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5 things to know today: Budget cuts, Officers cleared, Meat theft, Guilty plea, Second chances

A select rundown of stories found on InForum.

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North Dakota State University President David Cook presents his priorities during a meeting of the NDSU Foundation State and Local Relations Committee on Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2022, in Fargo.
Forum file photo
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1. NDSU president warns deep budget cuts are coming

North Dakota State University is facing “daunting” funding cuts totaling $10.5 million resulting from a decline in student credit hours that form the base of the state funding it receives.

The reduction, which amounts to a 5.48% decrease in NDSU’s base funding through 2023-25, is prompting a major evaluation of the university’s programs that will precipitate a transformation in what the university teaches and how it operates, NDSU President David Cook said.

The looming budget cuts were announced in a campus email sent the afternoon of Tuesday, Oct. 25, by Cook, who warned of difficulties ahead and said he cannot promise the “core university mission” will emerge unscathed. In his email, he called the budget cuts “daunting.”

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“These reductions will be difficult, particularly because we have been absorbing cuts for a number of years, forcing everyone to do more with less for quite some time,” he wrote. “They also will be difficult because after a number of years of cutting, it is becoming more difficult to make reductions without impacting our core academic mission.”

Read more from Forum News Service's Patrick Springer

2. Fargo officers who fatally shot Mapleton man during mental health crisis didn't violate policy, chief says

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From left, Sgt. Travis Moser, Detective Josh Heller, Investigator Jordan Korte and Detective Ryan Jasper.
Fargo Police Department

Four Fargo police officers did not violate agency policy when they fatally shot a Mapleton man during a mental health crisis , according to Fargo Police Chief David Zibolski.

Zibolski confirmed an internal investigation cleared Sgt. Travis Moser, Detective Josh Heller, Detective Ryan Jasper and Investigator Jordan Korte of wrongdoing in connection to the Aug. 1 death of 35-year-old Andrew Martinez, city spokeswoman Katie Ettish said. The four have returned to active duty, according to city officials.

The chief plans to discuss the findings of that investigation at the Thursday, Oct. 27, Police Advisory and Oversight Board meeting.

“Chief Zibolski will answer questions related to this during that time,” Ettish said in an email to The Forum. Requests made Tuesday for an interview with Zibolski and a copy of the report detailing the findings of the internal probe were not fulfilled by publishing time.

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The announcement comes almost two months after the four officers fired more than 20 rounds from AR-15 rifles at Martinez in his house.

Read more from InForum's April Baumgarten

3. Meat theft ring blamed for $9M in losses across Midwest

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Flixtey via Wikimedia Commons

An investigation into stolen truckloads of frozen beef has revealed a vast criminal enterprise responsible for 45 thefts in Nebraska, the Dakotas, Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin, totaling $9 million in losses.

The investigation started when the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office in Lincoln, Nebraska, began looking into several thefts of semitrailers and loads of frozen beef, according to a statement issued Tuesday, Oct. 25, by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

In the initial investigation, the estimated loss was $1 million. But since June 2021, Lancaster County and federal investigators have identified 45 thefts across the Upper Midwest with $9 million in losses.

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"This highly sophisticated Organized Criminal Enterprise is based out of Miami, Florida and has been targeting beef and pork packaging plants in Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Wisconsin," the DHS said. Which plants were targeted was not immediately known.

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4. Former tribal official pleads guilty as bribery trial was set to start in Fargo

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Randall Phelan is seen at a White House infrastructure meeting in 2017.
Photo via Gov. Doug Burgum's Twitter account

Just as his federal trial was set to begin on Tuesday, Oct. 25, a former tribal government official of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation entered guilty pleas in a bribery case prosecutors say involved hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Randall Jude Phelan, a former member of the Three Affiliated Tribes Tribal Business Council, was charged by complaint in July 2020 with two counts related to conspiracy and bribery concerning a program receiving federal funds.

A grand jury later handed down a four-count indictment that included one count of conspiracy to commit bribery, one count of wire fraud and two counts of bribery.

On Tuesday morning, just as his trial was to start, Phelan pleaded guilty to three of the charges he was facing.

He will be sentenced at a later date.

According to a brief filed in U.S. District Court by prosecutors, Phelan took part in a bribery scheme with co-conspirators from about 2013 through mid-2020, during which time he used his position with the tribal business council to obtain construction contracts for Francisco Solis, who operated various construction companies.

Solis paid bribes and kickbacks to Phelan, the prosecutors' brief stated.

Read more from The Forum's David Olson

5. Labor shortages mean ex-cons in North Dakota get more opportunities for a second chance

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Workers at Double J Manufacturing & Repair welding fencing and gates at the company shop near Gackle, North Dakota, on Oct. 14, 2022.
Michael Standaert / North Dakota News Cooperative

From the North Dakota News Cooperative via Forum News Service

It would be easy to pass Double J Manufacturing and Repair without giving it so much as a second thought. The welding, truck repair and fencing business sits at the top of a rise on a dusty rural highway that could be just about anywhere on any stretch of lonesome road around the state.

Sparks fly in the welding shop and wrenches crank in the garage as workers go about their day.

What few would realize if they happened to poke their head into the shop is that some of the workers are not only rebuilding engines and battered fencing, but reconstructing their lives.

Owner James Owen almost always has difficulty attracting workers to this small hamlet where his shop sits, just a short drive north of Gackle, North Dakota, a town itself struggling to retain a population just below 300. At a high point he had 26 workers, he says. Most of the time staff hovers around 18.

At one time, at least five of those workers were felons.

Currently, both his foreman and assistant foreman are convicted felons who have served their sentences. Through the years, Owen said, he’s become devoted to helping those emerging from the criminal justice system re-enter society and regain the trust of those around them — and in themselves — through good, hard, skill-building labor.

“I'm a Christian man and I feel that it's good to give people a second chance in life,” Owen said.

“We have been very successful with employing individuals with criminal backgrounds.”

With the unemployment rate at 2.3% in the state and labor shortages nearly everywhere, employers like Owen are increasingly contemplating hiring those with criminal records that may not have gotten a second look in previous years, and that appears likely to continue for some time.

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Our newsroom occasionally reports stories under a byline of "staff." Often, the "staff" byline is used when rewriting basic news briefs that originate from official sources, such as a city press release about a road closure, and which require little or no reporting. At times, this byline is used when a news story includes numerous authors or when the story is formed by aggregating previously reported news from various sources. If outside sources are used, it is noted within the story.
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