Let Me Be Blunt: Sandy Got Screwed in North Dakota
I did not know Kangaroos were native to North Dakota, but reading about their court system has convinced me otherwise. (Alternate opening line: Hey, I found out where GEICO goes to film those caveman commercials!)
Some may refer to it as "North Dakota justice"; but I would not use the word justice to describe what happened to Sandy Blunt.
Blunt, the former Director of North Dakota's Workforce Safety and Insurance, was accused, prosecuted and convicted of "misspending public funds". Prosecutors claimed Blunt "misspent" $26,000 of the agency’s dollars. He was convicted in December 2008. The felony conviction could have meant up to 10 years in prison. He received a deferred two year sentence, a $2,000 fine, and had to perform 1,000 hours of community service.
According to the Insurance Journal, "Blunt was accused of spending more than $11,000 on flowers, trinkets, balloons, decorations and beverages for Workforce Safety and Insurance employee meetings, and on gift certificates and cards for restaurants, stores and movie theaters that were used as worker incentives."
Balloons? The man is clearly a menace and danger to society. Glad they stopped him before he hired a clown.
He was also accused of allowing a senior WSI executive to keep almost $8,000 in moving expenses that prosecutors claimed should have been repaid, and for the same employee to use his sick leave when he was not ill, a benefit worth about $7,000. That employee, Dave Spencer, resigned under pressure from WSI. More on that in a moment.Admittedly, I am late to this dance. Managed Care Matters blogger Joe Paduda has long been championing Blunt, and defending him throughout this process. He has numerous, well researched and highly informative posts on the subject.
Let's take a moment to look at these charges. No one is claiming Blunt stole anything. He did not enrich himself or take funds for himself in any way. He was prosecuted for the WAY he spent the money. He was prosecuted for management decisions. On the surface, he was prosecuted because some people disagreed with his operational methods. That, in North Dakota, is apparently a crime.
If that doesn't send chills down the spine of any decision making executive, they are not paying attention. I realize I am in the private sector, but under those standards I could be beaten and shot for some decisions I’ve made.
The remaining charges, those related to the funds either improperly paid to or not collected from the employee Dave Spencer, may turn out to be the reason this ridiculous charade may implode on itself. Spencer apparently was paid $7,000 in sick leave, even though he was not sick. I could find no evidence that Mr. Spencer was accused of a crime or prosecuted for this. I only found that they prosecuted the guy who ran the agency.
And about Blunt “allowing” Spencer to keep the $8,000 in moving expenses prosecutors claim the state was owed? Turns out, Spencer apparently resigned under pressure, and an internal memo confirming that the agency was not in a position to collect those expenses backed Blunt’s position. Unfortunately that memo, along with several other key pieces of evidence, which were in the possession of the prosecutor, was never made available to the defense.
Although not establishing intent, the Disciplinary Board of the North Dakota Supreme Court last week determined that the prosecutor, Cynthia Feland, now a judge, did in fact withhold key evidence from the defense that could have seriously affected the outcome. Specifically, the court stated:
“The Panel concludes Cynthia M. Feland did not disclose to Michael Hoffman, defense attorney for Charles Blunt, the Wahl memo, and other documents which were evidence or information known to the prosecutor that tended to negate the guilt of the accused or mitigate the offense.”
"Negate the guilt of the accused or mitigate the offense". Why let the facts get in the way of an otherwise flawless prosecution?
The panel is recommending “to the North Dakota Supreme Court that Cynthia M. Feland be SUSPENDED from the practice of law for sixty (60) days and that she be ORDERED to pay the costs of the disciplinary proceeding in the amount of $11,272.21.” The panel's full findings of fact and conclusion is attached below.
Interesting. I wonder what it cost the taxpayers to prosecute Sandy Blunt? What is that amount, tacked on to the disciplinary costs of $11,272.21? Could those costs, in light of recent developments, be considered “misspent public funds”? By the prosecutions own standards, to which they consistently held Mr. Blunt and his reputation, they might be criminally liable.
Or we could stop this nonsense, and set this right. North Dakota, clear Sandy Blunt’s name and reputation. Now.
I could not say it more bluntly than that.
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