N.D. Workers Comp Officials Appear in Court on Felony Charges

The executive director of the North Dakota State Workers’ Compensation agency and an agency investigator were released after their first court appearances last week on felony charges involving questionable spending and possible illegal use of driver’s license photos.
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Workforce Safety and Insurance Executive Director Sandy Blunt is charged with two counts of misapplication of entrusted property, and he and Romi Leingang, WSI fraud investigator, are charged with conspiracy to disclose confidential information.

South Central District Judge Robert Wefald released Blunt and Leingang after their appearances on May 30th, pending future hearings. A preliminary hearing date was not immediately set.

Assistant State’s Attorney Cynthia Feland asked the two be released on a personal recognizance bond, saying she does not see either as a flight risk.

The misapplication charges stem from an audit of Workforce Safety and Insurance that found more than $18,000 in questionable spending on restaurant gift certificates and cards, and expenses for gifts from a shopping mall and lunch for state legislators.

The conspiracy charges involve what auditors said was improper use of state driver’s license photos, which are confidential records under state law. WSI investigators allegedly used photos to try to track down an employee who was e-mailing agency salary information to the press and others. The salary information is public record.

Attorneys for Blunt and Leingang have said they will plead not guilty. Both are on paid administrative leave from the workers’ compensation agency, which provides medical, wage and rehabilitation benefits for employees who are injured on the job.

Leingang’s attorney, Tim Purdon, asked Wefald to set aside an entire day for the preliminary hearing, which will determine if there is enough evidence to take the case to trial.

“Our goal at the preliminary hearing will be to have the charges dismissed,” Purdon said.

He objected to media cameras and microphones at the hearing. Wefald overruled the objection, but Purdon said he may raise it again later.

The charges against Blunt, two counts of misapplication of entrusted property and one count of conspiracy to commit disclosure of confidential information, together carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $20,000 fine. The charge against Leingang carries a maximum of five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.