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Former UND student gets 150 hours of community service for stealing from fraternity

The voice of a former UND student shook Monday in Grand Forks District Court as he apologized for stealing thousands of dollars from his fraternity. Grand Forks Judge Jay Knudson sentenced Chase Alexander Johnson, 23, to 150 hours of community se...

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The voice of a former UND student shook Monday in Grand Forks District Court as he apologized for stealing thousands of dollars from his fraternity.

Grand Forks Judge Jay Knudson sentenced Chase Alexander Johnson, 23, to 150 hours of community service in lieu of 15 days in jail for a Class B felony of theft. The former treasurer of Phi Delta Theta was emotional, describing how the impact of his actions on others will haunt him.

"The hardest part about this for me isn't about what happens to me or not," he said. "It's about how it has affected others."

Knudson granted the defense's request for a deferred sentence, which means the guilty plea will be withdrawn, the case dismissed and the file sealed 61 days after he successfully completes two years of supervised probation. If he violates probation, he could be resentenced to a maximum of 10 years in prison.

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Johnson was arrested in early March after investigators said he stole between $10,000 and $50,000 from Phi Delta Theta through "unauthorized control over a fraternity credit card and accounts" between late 2017 and early 2018, according to court documents. It's unclear what the stolen money was spent on, but prosecutor Andrew Eyre said the theft happened through multiple transactions over a period of several months.

Johnson did not intend to harm anyone but just wanted to "fit in with his peers," his attorney Alexander Reichert said. The defense noted Johnson's past leadership and initiatives to help others, including his role in bringing Uber and Lyft to Grand Forks.

"He has always been someone who has strived to help himself and someone who has tried to help others," Reichert said.

The defense submitted more than a dozen letters from people supporting Johnson.

"His life has been turned upside down by terrible, terrible decisions that he made, and he made these decisions," Reichert said. The attorney noted Johnson has continued to volunteer and "fight to make his life better."

Eyre said some crimes in which it was the defendant's first offense can have deferred sentences, but this particular crime was serious, caused great financial harm to the victims and should carry consequences. The prosecutor said Johnson spent the money on luxury items like facial cleansers and bronzing gel to benefit himself.

Eyre said some members of Phi Delta Theta suffered lower grades due to stress about the stolen money.

"The defendant argues his life has been turned upside down," Eyre said as he spoke against the deferred sentence. "What about the victims?"

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Eyre suggested 10 days in jail or 100 hours of community service.

Johnson paid back nearly $26,700 in restitution when he entered his guilty plea . Phi Delta Theta President John Klingbeil said the fraternity is ready to move on.

Eyre said Johnson was in a position of trust that he violated, and Knudson agreed.

"Not only did you steal money," Knudson said. "You stole it from your friends."

Johnson was the treasurer of the UND Student Government from Oct. 6, 2017, through Feb. 28, 2018. A UND investigation found he did not misappropriate any Student Government money.

Related Topics: THEFT
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