Fair security chief returned $2,000 he felt was too much pay

Published: January 21, 2006 | 3337th good news item since 2003

A high-ranking Cass County sheriff’s official returned $2,000 in cash to the Red River Valley Fair last fall, saying he thought he was overcompensated for providing private security for the annual event.

Lt. Rick Majerus, chief investigator for the Sheriff’s Department, said he’s managed private security officers – some of them off-duty sheriff’s employees – during the annual fair for the past 14 or 15 years.

Majerus said he returned the money to the fair in September when the fair’s financial matters looked bleak. The future of Bruce Olson, fair manager for 15 years, also appeared bleak after the fair lost about $310,430 during the fiscal year ending Sept. 30.

“Just looking at the whole situation, I just felt that it was the right thing to do,” Majerus said.

According to Majerus:

– He received payment in cash when the fair ended last year. Some years Majerus received cash while other years the fair issued him a check.

– Olson agreed in advance last year to pay Majerus $8,000 to manage the fair’s private security.

– He estimated working 120 to 130 hours for the 2005 fair, including backstage security shifts during concerts and time spent preparing and lining up workers.

The Forum calculated Majerus earned $61.54 per hour, based on his agreed-upon salary at 130 hours, for work at the fair. After returning $2,000, he earned $46.15 per hour, or more than twice the amount Majerus said he paid the second-highest-ranking private security officer.

– Most other private security officers working for him earn $10 to $15 per hour to start.

The fair also pays the county to provide on-duty sheriff’s deputies for security away from the concerts. Deputies can earn up to $35 per hour for the shifts, sheriff’s officials said.

After an audit on the fair was completed in November and fair accusations surfaced this week that Olson converted at least $292,049 for his personal gain, the fair association’s nine-person governing committee also plans to review compensation for fair workers.

“Compensation has been identified and whether or not it poses a problem has not been addressed,” Jonathan Garaas, attorney for the Red River Valley Fair Association, said of Majerus’ pay.

“I know the nine-person board is going to take an active role in the future at setting compensation for everybody that works for the fair,” Garaas said.

Majerus said he gave a quarter of his salary for managing the private security staff to Olson at the fair office and the fair’s nine-person governing board knew about it.

Majerus’ money isn’t part of missing concert money under investigation by the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the lieutenant said.

In a Dec. 21 letter, Sheriff Don Rudnick requested the BCI investigate payments for the Doobie Brothers rock concert at last summer’s Red River Valley Fair. Rudnick asked for the investigation at the request of Garaas.

The fair agreed to pay the Doobie Brothers about $50,000. But the fair issued two checks totaling $56,500 for the band. One was for $14,000 in cash. The fair can’t account for $6,500 in that transaction.

The fair association fired Olson at its Dec. 13 meeting. The 15-year fair manager sued the association and Board President Kyle Anderson for illegally firing him and breach of contract.

In a countersuit filed Thursday, the fair association denied the allegations and accused Olson of converting at least $292,049 into his personal gain by taking cash for accrued vacation and sick time and keeping proceeds from grandstand, food and gate sales. In addition, the countersuit claims Olson doctored entertainment contracts and destroyed financial records.

The Sheriff’s Department provides security at the fairgrounds for events like the fair and sprint car races at the Red River Valley Speedway. County records show the fair paid the county for deputies to staff the events and those who worked them received overtime pay.

The fair also arranges and pays for off-duty officers to handle specialized security details at fairground events, Garaas said.

“The fair orients themselves towards law enforcement officers because they are the best-trained people out there,” he said.

Garaas said the practice of hiring private security in addition to the county’s deputies has been in place for at least 30 years.

Officers said the fair hires private security officers to monitor the beer garden, backstage, VIP and grandstand areas.

Majerus said he managed between 20 and 25 private security officers during the fair and worked in the backstage area. Depending on the performer’s contract, Majerus said he sometimes delivered entertainers checks or cash in envelopes.

However, Majerus said he never knew the amount of the payments, including “road money” the fair paid as part of contracts with some performers. He also doesn’t recall whether he delivered money to the Doobie Brothers last year.

By returning $2,000, Majerus said he thought he’d be helping both Olson and the fair.

“You could just see the writing on the wall,” Majerus said of troubles facing both last fall.

He also said Olson never asked him to return money, but it was clear the fair was struggling.

“The money I got was the money he got to pay people,” Majerus said. “He said, ‘That’s what I wanted to pay you.’ I said, ‘It’s too much,’ and I wanted to help out the fair.”

Last year, Majerus said he worked between 120 to 130 hours for the fair, including time spent preparing and lining up workers. Majerus said Olson paid him $8,000, and Majerus returned $2,000.

Sometimes, Olson paid private event staff with cash, Majerus said. Other years the former fair manager issued checks to them.

“It’s tough to remember what years you got cash and what years you got checks,” Majerus said.

Two other high-ranking sheriff’s officials – Chief Deputy Glenn Ellingsberg and Lt. Mike Argall – have worked fair events under Majerus.

Majerus considered Argall, who has worked security in the beer garden, as second in charge for private security officers. Argall said private event staff members don’t have authority to arrest people and ask on-duty deputies to arrest patrons who violate laws such as trying to buy alcohol with a fake ID.

Ellingsberg, the Cass County Jail administrator, has provided security to gates leading to the infield, VIP and backstage areas. He said he works the fair as a favor to Majerus because the two are friends.

“What I do with the fair is very open,” Ellingsberg said.

Argall and Ellingsberg both said they’ve never received cash from Olson and the fair gave them tax forms each year.

County payroll records show Majerus took annual leave for his shifts during the fair last year, which ran from June 17-26. Argall and Ellingsberg, who said their shifts at the fair started at 6 each night, also took a small amount of annual leave.

On days he was scheduled to work, Argall said he spent four hours on duty and took four hours in flex time for work during the Sheriff’s Department’s Citizen Academy and attending City Council meetings.

For years, Cass County deputies have referred to the private work by high-ranking officials in the department as “Big Daddy Security.”

The nickname, Argall said, is an unfair characterization that he hasn’t heard for some time.

“I really think it was a jealousy thing because they thought we were making more than they were,” he said.

Sheriff’s officials are allowed to work as private security officers as long as they don’t have their own company, Argall said.

Majerus said he only works as a manager, doesn’t own or operate a security company and that his boss, Sheriff Don Rudnick, knew of his work as a fair security manager. Rudnick also is a member of the fair association’s nine-member governing committee.

Rudnick was out of town and unreachable Friday on an ice-fishing trip, according to the Sheriff’s Department. Calls to his home and office numbers were not returned.

The fair’s attorney said he didn’t know specifics about payments to private security officers, but Majerus and others have provided exemplary service.

Still, the fair plans to make several changes after an audit criticized the organization.

“One of the things we’re going to do is make sure there is full accountability and full knowledge of everything that is going on,” Garaas said. “The board is taking an active role in making sure that not only will it trust, but it’s going to verify, everything.”

Published in Honesty, Values
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