Two North Dakota initiated measures that appeared headed for the ballot in November have been rejected by Secretary of State Al Jaeger.
Jaeger announced Tuesday morning that a constitutional measure to set up a state fund for conservation projects and a statutory measure to make marijuana use legal for medical treatment contained thousands of fraudulent signatures and therefore cannot be allowed on the ballot.
Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said many of the petition signatures were copied from phone books or simply made up. According to documents received by The Minot Daily News, the number of bogus signatures documented by the attorney general's office was 24,593. In addition, 11 people have been charged with misdemeanor fraud for making false statements when circulating the petitions. The offense is a Class A Misdemeanor which carries a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $2,000 fine.
"Petition fraud is an affront to the election process and to all citizens, and particularly to those who legitimately signed the petitions hoping to have these measures placed on the ballot. That's why it's essential that these allegations are investigated and violations prosecuted," said Stenehjem.
Keith Trego, executive director of N.D. Natural Resources Trust, the leading proponent of what became known as the Clean Water, Lands and Outdoor Heritage Amendment, told The Minot Daily News that his supporters have been working closely with Stenehjem and his staff.
"I really can't provide any more information," said Trego. "I don't know anything beyond what was discussed at the morning press conference. There are criminal charges here and an ongoing investigation."
8 NDSU players charged with petition fraud
FARGO (AP) - Eight North Dakota State University football players, including four starters, will remain on the roster while criminal charges against them for forging signatures on ballot initiative petitions are resolved, their coach said Tuesday.
The players were hired to gather signatures for two citizen initiatives, one to set up a state conservation fund and the other to make marijuana legal for medical treatments.
North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger said the alleged fraud made both initiatives ineligible for a statewide vote in November.
Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said 11 people have been charged in the case, including the eight players for the defending Football Championship Subdivision champions. Four are starters - running back Samuel Ojuri, defensive backs Marcus Williams and Brendin Pierre, and offensive lineman Josh Colville. Backup defensive backs Bryan Shepherd and Aireal Boyd, reserve middle linebacker Antonio Rodgers and Demitrius Gray, a freshman wide receiver, also face charges. Gray is a redshirt and does not travel with the team.
Bison coach Craig Bohl said the players will be eligible to play this weekend against Colorado State and he didn't expect the charges to be a distraction to the team.
"I think they are very fully aware of their situation and thus far they've been very focused," Bohl said. He said any team discipline will be decided after the legal proceedings end.
Bohl removed backup linebacker Brandon Jemison from the team two weeks ago after Jemison was charged with indecent exposure.
NDSU athletic director Gene Taylor said the school takes all charges seriously, but he did not believe the latest case warranted immediate discipline.
"In terms of other issues across the country that student-athletes get in trouble for, this doesn't rank to the level where I think they need to be suspended for a certain amount of time," he said.
Of the 11 people charged, eight are members of the North Dakota State University football team. Those charged include starting cornerback Marcus Williams, a pre-season All-America pick, and three other starters - running back Sam Ojuri, defensive back Brendin Pierre and offensive lineman Josh Colville. The remaining Bison charged are Aireal Boyd, Demetrius Grey, Antonio Rodgers and Bryan Shepherd. Three others charged were identified by the Attorney General only as Josh Gatlin, Jennifer Krahn and Lane O'Brien.
"It is important to note that although the investigation reveals that the allegations are substantial and reliable enough to conclude that the Secretary of State may not count the questioned signatures toward the required number, these are allegation of criminal activities only, and the defendants are entitled to their day in court," said Stenehjem.
The Cass County State's Attorney's Office will prosecute all of the cases.
The football players were reportedly hired at $9 an hour to gather petitition signatures. Several of those charged allegedly participated in compiling bogus signatures for both initiated measures. According to the attorney general, at least three of those facing charges gathered more than 3,000 fraudulent signatures.
A news release issued by the attorney general Tuesday stated: "For the Constitutional Clean Water measure, more than 26,904 signatures are required. Of the 37,785 signatures submitted, more than 17,034 were deemed invalid, leaving the measure 7,938 signatures short. For the statutory medical marijuana measure, 13,452 signatures are necessary. Of the 20,092 signatures submitted, only 12,533 were determined to be valid, leaving the committee more than 900 signatures short."
Tuesday's statement from the attorney general's office also made it clear that the invetigation is ongoing and that additional charges against other individuals remain possible.
According to an Associated Press report, supporters of the conservation initiative paid a consulting firm $145,000 to collect the petition signatures it needed to qualify for the ballot. The measure's chairman, Stephen Adair, a regional director for Ducks Unlimited in Bismarck, said about $500,000 in television advertising time had already been booked for the fall campaign.
Adair told the AP he he felt "sick to my stomach" when he learned of the alleged fraud over the weekend. Stenehjem said the sponsoring committees of the conservation and marijuana initiatives were not themselves suspected of fraud.
Jaeger said workers checking the petitions noticed repeated Zip code mistakes, names "signed" in the same hand and other indications the signatures were faked. In one instance, a person signed the name of Hillary Rodham, who is better known as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and listed her as living at the White House, he said.
Bureau of Criminal Investigation agents interviewed the circulators, who said they could not say which signatures on their petitions were genuine and which were not, Stenehjem said. Petition circulators are required to sign a statement declaring the signatures they gathered were properly obtained.
Telephone and email messages left by the AP with the consulting firm that supervised the conservation campaign, Terra Strategies LLC of Des Moines, Iowa, were not returned Tuesday.
Three other petitions for initiated measures passed scrutiny by the the secretary of state and attorney general and will be presented on the November ballot for North Dakota voters. Those measures propose a felony penalty for animal cruelty, a ban on indoor workplace smoking and expanded rights for farmers and ranchers in running their operations.
(The Associated Press contributed to this story)