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Panel seeks auditor records on Blunt

State Capitol Bureau BISMARCK - Some legislators want to see what role state auditors may have played in the decision to prosecute former Workforce Safety and Insurance CEO Sandy Blunt. The Legislative Audit and Fiscal Review Committee voted Mond...

State Capitol Bureau

BISMARCK - Some legislators want to see what role state auditors may have played in the decision to prosecute former Workforce Safety and Insurance CEO Sandy Blunt.

The Legislative Audit and Fiscal Review Committee voted Monday to demand documents that have flowed between state Auditor Bob Peterson's office and the Burleigh County state's attorney's office since July 1, 2005.

The committee put a Dec. 1 deadline on its request.

Peterson said Wednesday that the office will comply, just as it would with any open records request, but he doesn't attach much importance to the demand.

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"No, not at all," he said. He called it "just Frank being Frank," a reference to Rep. Frank Wald, R-Dickinson, who made the motion to demand the records.

Wald has been a persistent and fierce critic of a 2006 performance audit Peterson's office did on WSI. Auditors presented a follow-up report on the audit at Monday's legislative meeting, where Wald accused an auditor, Gordy Smith, of witch-hunting and persecuting Blunt.

Findings in the 2006 audit became the basis for a criminal investigation against Blunt; he was charged in April 2007 with two felony counts of misapplication of entrusted property. A trial is set for Dec. 15 in Bismarck.

But State's Attorney Richard Riha said the

auditors had no say in whether Blunt was to be charged. Riha said that, in fact, Peterson's office didn't provide the report to the state's attorney's office. Other citizens critical of WSI gave Riha's office the report and asked that some findings be investigated as criminal matters, he said.

The state Bureau of Criminal Investigation and Highway Patrol investigated.

One auditor's name - Jason Wahl - shows up in a record of people attending a meeting in Riha's office on April 17, 2007, but Riha said prosecutors asked Wahl to come in and explain parts of the report. The record naming Wahl is a page out of a BCI agent's report; it indicates a decision was made that day to charge Blunt. The charges were filed the next day.

Wald couldn't be reached for comment Wednesday. He did not respond to messages left at his place of work, at home or on his cell phone.

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His motion asks Peterson's office to produce "all communications between (auditors) and the Burleigh County state's attorney relating to Workforce Safety and Insurance, including all correspondence, e-mails, faxes, subpoenas, summons and complaints, and other information received or sent during the period in question." The motion says the same material should be sent to the attorney general's office.

Rep. Bette Grande, R-Fargo, seconded Wald's motion. She said Wednesday that with the seriousness of the charges against Blunt and some people alleging auditors were biased against him, "This is one more way to get to the bottom."

But Grande said, "I don't know what's in the information we've requested.

Like Wald and most legislators voting for the motion on Monday, Peterson is also a Republican and is seeking re-election in next month's election.

Of four Democratic-NPL lawmakers present Monday, three voted against the motion.

One of them, House Minority Leader Merle Boucher, D-Rolette, said Wednesday the demand for documents is "all entirely unnecessary and inappropriate."

He said it represents lawmakers "wanting to meddle."

Cole works for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Forum. She can be reached at (701) 224-0830 or forumcap@btinet.net

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