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Dave Olson, Published October 01 2012

Petition fraud case in court for first time Tuesday

FARGO – Fifteen people charged with violating North Dakota election law, including 10 current North Dakota State University football players and three former players, are scheduled to make their first court appearances today in Cass County District Court.

First appearances in Cass County District Court typically involve:

At this stage of a misdemeanor case, it is not unusual for attorneys to appear on behalf of clients and for the hearings to be brief.

Fargo attorney Bruce Quick said Monday he is representing the 10 current Bison players charged in the case and two former players.

Quick declined to say what might occur at this morning’s hearings and he declined to talk about how he came to be retained in each case, though in answer to a direct question he said NDSU is not covering his fees.

His clients include Lucas Albers, Aireal Boyd, Joshua Colville, Demitrius Gray, Samuel Ojuri, Brendin Pierre, Antonio Rodgers, Bryan Shepherd, Charles (C.J.) Smith, and Marcus Williams, all current Bison players, and Don Carter and Joshua Gatlin, former Bison players.

Also charged in the case are former Bison player Darren (D.J.) McNorton and Jennifer Krahn and William Brown.

As of Monday, court officials said they did not have attorneys of record for McNorton, Krahn or Brown.

All of the defendants face one count of violating election law by signing a name other than that person’s own name to an election petition, a Class A misdemeanor that carries a potential maximum penalties of a year in jail and fines of up to $2,000.

According to papers filed with the court, all of the defendants have admitted to investigators they forged signatures on petitions they circulated last summer.

Cass County State’s Attorney Birch Burdick said Monday he would not comment on whether any plea deals are being negotiated.

The charges are tied to petition drives involving two North Dakota initiated measures now barred from the November election. The separate ballot initiatives sought to legalize marijuana for medical use and to establish an outdoor heritage fund.

In response to an information request from The Forum, NDSU released a number of emails sent by campus officials that referenced the case.

In one email, NDSU football coach Craig Bohl said players were paid to get a certain number of signatures, and if they did not reach that number, they would not have a job.

“They were never informed about the potential fall out (sic) or criminal charges by the company,” Bohl wrote.

“Many times the notary was not present and someone else signed off as the notary. The investigator told me they were going after the company but need to file charges against our players,” the e-mail said.

A number of individuals charged in the case who circulated petitions for the outdoor fund were employed by an Iowa company called Terra Strategies.

Burdick said that as of Monday his office did not have reports on any suspects other than those who have been charged.

Lee Ann Oliver, an election specialist with the North Dakota Secretary of State’s Office, has said it is illegal to pay petition circulators per signature gathered. Less clear, Oliver said, is whether that prohibition extends to a quota system.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555

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