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Dave Roepke, Published October 14 2011

NDSU official faces no charges

FARGO – A Cass County prosecutor has declined to press any criminal charges against Gene Griffin, the North Dakota State University official ousted last week for overcharging the school for his expenses.

An internal audit found that Griffin, director of the Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute at NDSU, was reimbursed by the university over a three-year period for $6,169.40 in per-day meal allowances as he was collecting expenses for the same meals from an account with the NDSU Development Foundation.

Griffin claimed he didn’t realize he was doing anything wrong, NDSU officials have said. He’s agreed to resign, but he’s staying in his post through Dec. 31.

The North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation reviewed the case and forwarded it to the Cass County state’s attorney’s office for possible charges.

In a report released on Friday explaining the decision to not charge Griffin, Assistant Cass County State’s Attorney Tristan Van De Streek said prosecutors wouldn’t be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt Griffin knew he was not authorized to collect reimbursements twice for the same expenses.

Part of the problem rests with NDSU’s regulations, which Van De Streek said lacked clarity.

“I do not believe that the policies and procedures were sufficiently clear that I could convince a jury that Griffin knew what he was doing was wrong or intended to deceive his employer,” he wrote in the report.

Griffin cooperated with investigators, according to the prosecutor’s report, and was under the impression that per diem payments were a benefit of work-related travel he was entitled to receive even if another entity was picking up the tab for his expenses.

Van De Streek also said the settlement agreement struck with NDSU “weighs against bringing criminal charges and suggests that this dispute is more civil in nature than criminal.”

The terms of the agreement call for Griffin to pay the $6,169.40 back to NDSU. He’ll continue to receive his benefits and salary – which is nearly $165,000 per year – until his resignation is effective Dec. 31.

“A jury would have a difficult time convicting Griffin when NDSU is allowing Griffin to work as the director of UGPTI until the end of the year,” Van De Streek wrote in the report.

NDSU President Dean Bresciani said the resignation date was set in part to allow Griffin to finish some projects already under way.

Griffin hasn’t publicly commented on the allegations and didn’t return a phone message on Friday.

In addition to declining to file a theft charge, Van De Streek also rejected the charge of misapplication of entrusted property. He said the money in question was never entrusted to Griffin, because he requested it from the school and had no role in approving his requests.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535