McFeely: Tommy Fisher, wannabe border wall builder and Cramer ally, 'thumbed nose' at government

Court documents point to current CEO as somebody 'able to dictate how business was conducted'

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Micheal Fisher, Tommy Fisher, U.S. Sen. Kevin Cramer and U.S. Rep. Kelly Armstrong pose on a piece of heavy equipment outside Fisher Industries in Dickinson, N.D., in this July 2018 photo posted to a Twitter account run by Armstrong.

Tommy Fisher has North Dakota U.S. Sen. Kevin Cramer and U.S. Rep. Kelly Armstrong on his side, admittedly good allies to have for the Fisher Industries chief executive officer in his quest to make hundreds of millions of dollars from building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Cramer has advocated for Fisher to build the wall and Tommy Fisher donated to the senator's campaign in 2018. Armstrong has also featured Fisher Industries, based in Dickinson, N.D., and its wall-building capabilities on his Twitter feed.

Given the history of Fisher Industries and officers like Tommy Fisher, the company might need all the help it can get to secure contracts through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Court documents say Tommy and his brother Micheal "thumbed their noses at the federal government" when a Fisher Industries subsidiary, Fisher Sand & Gravel, was audited by the Internal Revenue Service and the agency raised concerns about the business's accounting practices.


Further, the company's checkered past with criminal activity, pollution fines, environmental infractions and a federal sexual harassment suit has cost Fisher Industries government business in the past. So has a 2005 federal conviction of David Fisher, Tommy's and Micheal's brother, for child pornography

The company, though, said its past indiscretions will not stop it from pursuing contracts involving the border wall.

"Fisher will continue to bid on procurements and is committed to working with all appropriate federal government officials and agencies to provide its expertise and experience to help secure America's southern border," a company public relations spokesman said in an email. "Micheal Fisher is not affiliated with Fisher Sand & Gravel or any of our subsidiaries and hasn't been since 2008. David Fisher is not affiliated with Fisher Sand & Gravel or any of our subsidiaries and hasn't been since 2003. Fisher is a good environmental steward and takes environmental responsibility very seriously. The environmental issues that Fisher Sand & Gravel faced have been addressed and resolved."

As the national spotlight shines more on Fisher Industries, with major stories on the company and its relationship with Cramer and President Trump done recently by the Washington Post and CNN , much has become widely known about Fisher Industries' spotty background.

Details of how Fisher Sand & Gravel and some members of the Fisher family conducted business are spelled out in a sentencing memorandum from the U.S. District Court for the District of North Dakota Southwestern Division, which led to Micheal Fisher receiving 37 months for tax fraud .

In a sentencing memorandum for Micheal Fisher, U.S. District Court judge Daniel Hovland wrote that Fisher Sand & Gravel had an accounting code ("Job 255") that was used by Fisher family members to bill personal expenses to the company.

"This appears to have been standard operating procedure at Fisher Sand & Gravel for decades," Hovland wrote. "Despite the fact the IRS conducted numerous audits of the corporation beginning in the 1970s, and began raising concerns ('red flags') over how the corporation handled the payment of personal expenses of Fisher family members, no one seemed to listen or heed those serious concerns. The warnings repeatedly fell on deaf ears of Fisher family members. The accounting personnel at Fisher Sand & Gravel simply followed the directives of their employer/manager/supervisor, Micheal Fisher and/or Tom Fisher. The two brothers, who essentially owned and operated Fisher Sand & Gravel after 1998, were able to dictate how business was conducted."


Hovland wrote that Tommy Fisher's and Micheal Fisher's sister, Suzanne Medley, clearly understood the billing of personal expenses to the company was a major problem and she warned the brothers.

"Surprisingly, both Micheal Fisher and Tom Fisher chose to also ignore their sister's concerns and thumbed their noses at the federal government, a tactic no reasonable person would ever understand in light of the annual net earnings of the corporation. Simply stated, there was far more than enough money around to take care of the family's personal expenses in a lawful manner rather than cheat the federal government who was loudly barking at their door."

