Fury over controversial U deal raises calls for Sams to resign

by Coralie Carlson

A Senate ethics hearing concerning alleged perjury and obstruction of justice involving taped conversations, a woman named Monica and a call for resignation shook the political scene on Wednesday.
But it didn’t have anything to do with President Clinton.
Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility, a non-partisan watchdog group, urged state Sen. Dallas Sams, DFL-Staples, to resign because of alleged perjury and falsified documents revealed in hearings at the state Capitol on Tuesday. Sams later spurned their resignation plea.
The investigation examined a $12,500 payment to Sams for consulting services from Mike Martin, former dean of the College of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Sciences.
“These actions by Senator Sams are shameful,” said Andy Kirn, executive director of Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility. “The concealed payment Sams received was bad enough, but his decision to lie under oath has put this matter on a whole new level.
“He needs to admit to his lies and efforts to obstruct investigations into the matter and resign his office immediately,” Kirn said.
Kirn also recommended the Senate Subcommittee on Ethical Conduct, which is investigating the incident, refer the matter to legal authorities for a criminal investigation.
Sen. Ember Reichgott Junge, DFL-New Hope, said Kirn’s call for resignation is premature and the committee will make a recommendation as soon as next week. The information presented during the committee’s inquiry is public, she said, and county attorneys have free access to it.
Sams did not return phone calls on Wednesday.
In 1997, Sams authored a bill delivering $1 million to the University’s agriculture school. Later that fall, Martin agreed to pay Sams $12,500 for consulting services. But Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe, DFL-Erskine, advised Sams to terminate his work with the University to avoid the appearance of a kickback.
However, Sams continued his consulting work for the agriculture school through a private company.
Martin, who left the University in September to take a job at the University of Florida, paid a company called Media Integrated Training Services $13,500 for CD-ROMs. The money came from a fund created by the bill Sams authored.
The St. Paul company bought $1,000 of CDs for the University and gave the remaining $12,500 to Sams for “consulting work.”
Shelley Diment, assistant to the dean in the agriculture college, noticed the payment to Media Integrated Training Services and pressured Martin to abandon his plan of payment.
Diment also tape recorded conversations she had with Martin and Sams; these conversations became evidence in the Senate hearing.
After talking with Diment, Martin produced a letter of agreement — dated Sept. 25, 1997 — outlining Sams’ work and his payment, which would draw from private funds. He transferred $13,500 from a larger general fund, the University Foundation account, to an account funded by Sams’ bill.
In a hearing on Tuesday, Thomas Powell, owner of Media Integrated Training Services, testified that he drafted the letter of agreement on June 18, 1998 — even though he dated it as signed nine months earlier, in September. This directly conflicted with Sams’ and Martin’s testimony under oath.
Kirn said the back-dated contract was part of a cover-up that began after the University launched an investigation; Kirn called the cover-up an obstruction of justice.
Sams had been doing the consulting since 1997 without a contract, but signed the more acceptable agreement with the University in June 1998.
Monica Siems, from the agriculture school, also noticed the suspicious contract and notified the Attorney General’s office and Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility.
Sams requested the Senate hearing on Dec. 1 to clear his name. The ethical conduct subcommittee can give Sams advice or recommend a sanction to the full committee and full Senate.