North Dakota’s former workers compensation director has been given a two-year deferred sentence with no jail time and a $2,000 fine for misspending public money.
The deferred sentence means Sandy Blunt’s record will be cleared if he breaks no laws over the two-year period.
Blunt declined comment after he was sentenced Wednesday but his attorney, Michael Hoffman, said, “it’s what we asked for.”
South Central District Judge Bruce Romanick ordered the 44-year-old Blunt to perform 1,000 hours of community service and pay $2,000 in fines and $775 in court fees. The judge did not order restitution, saying he had no official total of exactly how much money Blunt misspent when he headed the state Workforce Safety and Insurance agency.
“I can’t figure out what amount (Blunt) is convicted of,” the judge said. There was no evidence Blunt used any agency money to line his own pockets, Romanick said.
Cynthia Feland, an assistant Burleigh County state’s attorney, had asked for a three-year prison sentence and an order that Blunt repay $33,911.23.
A Bismarck jury last December found Blunt guilty of misspending Workforce Safety and Insurance agency funds on unauthorized expenses that included sick leave to an administrator who was not ill and illegal gifts and trinkets.
Blunt, whose teary-eyed parents and wife sat behind him in the court room, nodded in understanding as the judge handed down the sentence. He told the judge that since his conviction would be appealed, he had no comment, though he did say he has “led a dedicated life of public service.”
Workforce Safety and Insurance provides medical, rehabilitation and wage benefits to workers who are injured on the job. The state agency has more than 230 employees and a two-year budget of $53.2 million.
Romanick said he struggled with the sentencing, and said it was partly due to publicity about the case and the long-embattled agency, which has been plagued by staff turnover, allegations of wrongdoing and morale problems.
In the end, Romanick said, he considered the case just as he would any other.
“You were charged with a crime and you were convicted of a crime, and that’s how I’m going to look at this,” he told Blunt.
Romanick said he received 91 letters, including one from a former juror, asking that Blunt be spared jail time. The judge said he received two letters from people who wanted to see Blunt behind bars.
The judge told Blunt he believed that conviction proved “a message has been sent, whether I lock you up … or don’t lock you up.”
Feland, the prosecutor, told reporters after the sentencing that Blunt “clearly deserved a period of some sort of incarceration.”
Feland told the judge that Blunt had viewed himself as a victim in the case and had never taken responsibility for misspending agency funds. She said he is “of the belief that rules don’t apply to him.”
Romanick said the 1,000 hours of community service was the most he had ever handed out.
“I don’t have a problem with that and Sandy doesn’t have a problem with that,” Hoffman said.
Blunt, a former Ohio workers compensation executive, was hired as WSI’s chief executive officer in April 2004. He was forced out as WSI director in December 2007, after nearly four years on the job.
The criminal case against Blunt followed an October 2006 state audit that questioned WSI spending and management practices. A ballot measure passed by voters in November gives Gov. John Hoeven the power to name the new executive director and takes it away from the WSI board.
Hoffman said Blunt has been unemployed except for some consulting work.
“He’s been looking for work,” the attorney said.
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