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McKenzie County sheriff charged over questionable Las Vegas expenses

McKenzie County Sheriff Gary Schwartzenberger shown Tuesday, June 2, 2015, in Watford City, N.D., during a ceremony to celebrate construction of a McKenzie County Combined Law Enforcement Center. (Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service)

WATFORD CITY, N.D. – The McKenzie County sheriff is facing a criminal charge for allegedly using a county credit card to charge nearly $1,000 in unauthorized expenses during a trip to Las Vegas this year.

The Bureau of Criminal Investigation issued a court summons to Sheriff Gary Schwartzenberger on Wednesday for a Class A misdemeanor charge of misapplication of entrusted property.

Court documents filed in Northwest Judicial Court say Schwartzenberger made the unauthorized charges to the McKenzie County Sheriff’s Office credit card account while attending the Western States Sheriffs’ Association Annual Conference in Las Vegas in March.

The charges detailed in the court documents totaled about $980 and included a $556 plane ticket for Schwartzenberger’s wife, a $96 upgrade for a convertible, about $120 for a golf outing and $120 for a meal at South Point Casino, in excess of the per diem for the day.

The documents say the charges were made without prior approval, which is required by county policy. The charges were not repaid for several months and resulted in the credit card being shut down by the bank for late payments, court records say.

Schwartzenberger paid back the money to McKenzie County several months later after numerous attempts by the auditor’s office to seek repayment, the documents say.

When contacted by Forum News Service, Schwartzenberger declined to discuss the specifics of the allegations, but confirmed that the credit card charges have been repaid.

“When the sheriff does his job, he doesn’t always make friends,” Schwartzenberger said. “The truth will come out at trial.”

Schwartzenberger is to appear in court Dec. 2.

McKenzie County Commission Chairman Richard Cayko said Thursday that commissioners have not discussed the criminal complaint.

“We haven’t had it officially brought before us,” Cayko said.

The McKenzie County State’s Attorney’s Office referred questions to the North Dakota Attorney General’s Office, which is prosecuting the case.

Liz Brocker, spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, said her office does not comment on open cases.

Schwartzenberger, a 50-year-old Watford City native and retired Marine, has served as sheriff since Jan. 1 after getting elected last November. Prior to his election, Schwartzenberger had worked for the McKenzie County Sheriff’s Office for two years before taking a year off to work in the oilfields.

The McKenzie County Sheriff’s Office, in the heart of the Bakken Oil Patch, has been growing to keep up with a rise in crime that has accompanied a growing population. The county, which has about 25 deputies, broke ground in June on a $57 million law enforcement center that will include a 129-bed jail.