FARGO — The Washington Post recently ran an article pointing out that Kevin Cramer, a North Dakota U.S. senator, is trying to steer federal business, potentially worth billions of dollars, toward a Dickinson company that was a large contributor to his 2018 campaign.
For many, Cramer's obsessive advocacy for Fisher Industries to build portions of President Donald Trump's wall on the southwest border — while just as obsessively bashing the straight-laced U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — would raise ethical red flags about favoritism and influence peddling. But, this being the Trump era and Cramer gleefully in bed with the president, ethics no longer matter.
So Cramer has openly promoted Fisher Industries, as has U.S. Rep. Kelly Armstrong of North Dakota, despite the muddying of ethical waters. Tommy Fisher, CEO of the company, was Cramer's guest at Trump's State of the Union address in January 2018.
And, history shows, Fisher Industries has muddied plenty of water. As reported elsewhere, the company has a lengthy timeline of criminal tax evasion, pollution citations and environmental infractions.
The company has paid millions of dollars in fines in Arizona for violating environmental regulations, including as recently as 2017, according to The Arizona Republic.
The Bismarck Tribune also reported David Fisher, listed as a former president and CEO of Fisher Industries, was sentenced to five years in prison after pleading guilty to child pornography charges in 2005.
But perhaps the best-known case in North Dakota involving Fisher Industries involved large-scale federal tax fraud that ended in the 2009 conviction of former co-owner Micheal Fisher, Tommy's brother, and two company accountants.
Micheal Fisher received 37 months in prison and was ordered to pay fines and restitution totaling about $400,000. Fisher Sand & Gravel, a subsidiary of Fisher Industries, admitted to defrauding the U.S. government and was ordered to pay $1.16 million in restitution, penalties and fines.
But it's clear from court documents that others in the company knew about Micheal's illegal shenanigans and, more tellingly, benefited from the same activity.
Court documents say that Fisher Sand & Gravel, "acting through its principal officers, directors, and its accounting employees caused the personal expenses of Micheal Fisher and other Fisher family members to be paid for by FSG."
And: "FSG's officers and accounting personnel knowingly and intentionally concealed Micheal Fisher's and other Fisher family members' receipt of income in the form of corporate distributions from the United States by failing to report these payments to the Internal Revenue Service ...."
"Other Fisher family members." Plural.
Those words show up time and again in court documents, in some cases involving personal travel expenses and condominium rental. Others in the company knew what was happening and didn't act. Court documents say Fisher Sand & Gravel was warned by auditors for years about "the issue of personal expenses of Fisher family members being paid by the company."
Tommy Fisher, for what it's worth, took over the company from his father in 1996.
Ethics. Even a pious U.S. senator from North Dakota is willing to set them aside when it comes to this president and his wall, apparently.