AG peeved by story calling North Dakota the most corrupt state

Chris Rizo Dec. 11, 2008, 3:42pm

Wayne Stenehjem (R)

BISMARK, N.D. (Legal Newsline)-North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem on Thursday condemned a USA Today report that called his state the most corrupt in the nation.

The article Thursday reported North Dakota had the highest rate of public corruption convictions in the nation from 1998 to 2007, at 8.3 convictions per 100,000 residents.

"This is so sensational that people know this is patently ridiculous," Stenehjem told Legal Newsline. "What we have here is a bare statistic and nothing else ... There is no analysis of any of the offenses, no comparison or any context for any of it."

Calling the story "patently ridiculous," the Republican attorney general said the USA Today article lacks any type of analysis or context, noting that the 53 cases reported includes the cases of five Twin Buttes School Board members convicted of abusing travel money.

"That's ten percent of our cases right there," the attorney general said. "That is where some analysis might help."

He noted that there has not been a conviction of a statewide official in many decades.

"What happens here pales in comparison to what's going in Illinois," Stenehjem said, referring to Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's arrest this week for allegedly trying to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama.

"We are the safest state when it comes to crime of any kind and were a no different when it comes to cases of public officials," Stenehjem said.

Stenehjem said the "most corrupt" state is likely one where there are no convictions because authorities either look the other way or the police are "too lazy" to investigate bring charges.

"A lot of the cases that have been prosecuted in North Dakota might have easily been regarded in other states as too trivial to even bother with," he said. "Other states have public corruption units. If we had that in my office they would be sitting around like the Maytag Repair Man with cobwebs, waiting for a case to come in."

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