BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - A North Dakota State University administrator who was fired for pocketing more than $6,000 in extra expense payments won't be charged with a crime, in part because the university is still letting him work there, a prosecutor said Friday.
Gene Griffin, director of the Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute, has agreed to leave his job by year's end and repay $6,169 in expenses that a recent audit concluded that Griffin improperly collected over three years.
Griffin asked for reimbursement for meals and drinks both from North Dakota State University and a separate account set up for the institute's benefit at NDSU's private development foundation, the audit said. The probe examined Griffin's expense claims from July 1, 2008, through June 30, 2011.
Tristan Van De Streek, an assistant Cass County state's attorney, said in a memo Friday explaining the decision not to prosecute that Griffin ``genuinely believed he was entitled to this per diem money.''
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NDSU's policies on meal reimbursements, Van De Streek wrote, were not ``sufficiently clear that I could convince a jury that Griffin knew what he was doing was wrong, or intended to deceive his employer.''
Van De Streek said he did not believe a jury would convict Griffin of theft, and that a separate charge that Griffin misused money entrusted to him would not be justified.
``The settlement agreement reached between NDSU and Griffin also weighs against bringing criminal charges and suggests that this dispute is more civil in nature than criminal,'' the prosecutor wrote. ``A jury would have a difficult time convicting Griffin when NDSU is allowing Griffin to work as the director of (the institute) until the end of the year.''
Griffin and his attorney, Tom Fiebiger, of Fargo, did not respond Friday to telephone and email messages requesting comment. Griffin, 67, has been director of the NDSU-based institute since 1980. He is paid $164,943 annually.
A Bureau of Criminal Investigation report said Griffin claimed meal reimbursements both from NDSU and its foundation, and that he collected payments for some meals that had already been provided.
In one Washington, D.C., hotel, Griffin asked to be reimbursed for breakfasts when the meal was included in the hotel's room rate, the report says. North Dakota state employees now have a $71 limit on daily meal reimbursements when staying in Washington.
Foundation funds, provided mostly by two organizations, were used to skirt NDSU's prohibition against spending money on liquor, wine and beer. ``There was a whole lot of alcohol bought with those funds,'' the Bureau of Criminal Investigation report quotes Griffin as telling a BCI agent.
Jim Miller, the foundation's director, said Friday the foundation once held an account that was used to pay the transportation institute's entertainment expenses.
During a three-year period ending in April 2011, the account received $60,000 from the Transportation Research Forum, a national organization based at NDSU, and $5,000 from the Dakota Defense Alliance, Miller said.
The alliance is a business group that attempts to help companies sell goods to the Pentagon. The Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute is an alliance member, according to its website.
Griffin is also director of the Transportation Research Forum. Its president, Alan Bender, a professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, said Friday the organization's board had not decided whether Griffin would continue in the job. Bender declined further comment.
University rules require that most employees to certify each year that they'll comply with the NDSU code of conduct and that they've viewed a video and PowerPoint presentation about fraud awareness. They are required to sign a form, and NDSU spokeswoman Laura McDaniel said Friday that the university had no record that Griffin had done so.
McDaniel said she believed university employees understood its policy on expense reimbursements.
Griffin is being allowed to continue working at NDSU to avoid jeopardizing some projects, McDaniel said.
``There were some things that were in the works that they wanted to make sure were transitioned, to the benefit of what the whole institute is doing,'' she said.
The Bureau of Criminal Investigation's report quotes Griffin as telling the NDSU auditor, Eric Miller, that he believed foundation funds ``were outside of NDSU audit authority,'' a statement that Miller, the foundation's director, said was not true.
The report quotes Griffin as asserting there was nothing wrong with him claiming reimbursements for meals that were already paid for separately.
Griffin ``stated that if someone bought him a meal while traveling, he could still claim state per diem for that meal,'' the report says. ``(Griffin) stated that there is no prohibition against it, so you can.''