Ten North Dakota State University football players pleaded guilty Tuesday to misdemeanor election fraud and were sentenced to community service for faking signatures ballot measure petitions that they were hired to collect.
Among the players on the nation’s top-ranked Football Championship Subdivision team who pleaded guilty Tuesday were starters Samuel Ojuri, Joshua Colville, Marcus Williams and Brendin Pierre. Players Lucas Albers, Aireal Boyd, Demitrius Gray Bryan Shepherd, Antonio Rogers, and Charles Smith III also pleaded guilty.
Each of the players was ordered to serve 360 days of unsupervised probation, complete 50 hours of community service and pay $325 in fees. All of the sentences were deferred, meaning the crime will be expunged from a player’s record if he completes the conditions of his sentence.
Without enough legitimate signatures, both proposed ballot measures — one to set up a state conservation fund and the other to legalize medical marijuana usage — were kept off the November ballot.
Judge Douglas Herman said during sentencing that the defendants were “not smart enough, grown up enough or sophisticated enough” to understand the consequences of their actions, and should not be penalized for being football players.
“I don’t want to treat them adversely, to make special examples of them,” Herman said.
Birch Burdick, the Cass County state’s attorney, echoed those thoughts outside the courtroom.
“We took no consideration of what they do outside the courthouse here other than the activity that we were charging them with,” Burdick said. “It’s irrelevant to me whether they are football players, baseball players or clerical workers in some office. It’s the behavior that we’re looking at.
“If they’ve got some administrative sanctions that they have to face because of their activity, that’s up to the university to figure out,” he said.
The players declined to comment after the hearing. Defense attorney Bruce Quick deferred questions to NDSU officials, who said they planned to issue a statement later Tuesday.
Bison head coach Craig Bohl has said the team might discipline the players but won’t suspend them.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed to the sentences for seven of the 10 players. The state had recommended 1-year suspended sentences for Ojuri, Williams and Albers because of prior misdemeanors.
Burdick said the sentencing recommendation was based on past cases in the county and state, most recently in 2008 in Grand Forks.
“Those were all deferred sentences,” he said. “As a result we were looking for that same disposition here on most cases.”
Ojuri, a starting running back, had prior convictions for possession of a controlled substance and a minor alcohol violation. Williams, an All-American cornerback, had prior convictions for possession of alcohol by a minor and driving with a suspended license and without insurance. Albers, a backup tight end, had previous citation for underage possession of alcohol.
When Ojuri came before Herman, the judge said to the defense attorney, “All right Mr. Quick, this is going to be a hard one.” Quick told Herman he believed all the players deserved the same sentence, in part because they quickly admitted wrongdoing and cooperated with investigators.