North Dakota Game and Fish ordered to recover over $37K in worker travel, meal overcharges

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BISMARCK, North Dakota — North Dakota's attorney general office has ordered the state Game and Fish Department to recover more than $37,000 paid to current and former employees who improperly billed the agency for meals, travel and other expenses.

Assistant Attorney General Matthew Sagsveen wrote in a memo on Monday that the department must provide a progress report within two months.

Officials have said a civil suit could be initiated if the improperly paid funds are not recovered.

An audit of more than 4,700 payments to employees over a nearly three-year period that ended in 2013 found improper payments to 174 employees, 74 of whom have either retired or are no longer with the agency.

The improper payments averaged about $200 and ranged from just $5 to nearly $1,900.

Game and Fish Director Terry Steinwand said the overpayments were made unintentionally due to problems with the agency's computer system. He said the issue has been corrected.

Nonetheless, some supervisors did not receive pay raises "because they should have caught some of this," Steinwand said.

Game and Fish has been under fire since June when a state auditor's review criticized the agency's misuse of public money and its "noncompliance with laws, rules and policies."

The audit initially found the agency was unable to account for about 100 guns that were missing from a volunteer hunter education program. Steinwand said the agency is still unable to account for 12 of those guns.

The agency also was criticized for not safeguarding sensitive personal information, including Social Security numbers, and that some employees dealing with such information did not undergo the required background checks, the audit said.

Game and Fish regulates hunting, fishing and trapping; manages land; and promotes conservation. The agency does not receive money from North Dakota's general fund and is instead supported by state licensing fees and federal tax money from the sale of firearms, ammunition and other sporting equipment.

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