FARGO — A prosecutor declined to press criminal charges against three administrators of the North Dakota State College of Science whose actions were criticized by state auditors who cited concerns of obstruction and conflict of interest.
Josh Gallion, the state auditor, asked Birch Burdick, the Cass County state’s attorney, to determine whether the three administrators committed the crimes of obstructing or misleading auditors.
Burdick noted that the three administrators — President John Richman, Tony Grindberg and Dennis Gladen, both vice presidents — declined to meet with the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation agent who investigated their conduct.
The allegations stem from the payment of $39,500 in consulting fees NDSCS paid to Flint Group, a public relations firm, to promote a career workforce academy the college is working to establish in Cass County.
Grindberg, the college’s vice president of workforce affairs, is married to Flint Group’s chief financial officer. Grindberg earlier told The Forum that he forgot to disclose his wife’s employment when he filled out a financial interest form.
Burdick said Grindberg did not benefit personally from NDSCS’ business relationship with Flint Group.
“Any appearance of indirect interest to him via the contract’s unsubstantiated benefit to his wife is not a violation of criminal law,” Burdick wrote in the letter dated Oct. 29 and provided to The Forum on Tuesday, Nov. 5.
Gladen failed to turn over emails between NDSCS and Flint Group to auditors who asked for any email correspondence, according to the audit. Gladen said his misrepresentations to the auditors that there were no such emails were not intentional, Burdick wrote.
Through his lawyer, Gladen said he didn’t learn of the emails until after the audit, released in March.
Because Grindberg and Richman were copied on the email exchanges about the arrangements with Flint Group, however, they should have seen Gladen’s inaccurate response to the auditors, Burdick wrote.
“Mr. Gladen’s statement that he did not inform himself about the existence of the emails before he responded to the auditor may be of concern,” Burdick added. “But in and of itself, it does not prove willful obstruction or willful misleading of the auditor beyond a reasonable doubt.”
In July, Chancellor Mark Hagerott made additions to a plan by NDSCS, which has campuses in Wahpeton and Fargo, to address the auditors’ concerns, including strategies to ensure conflicts of interest are disclosed by staff and to improve responses to open records and auditing requests.
“The Board takes audits very seriously and uses them to help inform decisions for the state’s higher education system and improve processes,” Nick Hacker, chairman of the State Board of Higher Education, said in a statement to The Forum.
“In this instance, the Board approved an action plan in which significant progress has already been made. Once the action plan has been fully implemented, the Board’s Audit Committee will again review the matter to assure that all measures have been implemented.”
NDSCS representatives will present steps they have taken in response to the audit to the Legislative Audit and Fiscal Review Committee on Wednesday, Nov. 6.