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Published October 02, 2012, 04:11 PM

10 Current NDSU Football Players Plead Guilty to Election Fraud; NDSU to Make Statement Later Today

FARGO - Ten current North Dakota State University football players pleaded guilty this morning to violating North Dakota election law during their first court appearance in Cass County District Court.

By: Mike Nowatzki, Associated Press

FARGO - Ten current North Dakota State University football players pleaded guilty this morning to violating North Dakota election law during their first court appearance in Cass County District Court.

The 10 are: Lucas Albers, Aireal Boyd, Joshua Colville, Demitrius Gray, Samuel Ojuri, Brendin Pierre, Antonio Rodgers, Bryan Shepherd, Charles (C.J.) Smith and Marcus Williams.

Judge Douglas Herman sentenced the 10 to deferred imposition of sentence, 360 days of unsupervised probation, a $300 legislative fee, 50 hours of community service to be completed by April 15 and a $25 community service fee.

If they complete the probation without any further offenses, the charge will be cleared from their record.

All were represented by Bruce Quick.

Bison head coach Craig Bohl told The Forum that the university will have a statement later today.

All faced one count of violating election law by signing a name other than that person's own name to an election petition, a Class A misdemeanor.

Three former Bison players who face the same charge – Don Carter, Joshua Gatlin and Darren (D.J.) McNorton – had their first court appearances rescheduled to Thursday.

Two other people charged in the case also entered pleas. Jennifer Krahn pleaded guilty and received the same sentence as the 10 current Bison players. William Brown pleaded not guilty and requested a public defender.

Assistant Cass County State’s Attorney Tracy Peters recommended that the three players with prior criminal records – Albers, Ojuri and Williams, all of whom had alcohol-related convictions within the past two years – receive suspended sentences, which would have kept the convictions on their records.

Quick argued that all of the players were “entirely cooperative with law enforcement,” and all should be entitled to the same deferred imposition of sentence.

“Having this on your record is a lot different than having the other offenses on your record, just because of the taint of fraud,” he said.

Peters accused Quick of minimizing the seriousness of the crime.

“I think the impact of what they’ve done is clear,” she said.

As Peters began to talk about the effects on North Dakota voters and those behind the measures, Herman interrupted.

“If you want to be a zealot for this cause, you don’t come into this courtroom with deferred impositions in hand,” he said.

Quick asked that the players be given 10 months to complete their community service, but Herman set the shorter timeline.

“I don’t want to treat them adversely trying to make some kind of special example of them,” he said, then added he also didn’t want to grant the players any special favors.

The charges were tied to petition drives involving two North Dakota initiated measures now barred from the November election. The separate ballot initiatives sought to legalize marijuana for medical use and to establish an outdoor heritage fund.

A number of the players were hired by an Iowa company, Terra Strategies, to collect signatures for the outdoors initiative. Quick said they were quoted a daily rate of up to $90 but were told they’d get paid only if they obtained 60 signatures per day.

Herman questioned the legality of such an instruction and said he had serious concerns about a quota system being used.

“I think that may have been pushed on these individuals,” he said.

Lee Ann Oliver, an election specialist with the North Dakota Secretary of State’s Office, has said that it’s illegal to pay petition circulators per signature gathered, but it’s less clear whether that prohibition extends to a quota system.

Herman said the players were involved in a “reckless” enterprise, but he said they apparently weren’t aware of how seriously the adult public views election rules.

“I don’t think they were smart enough or grown up enough or sophisticated enough to understand” the process, he said.

Quick, a prominent Fargo defense attorney, said the players paid for his legal services. He said he did not give them a discounted rate.

“They’re owning up to their own conduct,” he said.

The charges were tied to petition drives involving two North Dakota initiated measures now barred from the November election. The separate ballot initiatives sought to legalize marijuana for medical use and to establish an outdoor heritage fund.

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