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Keith Norman, Forum News Service, Published November 19 2013

Foster County auditor's resignation accepted amid felony case

CARRINGTON, N.D. – The Foster County Commission accepted the resignation of its county auditor on a split vote Tuesday.

Roger Schlotman submitted his resignation Nov. 6, when he was charged with three counts of misapplication of entrusted property, two counts of conspiracy to commit misapplication of entrusted property and two counts of tampering with public records. The charges are Class C felonies.

Schlotman did not attend Tuesday’s meeting and declined to comment when reached by phone.

James Carr, chairman of the Foster County Commission, was the lone dissenting vote on the motion to accept Schlotman’s resignation.

Carr faces two counts of conspiracy to commit misapplication of entrusted property, Class B and Class C felonies, and two counts of tampering with public records, Class A misdemeanors. He’s accused of conspiring with Schlotman to transfer property in a manner not authorized by the county.

Charges against both men relate to an alleged shortfall of at least $13,000 in an account used to reimburse Federal Emergency Management Agency projects in Foster County, irregularities in the County Commission meeting minutes and a tax sale of a Carrington property that was not approved by the full commission.

“He’s innocent until proven guilty,” Carr said in comments addressed to Kathleen Murray, Wells County state’s attorney, who is handling the case against the Foster County officials. “Have we ever proven him guilty?”

Carr maintained that Schlotman resigned under what he called “extreme conditions.”

County Commissioner Leslie Greger said Schlotman’s resignation should be accepted.

“Yes, he’s innocent until proven guilty, but he brought in a resignation,” he said. “Let the courts decide.”

Greger and Paul Straley, vice chairman of the commission, voted in favor of accepting the resignation.

The commission authorized Deputy Auditor Sarah Aberle to act as auditor until a temporary auditor can be named. That person would hold the position until the general election in 2014.

The commission authorized Straley to begin exploring possible firms to conduct a forensic audit of the county’s financial records.

Murray recommended the county seek a firm experienced in forensic auditing.

“A forensic audit is a more detailed accounting than the regular annual audit,” she said. “You need an accountant trained for forensic auditing.”

Straley said he had contacted Eide Bailly in Fargo for information. He said costs were estimated between $10,000 and $15,000.

“This is a necessity,” he said. “I can’t imagine not getting everything cleared up before moving on.”

Murray said the continuing investigation by the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation might yield some additional areas of problems.

She recommended the county seek proposals from at least two audit firms concerning the scope of the audit and possible costs.

Carr did not comment during the discussion of a possible forensic audit. The voice vote to proceed with exploring possible audit firms was unanimous.

As the meeting was concluding, Carr asked if he would be allowed to see the financial records associated with the charges.

Murray said the records were public and available to anyone. She also advised him she could not discuss the case without his attorney present.

After the meeting, Carr said he thought the audit would exonerate him and Schlotman.

“As far as Roger or me taking any money, I don’t think so,” he said.

Carr also said the charges took him by surprise.

“I can’t figure out where I did anything wrong,” he said. “The charges are pretty serious, but it’s mainly about being short money. I would have no idea how to get money out of the courthouse.”

He also said resigning now would make him look guilty in the eyes of the public.

Straley will present information on firms willing to do a forensic audit during the Dec. 3 Foster County Commission meeting. The commission also will address the process of finding someone to serve as county auditor until the next election at that time.