The husband and wife who misspent state money on a conference had the backing of bosses, prosecutors say.
Two former Minnesota Department of Natural Resources officials who inappropriately spent $300,000 in state money on an international game warden conference will not be charged with any crimes, prosecutors said Monday.
Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner declined to prosecute former enforcement chief Col. Mike Hamm and his wife, former Capt. Cathy Hamm, on charges of theft or false claims against the government, saying that high-level DNR officials explicitly or implicitly approved the expenditures even though the commissioner wanted no state money spent on the 2007 conference in St. Paul.
"Because of that approval, none of those expenditures can be characterized as either theft or fraudulent," according to a memo by the attorney's office assistant director Clayton Robinson Jr.
Mike Hamm resigned in September after being presented with a critical report on his conduct prepared by Minneapolis attorney Tammy Pust, who was hired by the state to investigate the matter. The DNR said Cathy Hamm, a lead organizer of the event, was fired in October. Both had been on paid leave since May.
The Minnesota legislative auditor asked the county attorney to review the matter after a state audit found that the DNR broke state law by spending state money and soliciting private donations for the North American Wildlife Enforcement Officers Association conference.
The audit and the Pust investigation were prompted by a Star Tribune report in May that the DNR kicked in money and staff time to plan and host the conference, but didn't share in the $76,000 in profits, which went to the state conservation officers union and the international association.
The weeklong event drew game wardens and wildlife officers from the United States and Canada. All of Minnesota's approximately 200 conservation officers were required to attend at state expense.
Sen. Ellen Anderson, DFL-St. Paul, who heads one of two committees that also investigated the conference, said the DNR needs to establish a "system of accountability" to assure that similar inappropriate spending doesn't happen again. She said the issue will come up during the DNR's next budget review.
David Shaffer • 612-673-7090