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North Dakota BCI agent faces criminal charges in payloader dispute

ELLENDALE, N.D. – A top agent with the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation stands accused of intentionally disobeying a search warrant and neglecting his duty as a public servant last year when he seized and then gave away a pay loader whose ownership was in dispute.

Supervisory Special Agent Arnie Rummel was charged last week in Dickey County District Court, based in Ellendale, with two Class A misdemeanors: misapplication of entrusted property and public servant refusing to perform duty.

The criminal charge is unusual for the BCI, whose agents rarely face discipline. A Forum analysis in 2014 showed that in the previous six years, only one agent was sanctioned.

Liz Brocker, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, who oversees the BCI, said Rummel "has been restricted to administrative (desk) duties pending final resolution of the matter."

Stenehjem's office has defended Rummel in a long-running dispute over the payloader that began in May 2014 when Rummel secured a warrant to seize the equipment, which was suspected of being stolen, from the Dickey County trucking shop of Darrell Schrum.

Rummel took the payloader from Schrum and then handed it over to a company he believed was the true owner, according to court records. But the agent had no authority to give away the payloader, according to the charges filed against Rummel.

Rummel's action was "in direct violation of the Court's order," according to a complaint signed by Schrum and filed Sept. 21 by the Dickey County state's attorney. On Monday, a judge determined there was probable cause to move forward with the case.

Rummel has deep ties to the judicial district where he is now charged. A Fargo-based judge was assigned to the case after a local judge, John E. Greenwood, complained that he and the rest of the judges from the state's southeast judicial district, which includes Dickey County, were unable to take on the case because it would be "inappropriate."

Rummel, who is based in Jamestown, "has investigated many criminal matters in the Southeast Judicial District, and has testified many times in the courts of the District," Greenwood wrote in a letter to the state Supreme Court. In response, Chief Justice Gerald VandeWalle assigned Judge Steven L. Marquart of Fargo to the case.

The payloader case made its way to the state Supreme Court in May after a Dickey County judge held Rummel in contempt and ordered the agent and the state to pay Schrum more than $50,000 for the loss of the payloader, which may have ended up in Mexico.

At a Supreme Court hearing, an attorney representing the state acknowledged that Rummel erred in giving away the pay loader, saying that "Agent Rummel ... has conceded that he should not have done that."

Still, the Supreme Court in August reversed the Dickey County judge's decision. Schrum did not go through the proper legal process of making a financial claim against the state through the Office of Management and Budget, the supreme court said.

Adrian Glass-Moore

Readers are encouraged to reach Adrian Glass-Moore at (701) 241-5599 or aglassmoore@forumcomm.com with comments, criticisms and tips. He joined The Forum as its night reporter in 2014.

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