10 NDSU players plead guilty to petition fraud
FARGO, N.D. (AP) — Ten North Dakota State University football players pleaded guilty Tuesday to misdemeanor election fraud and were sentenced to community service for faking signatures on proposed ballot measure petitions that they were hired to collect.
Among the players on the nation's top-ranked Football Championship Subdivision team who pleaded guilty Tuesday were starters Samuel Ojuri, Joshua Colville, Marcus Williams and Brendin Pierre. Players Lucas Albers, Aireal Boyd, Demitrius Gray Bryan Shepherd, Antonio Rogers, and Charles Smith III also pleaded guilty.
Each of the players was ordered to serve 360 days of unsupervised probation, complete 50 hours of community service and pay $325 in fees. All of the sentences were deferred, meaning the crime will be expunged from a player's record if he completes the conditions of his sentence.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed to the sentences for eight of the 10 players. The state had recommended 1-year suspended sentences for Ojuri and Williams because of prior misdemeanors.
The players declined to comment after the hearing. Quick deferred questions to NDSU.
Bison head coach Craig Bohl has said the team might discipline the players but won't suspend them. The school said he planned to issue a statement later Tuesday.
Birch Burdick, the state's attorney for Cass County, said after the hearing that the sentencing recommendation was based on past cases in the county and state, most recently in 2008 in Grand Forks.
"Those were all deferred sentences," Burdick said. "As a result we were looking for that same disposition here on most cases."
The players were hired, at $9 an hour, to gather signatures for two citizen initiatives, one to set up a state conservation fund and the other to make marijuana legal for medical treatments. Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said last month that many of the petition signatures submitted were copied from phone books or fabricated.
North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger said workers checking the petitions noticed repeated Zip code mistakes, names "signed" in the same hand and other indications the signatures were faked. In one instance, a person signed the name of Hillary Rodham, who is better known as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and listed her as living at the White House, he said.
Bureau of Criminal Investigation agents interviewed the circulators, who said they could not say which signatures on their petitions were genuine and which were not, Stenehjem said. Petition circulators are required to sign a statement declaring the signatures they gathered were properly obtained.
With the suspect petitions disqualified, neither initiative had enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot, Jaeger said.
NDSU is the defending champion in the Football Championship Subdivision and the top-ranked team this season. The No. 1-ranked Bison play No. 3-rated Youngstown State Saturday at the Fargodome.