McKenzie County (Watford City) Sheriff Gary Schwartzenberger is in trouble. He has apparently been caught making personal charges on a county credit card, and then not paying the bill allowing the card to be canceled.
The charges in question, stemming from what was supposed to be a trip to a conference in Las Vegas, “totaled about $980 and included a $556 plane ticket for Schwartzenberger’s wife, a $96 upgrade for a convertible, about $120 for a golf outing and $120 for a meal at South Point Casino, in excess of the per diem for the day,” the Grand Forks Herald reports.
Schwartzenberger did repay these charges, but only after months of inquiries from the county auditor, and only after non-payment caused the credit card to get canceled.
In response to the controversy, Schwartzenberger sent out this downright bizarre press release to the media yesterday, complete with a warning – all caps! italicized! underlined! – that the one-sentence comment would be printed verbatim.
There was apparently no comment from Schwartzenberger on how charging a convertible, $240 in meals and golf, and his wife’s plane ticket to Vegas counts as a Sheriff doing his job.
Meanwhile, this isn’t the only front on which Schwartzenberger is facing controversy. One of his deputies, Michael Schmitz, was charged in September with two counts of Providing False Information to Law Enforcement. From the McKenzie County Farmer:
According to the Complaint, the first charge states that Schmitz willfully gave false information to a law enforcement officer, which he knew to be false, and the information may have interfered with an investigation or may have materially misled a law enforcement officer.
Specifically, during an investigation into possible controlled substance violations, Schmitz informed Bureau of Criminal Investigations (BCI) Special Agent Dale Maixner, that he had not received any early or extra narcotics prescriptions, nor had he received narcotics prescriptions when he visited the emergency room in Sidney, Mont., a few months earlier. According to court documents Schmitz had obtained and filled a prescription for narcotics in September of 2014, when he went to the emergency room in Sidney.
The second charge alleges that during an investigation into possible state-controlled information violations, Schmitz informed BCI Special Agent Maixner that he had an estimated three or four telephone contacts with John Tennant III prior to Aug. 22, 2012, and none afterwards. Telephone records indicate in excess of 40 telephone contacts between Schmitz and Tennant.
The Complaint also alleges that Schmitz informed Maixner that he had not offered or provided any assistance to Tennant with finding a bondsman to assist Tennant with bail or an attorney to defend Tennant. According to court documents, Schmitz did provide Tennant assistance with finding a bondsman or recommended an attorney.
Schmitz also allegedly informed Maixner that he had been trying to observe an unidentified male associated with Jennifer Tennant, Tennant’s wife, based on information Schimtz had received from a confidential informant. Court documents state that Schmitz was trying to observe this unidentified male at the request of Tennant, and Schmitz lacked any confidential informant in this regard.
But here’s the kicker. According to the Farmer, “McKenzie County Sheriff Gary Schwartzenberger indicated that Schmitz would continue his duties until the case is resolved.”
How in the world can you keep a law enforcement officer accused of providing false information on the job? Obviously Schmitz has the presumption of innocence, but if he’s found not to be innocent it’s going to throw all of his police work into question. Which is why the appropriate thing to do would be to suspend the deputy until the matter is resolved.
This stuff is the “tip of the iceberg” a source close to the matter tells me. Sheriff’s are elected officials and can be recalled by the voters. Also, the Governor can remove a sheriff from office.
That doesn’t happen a lot. “Since June 1985, four county sheriffs and a county commissioner have been ousted on the governor’s orders,” the Associated Press reported in 2012. Dalrymple was asked to remove the sheriffs of Stark and Pembina Counties in 2012. Dalrymple declined to do so in the Stark County case after the county commission presented their case, and the Pembina sheriff ultimately resigned.