The memorandum said Fisher Sand & Gravel did in excess of $100 million in annual sales. When company patriarch Gene Fisher and his wife Sheila divorced in 1994, Fisher Industries was valued at more than $21 million, according to a 1997 North Dakota Supreme Court document.

Hovland's sentencing memo laid out the details of how the Fisher family used their company for personal expenses, allowing them to deduct the expenses from the Fisher Industries corporate tax return while not reporting the payments as personal income. The bulk of the misdeeds, including almost $1 million Micheal Fisher used to build a large home in Dickinson and another $400,000 to renovate a convenience store and gas station owned by Micheal Fisher, fell on Micheal Fisher.

But he wasn't alone.

Company accountant Amiel Schaff, Hovland wrote, "said several members of the Fisher family would submit invoices for personal expenses and request that the expenses be paid by Fisher Sand & Gravel. The 'catch-all' account for such family personal expenses was entitled 'Job 255' which is the internal job code used by the Accounting Department for rental property/business expenses."

Expenses included "the rental of a condominium in Scottsdale, Arizona, for Tom Fisher and his parents," Hovland wrote, as well as $38,305 for a Disney cruise for Fisher family members and charter air travel to and from Kentucky totaling $12,415.

Also included on the company books was a $10,000-a-month "consulting fee" paid to Sheila Fisher, which Schaff said he understood was funneled to David Fisher after he was fired in 2003 and eventually convicted of child pornography .


Hovland wrote that Fisher Sand & Gravel paid more than $200,000 to Micheal Fisher's convenience store, Tiger Discount, and when Tommy Fisher was told about it by Schaff, "he felt there was approximately $200,000 that was owed to Tiger Discount by Fisher Sand & Gravel for back rent. However, no documentation exists to support such a claim."

Hovland's eight-page memorandum clearly lays out the Fisher Sand & Gravel tax violations as a family affair. Micheal Fisher and the two accountants were the only ones convicted.

"Fisher Sand & Gravel took full responsibility for our corporate obligation. The individuals involved were identified and prosecuted, and are no longer associated with the company," the company spokesman said. "Any insinuation of possible illegal activities by other persons is both false and actionable."

Fisher Sand & Gravel's legal problems have cost it government contracts in the past, according to news accounts.

The company sued Clark County, Nev., in 2009 after its low bid on a $100 million project to improve the Las Vegas Beltway was rejected on the grounds Fisher Sand & Gravel was not a "responsible bidder." The county's resistance was based on David Fisher's child pornography conviction. County commissioner Steve Sisolak, now the governor of Nevada, told the Las Vegas Sun , "I don't know if this was the first time the guy ever looked at child porn, but it was present, it was part of the fabric of the company."

David Fisher spent five years in prison and was fined more than $44,000 after pleading guilty to child pornography charges. One of the victims was a 10-year-old girl Fisher hired to do office chores, according to a news report at the time.

Fisher Sand & Gravel's tax problems cost it a Wyoming highway project in 2008 , even though it was low bidder. The state's highway commission and the Federal Highway Administration concurred that the company's bid was "irregular" because it had been indicted for tax evasion.

Fisher Industries has "a large footprint in Arizona," according to CNN, where from 2007 to 2017 the company compiled more than 1,300 air-quality violations. The company and Maricopa County reached a $1 million settlement, "the third highest settlement ever received by the Maricopa County Air Quality Department, according to Bob Huhn, a department spokesperson. That's a record number of violations for any air-quality settlement in the county, Huhn said."


Fisher Sand & Gravel paid $150,000 to settle a federal lawsuit for sexual harassment and retaliation in New Mexico in 2011. According to a press release, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleged Fisher "violated federal anti-discrimination laws when it subjected two women workers to egregious verbal sexual harassment by a supervisor and then fired one of them after she repeatedly asked the supervisor to stop harassing her and complained to a job superintendent."

Mike McFeely is a columnist for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He began working for The Forum in the 1980s while he was a student studying journalism at Minnesota State University Moorhead. He's been with The Forum full time since 1990, minus a six-year hiatus when he hosted a local radio talk-show.
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