Justice For Some

Sometimes it’s all about who you know.

A former secretary at the University of North Dakota has pled guilty to felony theft charges. “Lori Ann Pesch pleaded guilty on Aug. 5 to a Class B felony theft charge for falsifying overtime vouchers totaling about $10,210 in wages in 2012 and falsifying travel vouchers from which she collected about $47,514 from 2010 to 2014,” reports the Grand Forks Herald.

This outcome stands in stark contrast to two former state officials who got awards last week at a ceremony put on by a taxpayer-funded North Dakota State University institution despite themselves having taken money they weren’t entitled to.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like everyone gets the same sort of justice.[/mks_pullquote]

Former Upper Great Plains Transportation Institution director Gene Griffin received the John M. Agrey Award for “significant contributions to the state of North Dakota through involvement with transportation” in a ceremony last week. But in October 2011 he agreed to step down from his position at the UGPTI after an audit revealed he had claimed over $6,000 in bogus drink and meal reimbursements. Griffin continues to work for the North Dakota Trade Office as a contractor, something for which he is paid $4,500 per month.

At the same ceremony Gary Ness, the former head of the North Dakota Aeronautics Commission, received the Chairman’s Award for “contributions to transportation research, education, and outreach at NDSU, and/or contributions to the viability of the Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute.” But in 2008 Ness stepped down from his position at the Aeronautics Commission over a theft charge he pled guilty to. Ness had stolen $1,700 from a service station after taking an envelope full of cash left sitting on a counter.

According to the Associated Press, by stepping down Ness avoided jail time.

Ness also avoided jail when he was initially arrested for the theft in a series of events Burleigh County prosecutor Richard Riha called “disconcerting.” South Central District Judge Robert Wefald, a friend of Ness, ordered him released from jail without making any record of a bond hearing.

“Normally, your run-of-the-mill defendant would have spent the weekend in jail,” Riha told the Grand Forks Herald.  “We have a certain set of procedures that we follow, and it wasn’t followed in this case.”

What Pesch received sounds like justice. She took money she wasn’t entitled to, and now she’s paying a price for it. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like everyone gets the same sort of justice.

I don’t think the University of North Dakota is going to be giving Pesch any awards.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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