Bohl: All eight Bison players charged with voting fraud still on team, will have their day in courtBISMARCK – Eight current North Dakota State University football players and one former player are among 11 people who are facing charges in connection with voter fraud tied to general election ballot measures.
By: Jeff Kolpack, Forum Communications
BISMARCK – Eight current North Dakota State University football players and one former player are among 11 people who are facing charges in connection with voter fraud tied to general election ballot measures.
Four of the accused are starters on the defending national championship football team.
In a news conference Tuesday, NDSU head coach Craig Bohl said all eight players will have their day in court. No suspensions were handed out on Tuesday and all eight players will travel with the team this Saturday when NDSU plays Colorado State at 6:06 p.m. CST in Fort Collins, Colo.
North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and Secretary of State Al Jaeger identified the individuals who will face charges as: Aireal Boyd, Josh Colville, Josh Gatlin, Demetrius Gray, Jennifer Krahn, Lane O’Brien, Samuel Ojuri, Brendin Pierre, Antonio Rodgers, Bryan Shepherd and Marcus Williams.
The 11 face charges of facilitation of voter fraud or filing a false statement, according to Stenehjem and Jaeger, who said the Cass County State's Attorney's Office will handle the cases.
Assistant Cass County State's Attorney Cherie Clark said charges had not been filed as of Tuesday afternoon and she said she could not discuss the cases.
The charges are Class A misdemeanors. A conviction could be punished by up to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine.
According to Stenehjem and Jaeger, criminal complaints claim that all circulators of a petition are required to sign an affidavit stating they witnessed all the signatures and that all signatures are genuine.
An investigation found that the statements were not correct and that many of the individuals whose signatures appeared on the petitions had not signed them.
According to the news release, investigators believe the forged signature names were lifted from telephone directories and cell phone contact lists of the circulators. Some were simply made up, state crime investigators believe.
Without the rejected petitions, both ballot initiatives fell short of the signatures they needed. As a result, two proposed measures will not be on the November general election ballot.
The affected measures are the proposed constitutional initiative establishing a Clean Water, Lands and Outdoor Heritage Fund and the statutory initiative for medical marijuana. Those involved may have been paid by a third party to gather signatures.
The medical marijuana initiative needed 13,452 signatures and 20,092 were submitted. It ended up being more than 900 signatures short, according to Jaeger's office.
The conservation fund, as a proposed constitutional amendment, required 26,904 signatures and 37,785 were submitted. After losing the signatures the investigation found invalid, the petition drive came up 7,938 votes short, according to Jaeger's office.
“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,” Stenehjem said in a written statement.
Letters sent from the Secretary of State's Office to officials backing the initiated measures state that a number of individuals who circulated petitions are not willing to reaffirm their signatures to affidavits they submitted.
The list includes the names of individuals Jaeger and Stenehjem said will be charged as well as names of individuals who are not yet listed as suspects.
When asked about the discrepancy, a spokeswoman for the Attorney General's Office referred to the last line of the agency's press statement, which said the investigation is ongoing and additional charges against other individuals are possible.
The list of petition circulators who are no longer willing to affirm their affidavits and who have yet to be named as suspects in the voter fraud case include two former Bison players and one current player.
Steven Zaiser, chairman of the sponsoring committee behind the statutory initiative relating to marijuana, said he was still looking into details of the allegations and could not comment on them at length.
However, he said he was disappointed that an effort two years in the making and which he said sought to give relief to chronic pain sufferers had apparently gone up in flames.
He said initiative backers hired people to circulate petitions, adding that workers were paid on an hourly basis, not by signatures collected.
Stephen Adair, chairman of the committee backing the constitutional initiative relating to clean water, said the group hired a company out of Iowa -- Terra Strategies -- to coordinate its petition drive.
He said workers were to be paid for hours worked, not number of signatures collected.
Adair said initiative officials are looking into the possibility of getting a refund of the $140,l000 paid to Terra Strategies.
He said based on information released by state officials initiative backers have accepted the decision to pull the measure from the ballot.
A phone call to Terra Strategies had not been returned as of Tuesday afternoon.
Check back for updates on this developing story.