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WSI spokesman suspected of documents tampering, concealment

Investigators seized a journal kept by a North Dakota workers' compensation official because they suspected him of tampering with public records as the state explored allegations of wrongdoing by agency officials.

Investigators seized a journal kept by a North Dakota workers' compensation official because they suspected him of tampering with public records as the state explored allegations of wrongdoing by agency officials.

Cynthia Feland, assistant Burleigh County state's attorney, told a judge that investigators suspected Mark Armstrong, communications executive of Workforce Safety and Insurance, of trying to conceal evidence, according to a transcript of an Oct. 19 court hearing obtained Thursday by The Forum.

In another development, an internal WSI report concluded the agency's compliance auditor was the original source of a copy of a journal kept by Armstrong, which later found its way to criminal investigators, although that finding was in dispute.

District Judge Gail Hagerty issued a search warrant after taking sworn testimony by Special Agent Mike Quinn of the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation. The warrant authorized investigators to confiscate a journal Armstrong kept in his office.

The day before the search, on Oct. 18, Quinn interviewed James Long, WSI's chief of support services, involving allegations that Sandy Blunt, the agency's executive director, had improperly granted a departing employee three weeks of sick leave without the person being sick.


At the end of the interview, Long provided Quinn with copies of several pages he said he had taken from a notebook Armstrong kept in the desk of his office.

"While reading through the documents, there is a notation in here that Mark Armstrong was involved with removing secret documents from Workforce Safety during the course of the investigation," Quinn testified.

Hagerty asked, "And what do the photocopied sheets say that would tend to prove that offense?"

Quinn replied, "The document states: Got the secret documents out. Lengenfelder did the deed but ran into Dave Thompson in the press room."

Thompson is news director of Prairie Public radio.

At another point in the hearing, Quinn said investigators were concerned that Armstrong wasn't completely responding to an earlier search warrant.

Through other sources, investigators learned of a string of e-mails they considered relevant under the search warrant, but were not produced.

Bob Indvik, chairman of the WSI board, said the e-mails were initially withheld because of confidentiality concerns, but later sent to investigators. The agency believes it complied with the warrant, he said. He released a copy of an Aug. 27 letter from a WSI lawyer to Feland explaining its actions concerning an open records request.


Armstrong on Thursday reiterated earlier statements that the journal reference to "secret documents" was a joking reference to packets delivered to the Capitol Press Room containing an anonymous letter from WSI Director Sandy Blunt outlining why criminal charges against him were bogus.

Armstrong said he asked his friend, Kris Lengenfelder, to drop off the anonymous packets, but he feared their anonymity was blown when Thompson saw Lengenfelder, since Thompson knew Armstrong and Lengendfelder are close friends and would make the connection.

Armstrong wrote in his journal that he and other Blunt supporters including Steve Cates of Bismarck, publisher of a conservative magazine, The Beacon, and Rep. George Keiser, R-Bismarck met to put together information they felt exonerated Blunt.

"There are several smoking guns that, if played right, should blow this case out of the water," Armstrong wrote. He kept the journal from April 18 until May 8.

The internal WSI investigation was made at Armstrong's request to determine how his journal was removed from his office without his permission. The report concluded that Long had received a copy of the journal from Kay Grinsteinner, the agency's internal audit manager.

Rob Forward, a WSI lawyer, determined that Grinsteinner entered Armstrong's office after hours on Oct. 15 or 16 and made a copy of the journal because she was concerned he was not properly responding to open records requests, and inappropriately "leaking back" audit information to WSI employees.

In a statement to WSI, however, Grinsteinner denied any knowledge of the journal or other items Armstrong said were missing from his office.

Forward was unable to conclude whether any of the items, including Social Security numbers for Armstrong's family members, actually were taken, because Armstrong's office was "messy and not so organized.


"None of the people I interviewed took and kept any of the items in question from Mark's office," Forward wrote. "Everyone I interviewed was credible on this issue."

Forward's report made no conclusions about whether Armstrong's journal was inappropriately made available to investigators. Long's lawyer, Bob Tuntland, said his client merely was passing along evidence of possible illegal activity, and Long and Grinsteinner both of whom have asked for whistleblower protection had a duty to report possible crimes.

Indvik said the WSI board is waiting to learn whether authorities determine whether Armstrong's actions concerning "secret documents" were innocent, or whether he removed or concealed records, a felony.

Richard Riha, Burleigh County state's attorney, said he could not comment on whether the investigation involving Armstrong is continuing. Armstrong serves as a Burleigh County commissioner in addition to his position as WSI's communications executive.

In cases concerning county officials, if an investigation points to criminal activity warranting a charge, the case is referred to prosecutors from another county to avoid a conflict of interest, Riha said.

The Forum and the Herald are owned by Forum Communications Co.

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