Indian Gaming Today

Monday, December 15, 2008

A Corrupt North Dakota?!? From the "What Planet Are We On, Anyway?" Files

In the immediate aftermath of the stunning revelations about Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, USA Today published the results of an analysis that puts little old North Dakota at the top of its list of the "most corrupt" states in the U.S. North Dakota had the highest number of federal convictions for public corruption when measured on a per capita basis. With only 635,000 people, 53 convictions in the past decade resulted in a rate of 8.3 convictions per 100,000 people. So, states with much greater numbers of convictions but also with larger populations came out with lower rates than North Dakota -- like Illinois, with 503 convictions, Pennsylvania, with 555 convictions, or Florida, with 824 convictions.

North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem blasted the USA Today analysis, calling it "patently ridiculous." Stenehjem complained that the analysis included federal prosecutions of local and tribal officials. The last public corruption conviction of a state official was in 1954. And here is where gaming comes in.

In 1950, Elmo Christianson, a young attorney from Cavalier, was elected Attorney General. One of North Dakota's "golden boys," Christianson had served in WWII. Christianson had trouble funding his campaign, and sought some creative financing from "out of state" sources. Shortly before the election, he fell in with Herman Paster, who distributed slot machines in Minnesota, and Paster's attorney, Allan Nilva. The three of them agreed to let Paster bring slot machines to North Dakota, where Christianson, as Attorney General, would protect the illegal machines from being shut down by the state. Unfortunately for the three, their conspiracy continued into the following year, after the federal Johnson Act took effect on January 2, 1951, thus triggering a federal investigation and prosecution for interstate transportation of illegal gambling devices. Nilva was acquitted, and after a mistrial, Christianson and Paster were both convicted in March 1954 of conspiracy to violate the Johnson Act.

Read the USA Today article.

Read the Eighth Circuit case affirming Christianson's and Paster's convictions, and detailing the sordid and fascinating conspiracy.



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