One need not look to the national level for stories regarding high-ranking government officials that make a person shake their head. We have plenty of problems right here at home in North Dakota. Perhaps none make me shake my head more than the cases of Susan Bala, Andrew Sadek, and a wrongfully confiscated payloader.
Susan Bala is currently a hot topic in the news. Yesterday, she appeared on News & Views with Joel Heitkamp and Point of View with Chris Berg. Bala is the former owner of Racing Services, Inc., a closed-circuit horse race gambling site. Bala’s story began in 2003 when she was charged with illegal gambling, not paying taxes, and spent 17 months in federal prison before having her conviction overturned.
As a result of Bala’s litigation, the courts ruled that the State of North Dakota had to repay her $13.5 million plus interest. Depending on the decision of the court, the taxpayers of North Dakota may end up paying close to $26 million once the interest is figured. Yet, as Bala herself points out, she will never get back the last 14 years of her life fighting this battle against the state. No amount of money can compensate for that, not to mention the loss of her business.
The case if Andrew Sadek is tragic. Sadek was a student at the North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton when he was arrested in April of 2013 for possession of marijuana, as he sold a total of just over 3 grams to an informant. Rather than face felony drug charges and a potential 40 year prison sentence, Sadek took an offer to have his charges reduced or dropped in exchange for becoming a "confidential informant".
After making a number of sales, Sadek came up missing in May of 2014. And in June of 2014, his body was discovered in the Red River wearing a backpack full of rocks with a gunshot wound to the head. Sadek’s parents have now filed a wrongful death suit.
The least tragic of the three stories, but perhaps the oddest, occurred in May of 2014 when Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) Agent Arnie Rummel obtained a warrant to seize what he thought was a stolen payloader from Forbes, North Dakota businessman Darrel Schrum. The courts later ruled that Agent Rummel was in the wrong and ordered him to return the payloader. There was just one problem. He had already given it away to the person he thought it belonged to. Word is that it ended up somewhere in Mexico.
Unable to return the payloder, Rummel was held in contempt, fined $500, and charged with misdemeanors of misapplication of entrusted property and a public servant refusing to perform their duty. As a result of the charges, Rummel was removed from field work and only allowed to work in the office. But later the charges were mysteriously dropped and he was allowed to return to the field. Only recently has the state settled with businessman Darrel Schrum for the amount of $55,000 to compensate for the loss of his payloader.
What do each of these three cases have in common? Our very own Attorney General and former Republican gubernatorial candidate, Wayne Stenehjem.
It was Stenehjem who took part in pursuing the Susan Bala case that will now cost the state taxpayers between $13.5 – $26 million for their wrongful conviction and confiscation of taxes that she did not owe. In a very real way, he was party to destroying her business and, to some degree, her reputation.
It was Stenehjem who released a report in the Andrew Sadek case that unsympathetically found no wrongdoing on account of the officers that put him in harms way by holding a 40 year sentence over his head to get him to agree to being a confidential informant. All over 3 ounces of marijuana. Apparently the young man’s life was worth no more than that to Stenehjem.
It was Stenehjem who, as Attorney General over the Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI), praised Agent Rummel when he was returned to field work. Yes, according to Stenehjem, Rummel did no wrong.
It is Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem who consistently and arrogantly acts as though he and his agents can do no wrong. Thank goodness this man did not become our governor. But for heaven’s sakes, why is he still our Attorney General?
(Editorial Note – You can listen to the Joel Heitkamp interview with Susan Bala here:
and the interview with Chris Berg here: