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ND Game and Fish will try to recover improper payments made to 174 employees

BISMARCK - North Dakota's attorney general has directed the state Game and Fish Department to try to recover more than $37,000 in erroneous payments made to 174 employees for meals and travel expenses, with legal action still possible if the fund...

BISMARCK – North Dakota’s attorney general has directed the state Game and Fish Department to try to recover more than $37,000 in erroneous payments made to 174 employees for meals and travel expenses, with legal action still possible if the funds aren’t recovered, according to a memo obtained by Forum News Service.

A state auditor’s report completed in April – the first-ever performance audit of the department – sampled 20 payments made to employees and found that 12 of them contained errors totaling $1,535.

Because the audit identified payments that violated state law, the auditor’s office referred the report to Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem in June. His office recommended the department internally review more than 4,800 per-diem payments made from 2010 through 2014.

The department ultimately reviewed 4,731 payments – per-diem payments to volunteers weren’t reviewed – and identified $34,370 in meal reimbursement errors and $2,842 in erroneous reimbursements for out-of-state lodging, mileage and conference registrations.

The improper payments were made to 174 employees, 74 of whom are no longer with the department.


Assistant Attorney General Matthew Sagsveen wrote in a memo Monday that the department has agreed to try to recover the inappropriately paid per diem and report back to Stenehjem’s office within two months. The erroneous payments ranged from $5 to $1,892.50, and the average was $202.

“The attorney general will review the accounting to determine whether any additional legal action is necessary or justified to recover funds which the department was unable to recover,” the memo stated. Office spokeswoman Liz Brocker referred questions about the memo to the Game and Fish Department.

Department Director Terry Steinwand said he was “not sweating nearly as much” after seeing that Stenehjem’s office didn’t recommend any immediate legal action. Sagsveen had informed Steinwand in a letter in July that the Attorney General’s Office “may initiate a civil suit against the public officer or employee for the recovery of funds improperly paid.”

Steinwand said the internal review found that the majority of meals erroneously claimed and paid – $34,270, or 92 percent – were due to incorrect computer parameters in the department’s cost-tracking system, which was quickly corrected.

“It was certainly all unintentional. Nobody was out to screw the system,” he said.

Steinwand attributed the $2,842 in improper payments for lodging, mileage and conference registrations to “just lack of paying attention to policies.”

Staff underwent training and supervisors have been told to pay closer attention to expenses, he said, noting his deputy director is sampling 10 percent of all expense vouchers and payments at the end of each month “to make sure that these things aren’t happening again.”

No one was fired over the ordeal, but a handful of employees didn’t receive raises, he said.


Steinwand anticipates recovering all of the overpaid funds from existing employees, but he said it could be harder to recover the money from the 74 employees who no longer work for the department. Some of those employees retired, and others were seasonal workers.

“We won’t know until we try,” he said.

He stuck up for the department’s employees, noting the internal review also identified nearly $70,000 in work-related meals that employees could have claimed but didn’t.

“That kind of shows the character of the employees,” he said.

The critical audit found the department didn’t follow state laws and policies related to spending and contracting, mismanaged a program that pays private landowners for hunting access and failed to properly inventory guns used in its hunter education program.

The department tracked down all but 12 of the 704 guns that needed to be inventoried. The missing guns are considered open but inactive files, Steinwand said. 

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