Blunt guiltyJurors found former workers’ compensation official Charles “Sandy” Blunt guilty Friday of one felony count of misspending state funds while he led the agency, convicting him on the more serious of two charges he faced.
By: By Janell Cole , N.D. Capitol Bureau, The Jamestown Sun
BISMARCK — Jurors found former workers’ compensation official Charles “Sandy” Blunt guilty Friday of one felony count of misspending state funds while he led the agency, convicting him on the more serious of two charges he faced.
The Burleigh County jury acquitted Blunt on the second charge, involving what prosecutors said were payments of illegal bonuses to a handful of employees at Workforce Safety and Insurance.
South Central District Judge Bruce Romanick ordered a pre-sentence investigation, a process that usually takes several weeks.
Blunt did not visibly react when he heard the verdict and left the courthouse without commenting after conferring with his attorney, Michael Hoffman. He had said while waiting for the verdict that he would not have an immediate comment no matter what the result was, though he might issue a statement or give an interview in coming days or weeks.
Hoffman said he may ask the judge to set aside the verdict and will most certainly appeal.
“I’m grateful for the not-guilty verdict on Count 2,” he said.
In any case, Hoffman said he does not believe Blunt would go to prison.
“I doubt it. He’s an exemplary citizen and he’s got no record,” he said. “Why would you put somebody like that in prison?”
The six-man, six-woman jury deliberated about nine hours starting Thursday afternoon and brought their verdicts in at 3:20 p.m. Friday. None of the jurors responded to requests for comments as they exited the courthouse and one woman left in tears.
The conviction was on Count 1 of misapplication of entrusted property, involving $26,000 in spending at WSI while Blunt was its executive director and CEO from May 2004 to December 2007. The charge is a Class B felony, which carries a maximum sentence of up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Burleigh County prosecutors said state law prohibits public funds such as WSI’s from being spent on items such as beverages, snacks, meals, trinkets, decorations, stuffed animals and gift certificates for WSI employee incentives and themed quarterly meetings. The total of misspent funds also included $7,000 in sick leave pay Blunt approved for a WSI department manager who was not sick and who was planning to resign, and $8,000 in moving expenses the same manager had agreed to repay if he quit within two years. The manager, Dave Spencer, worked there less than two years and WSI did not ask him to repay any money.
The acquittal was on a Class C felony charge of misapplication of en-trusted property, involving $7,500 in what prosecutors said were unlawful bonuses to four employees. Hoffman argued, and witnesses for the defense testified, that the amounts were not bonuses, but retroactive pay increases.
Burleigh County Assistant State’s Attorney Lloyd Suhr said he was surprised at the acquittal because he felt it was the more clear-cut charge.
The verdict ended a weeklong trial that had begun Monday morning. The jury was picked Dec. 11.
Hoffman said he’ll ask Romanick to throw out the conviction because during the trial Romanick agreed with Hoffman that some of the alleged misspent money did not belong in Count 1. Prosecutors said that was $15,000.
Hoffman said Romanick’s ruling to exclude the $15,000, which went to North Dakota Firefighters Association safety grants, amounts to an acquittal on Count 1.
The case shouldn’t have been charged as a crime at all, Hoffman said.
“I wish it would have been hammered out between the state auditors and Workforce Safety back when, but it wasn’t worked out and then we got into the criminal court,” he said.
Burleigh County Assistant State’s Attorney Cynthia Feland said Romanick’s ruling to remove the firefighters’ grants is “absolutely not” an acquittal and the ruling did not in any way jeopardize Count 1 because the remaining allegations still amounted to more than $10,000, the threshold for a Class B felony.
She said Blunt should have to pay back to the state the $26,000 in misspent money involved in the Count 1 conviction.
She declined to say he should go to prison, but, “I think that anybody who abuses public funds in the fashion that Mr. Blunt used them clearly is putting themselves in a position where they could be looking at doing some time. “
Cole works for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Jamestown Sun