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Port: Former NDGOP state chair candidate pleads guilty to felony DUI charge

Robert Wheeler, a political activist who campaigned for chairman of the North Dakota Republican Party last year, pleaded guilty to criminal vehicle injury, as well as a disorderly conduct charge.

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MINOT, N.D. — Robert Howard Wheeler of Underwood, North Dakota, pleaded guilty Wednesday, May 18, in McLean County District Court to a felony DUI charge and a misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge.

Wheeler, who was an unsuccessful candidate for chairman of the NDGOP last year, representing the Bastiat Caucus side of the divide in North Dakota's dominant political party, was arrested in February after an ATV crash that injured both himself and his wife.

Per court records, Wheeler pleaded guilty to violating section 39-08-01.2 of the North Dakota Century Code . That section states that "criminal vehicle injury," defined as causing "substantial bodily or serious bodily injury to another individual" while driving under the influence of alcohol, is a class C felony. The statute states that the court "shall impose at least one year's imprisonment" for a first-time violation.

The disorderly conduct charge is a class B misdemeanor.

Wheeler's sentencing is scheduled for August.

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According to an affidavit filed in the case by McLean County Sheriff's Deputy Bradley M. Nielsen, Wheeler on Monday, Jan. 31, was driving a black CanAm ATV south of Highway 200 and was involved in a rollover accident.

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Both he and Holly Wheeler were ejected from the vehicle.

When Nielsen arrived on the scene, Robert Wheeler was sitting in what was apparently the private vehicle of an emergency medical technician. Nielsen described Wheeler as "intoxicated" and "belligerent." The EMT official had a young child in their car, and when Wheeler was asked to get out because of his behavior, he refused, according to Nielsen's report.

Wheeler "had to be physically removed from the vehicle" when he was informed he was being placed under arrest.

"Robert pushed officers as we tried to restrain him, and he held onto the vehicle so we could not remove him from it," Nielsen wrote. "We struggled with him but also did not want to hurt him further."

According to the affidavit, when Wheeler was tested at Garrison Memorial Hospital, more than an hour and a half after Nielsen was dispatched to the accident, his blood-alcohol level was 0.166.

Wheeler is a prolific anti-vaccination and pro-Trump activist on Facebook. He has been an outspoken supporter of the Bastiat Caucus faction that has been trying, unsuccessfully, to take over the North Dakota Republican Party.

In the race for NDGOP chairman, Wheeler was defeated in June by current chairman Perrie Schafer in a 35-19 vote of the party's state committee.

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Wheeler also ran for the Legislature in 2020. He sought the NDGOP nomination for the House of Representatives but was defeated, coming in last in a four-way race .

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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