that the charges he asked to be pursued by the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation were dropped.

“I am disappointed they wouldn’t give us the information up front and it came to this,” Gallion said of the school officials. “We don’t ever want to refer an audit (for prosecution).”

Burdick, the prosecutor, said the school officials and their attorneys declined interviews during the investigation with BCI.

Burdick said the fees paid to Gridberg’s wife’s firm “is not a proof of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt.”

“It is common in a community such as Fargo to cross paths with entities that have some connection, however tenuous, to people we know,” he wrote.

The audit was one of several that spurred the Legislature to pass a measure late in the session that requires the auditor’s office to get lawmakers’ permission to conduct “performance audits,” designed to see if agencies are being managed correctly and efficiently. One lawmaker acknowledged that Gallion’s aggressiveness , including the audit of the college, prompted some legislators to “reel him in.”