Former S.D. lawyer pleads not guilty to campaign finance charges

By Chet Brokaw
Pierre, South Dakota (AP) 11-07

A former South Dakota lawyer pleaded not guilty during late October to charges that he failed to report the transfer of nearly $500,000 from a tribal casino to a ballot campaign that sought to repeal the state’s video lottery.

Christopher Moen, a disbarred lawyer from Miller who now lives in Kansas City, represented himself during his initial court hearing on the charges.

The state has charged Moen and Travis Carrico, who was manager of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate Tribe’s casino in North Dakota, with three counts of failing to file campaign finance reports as required by state law.

Each misdemeanor count carries a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail and a $500 fine, so each man could get as much as 90 days in jail and a $1,500 fine if convicted of failing to file campaign finance reports due July 1, 2006, Oct. 31, 2006, and Feb. 1, 2007.

Carrico is scheduled to make his first court appearance on Nov. 5.

Magistrate Judge Mark Smith of Pierre said he believes Moen and Carrico should be tried together since they are facing the same charges. Smith said he will set a trial date after Carrico’s initial court appearance.

Smith said if prosecutors do not seek jail time, the two men would not be entitled to a jury trial. Their trial then would be heard by a judge.

Assistant Attorney General Todd Love said prosecutors have not yet decided whether to seek jail time in the case.

Moen also faced his first court appearance later Monday on a separate charge of grand theft for allegedly taking about $30,000 from a trust account that held money owned by one of Moen’s clients. The South Dakota Supreme Court disbarred Moen for the theft last year, and Moen is now being charged with a crime for taking the money.

The theft charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine.

An organization named Forward South Dakota put a measure on last year’s ballot seeking to repeal the state’s video lottery, which is offered in establishments across the state and provides more than $110 million in revenue to state government each year. Voters rejected the repeal proposal by a 2-1 margin.

Forward South Dakota, which ran the unsuccessful campaign to scrap video gambling, was not charged because it filed all its campaign finance reports.

But 99 percent of the money Forward South Dakota received was donated by a group called the South Dakota Association, which never filed any reports, Attorney General Larry Long has said. The association received all its money from the Dakota Magic Casino in Hankinson, N.D., Long said.

The attorney general said Carrico and Moen cooperated to transfer $900,000 from the Sisseton-Wahpeton Tribe’s casino just across the South Dakota-North Dakota border to the South Dakota Association trust. That trust then transferred nearly $500,000 to the campaign against the video lottery, he said.