Former manager won't be charged
Money was missing, but that doesn't mean it was stolen. That's the basis behind a Wednesday decision by the Cass County state's attorney's office to not charge a former Red River Valley Fair manager with theft. Prosecutors said the case against B...
Money was missing, but that doesn't mean it was stolen.
That's the basis behind a Wednesday decision by the Cass County state's attorney's office to not charge a former Red River Valley Fair manager with theft.
Prosecutors said the case against Bruce A. Olson would be difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.
Olson had been under investigation since being fired by the fair board in late 2005. He managed the fair for 15 years.
A performance evaluation at the time found missing financial records, cash payments to entertainers that may not have been reflected in the fair's accounting program, and that Olson had free reign to write checks for cash.
In early 2006, Cass County authorities asked the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation to find out what happened to money the Red River Valley Fair believed was missing.
The state's investigation specifically focused on $5,500 Olson was accused of pocketing during a cash and check transaction to pay for a 2005 Doobie Brothers concert at the fair.
Cass County prosecutors finally determined Wednesday there wasn't evidence to prove Olson took the money.
"We felt that there were lots of allegations, (but) if we walked into the criminal courtroom, we would not be able to prove them beyond a reasonable doubt to a unanimous jury," said Cass County States Attorney Birch Burdick.
A review of Olson's bank accounts found no corresponding deposit in an amount of the unaccounted $5,500, Assistant Cass County State's Attorney Cherie Clark said in a memo.
She also wrote it was then common practice at the fair association for Olson to receive cash and never provide accounting of it other than what was written in a book by the fair's secretary.
The fair's ledger did not comply with accepted accounting industry standards, appeared to have been written in pencil and contained erasures, Clark wrote.
"Accounting practices like this would create reasonable doubt in and of themselves," she wrote of why her office would not pursue criminal charges.
The fair in recent years has taken steps to better account for its money, some of which comes from taxpayers.
When reached for comment Wednesday, Olson criticized The Forum's previous reporting on the matter and then hung up.
"You guys never told the truth on me. You should have told the truth about me in the first place. There never was a story," he said.
A 2006 Forum investigation found the sum of payments - both check and cash - to fair entertainers for 2003, 2004 and 2005 exceeded by $190,950 the amounts spelled out in contracts kept by the fair.
In a lawsuit that has since been dropped, the fair association said Olson converted at least $292,049 for his personal use and destroyed financial records to hide it.
However, the criminal investigation centered on what happened to a missing $5,500 after $56,500 was taken out of the fair's finances to pay a $51,000 bill to the Doobie Brothers in cash and check.
Burdick said the investigation focused on the missing $5,500 because it was specifically identifiable. Fair attorney Jonathan Garaas filed the complaint for the criminal charges, he said.
In a letter dated Feb. 19, Garaas told Burdick the statute of limitations was ticking and a case needed to be filed before mid-June.
"As soon as I saw the underlying documents and spoke with the fair employees, I knew a crime was committed by Bruce Olson. I encourage you to prosecute this offense," Garaas wrote.
Garaas did not return a message on his cell phone seeking comment about prosecutors' decision not to pursue charges against Olson. Women who answered the phone at his job and his home said he wasn't there.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Teri Finneman at (701) 241-5560