A North Dakota lawmaker faces a misdemeanor charge in connection with a state-leased building he has ownership ties to.
Republican state Rep. Jason Dockter, of Bismarck, was charged last month with speculating or wagering on official action. While the complaint offers few details, it says Dockter broke the law by “voting on legislative bills appropriating money to pay for property he had acquired a pecuniary interest in” and cites testimony from the state Ethics Commission’s executive director.
Prosecutor Ladd Erickson confirmed the charge involves a building leased in 2020 under the late attorney general, Wayne Stenehjem.
Dockter is a co-owner of companies that own and renovated the building, which was leased by the attorney general’s office to house divisions of the office. Dockter was friends with Stenehjem, but has said the relationship was not a factor in arranging the lease.
The building incurred a construction cost overrun of over $1 million under Stenehjem, who died in January 2022. Current Attorney General Drew Wrigley disclosed the cost overrun, which was covered by various attorney general funds, in June 2022 — shocking lawmakers, who raised concerns about trust and how the building project was handled.
Soon afterward, records requests from the media revealed that Stenehjem’s assistant had directed the deletion of his state government email account days after his death, as well as that of his chief deputy after he resigned months later.
Those deletions added to the public uproar and Stenehjem’s assistant resigned around the time reporters found out.
Wrigley has said his office recouped about $625,000 after reconciling the initial estimate of the overrun with the building owner, but it’s unclear what the final number is.
Wrigley said his office has provided “every bit of information that is available to us and will continue to do the same up ahead. Like everyone else, we await the results of the process playing out.”
The controversy led to new leasing transparency and email retention laws by the Legislature, and also probes by North Dakota’s state auditor and a Montana investigator.
Dockter, who has served in the North Dakota House since 2012 and was reelected in 2022, declined to comment on the charge. A woman who answered the phone at Dockter’s attorney’s office said his attorney is also not commenting on the case.
Dockter has pleaded not guilty in the case and is scheduled for a jury trial on May 3.
The misdemeanor carries a maximum penalty of nearly a year in jail and/or a $3,000 fine.
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