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UND investigating student fees after treasurer's arrest

Chase Alexander Johnson

GRAND FORKS—A UND investigation has begun to determine the security of student fee dollars after last week's arrest of the former student body treasurer.

Chase Johnson was arrested by University Police and charged with Class B felony theft following accusations that he embezzled between $10,000 and $50,000 from his fraternity, Phi Delta Theta. He was fraternity treasurer at the time of the alleged theft.

Johnson was immediately removed from Student Government following his arrest. A member of Phi Delta Theta said he was also stricken from the rolls of the fraternity earlier this week.

In the wake of Johnson's arrest, UND is now conducting an internal audit of the Student Government budget. So far, the university's auditor, Tim Rerick, has been getting acquainted with the background of the case, namely what access—if any—Johnson had to the dollars under his supervision.

"We're looking to see if improper payroll transactions were made to Chase, if any improper purchases were made to Chase, any improper reimbursements, improper payments made to his fraternity—that's kind of what we're focusing in on," Rerick said.

He's still in the early stages of answering those questions. He hadn't spoken with UND Police as of Wednesday, March 7, and said his communications with them would be made as needed, depending on the course of the investigation.

Rerick described his role as being typically more proactive, as in helping departments ensure they're operating by the book. He's never dealt with a case that centers on student fee dollars and hopes to have the audit completed within the next two weeks.

The case was also unusual to Cassie Gerhardt, staff adviser to the Student Government, both in the nature of the alleged theft and in the investigation of funding to the student body. Gerhardt is the associate dean of students, overseeing student involvement and parent programs.

She said the Student Government operates "most similar to a department" on the UND campus and receives an annual budget of about $500,000, all sourced through student fees.

In total, those fees add up to about $13.5 million per year. That money is used to support the non-academic services available to students during their time on campus, such as those related to health, diversity, athletics and other student involvement areas.

Gerhardt described the role of student treasurer—Johnson's position at the time of his arrest—as one with more access to paperwork than actual dollars.

"There's no direct checkbook or anything like that," she said. "Nobody is going to have access to a purchasing card besides the office manager."

That manager is another full-time UND staff member who supports the day-to-day operations of the organization. Gerhardt said the student body treasurer is responsible for processing vouchers and invoices for payments that the Student Government is responsible for. Actual decisions about payments and expenditures are made beyond the treasurer's desk, such as within the Student Senate. Since Johnson's arrest, Gerhardt said she hasn't heard any concerns related to the security of student fees.

The nature of the case is also unusual beyond the student body aspect. Gerhardt, who has been on campus for the past 16 years and worked mainly with the Greek organizations, hasn't seen any allegations of embezzlement within that system at UND.

Johnson was taken to the Grand Forks County Correctional facility and posted bond Monday. He has a preliminary hearing scheduled April 4.

Andrew Haffner

Andrew Haffner covers higher education and general assignment stories for the Grand Forks Herald. He attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where he studied journalism, political science and international studies. He previously worked at the Dickinson Press.

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