Former dean

Coralie Carlson

At the last possible second, an unexpected phone call inculpated a former University agriculture school dean and a state senator in the state Capitol building Wednesday.
Mike Martin, former dean of the College of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Sciences, allegedly authorized a back dated contract to cover up a deal previously made with Sen. Dallas Sams, DFL-Staples, that inappropriately paid the senator $12,500 in public money.
The Senate Subcommittee on Ethical Conduct finished hearing testimony Wednesday to determine whether Sams acted unethically.
“Dean Martin has provided us now with two to three different accounts of the facts,” said Sen. Ember Reichgott Junge after the hearing closed. Junge, a Democrat from New Hope, chairs the ethics committee.
Martin left the University in October to take a position at the University of Florida.
The complaint stems from accusations from a citizens’ watchdog group alleging that Martin paid Sams from money appropriated to the University from the state Legislature. Sams previously authored a bill that appropriated $1 million to the agricultural school.
Sams and Martin testified under oath that they wrote a contract in October — six months after the bill passed — to pay Sams $12,500 for consulting services to the University through a third party, Media Integrated Training Services.
But the actual contract wasn’t signed until February.
The University paid the St. Paul business $13,500 with state funds and it gave $12,500 of that to Sams.
Minutes after the committee adjourned at the state Capitol, Thomas Powell, owner of Media Integrated Training Services, called in on a speaker phone with a piece of key evidence. Junge quickly called the meeting to order again and questioned Powell.
He said his records show the letter of agreement, supposedly drafted in October, was actually written later — on June 18 — and signed by Sams by June 23.
This contradicted Sams and Martin and established that they back-dated the document, Junge said.
Nearly an hour earlier, Martin told Junge via speaker phone from his office in Florida, “I am now testifying under oath and I take that seriously.”
Sams, who was present for the testimony, kept his composure and told the four-person committee he had no comment.
The three-hour hearing began with Shelley Diment, assistant to the dean for the agricultural college, answering questions about taped recordings of conversations she had with Martin and Sams.
Martin and Sams did not know she recorded the conversations. She told the committee she decided to tape the meetings after she began to find evidence that their payment arrangement wasn’t appropriate.
Martin said he was “discomforted” and “disconcerted” that the tapes entered the public record. “The Linda Tripp school of ethics is now taking over, I’m afraid,” Martin said.
Diment testified that she confronted Martin in May about the fund from which Sams’ paycheck draws. After she pressured the dean, he changed his plan; instead, Sams’ paycheck came from a larger general fund.
Junge, a former business attorney, asked Diment if any other motives were involved in deciding to bring forth the tapes and testimony.
“No. In fact, these two individuals were very much my colleagues,” Diment said, pausing and fighting back tears. “I cared about them very much.”
She said her loyalty to the public forced her to testify against her former boss.
The committee expects to reach a decision in about two weeks on whether Sams acted unethically. Sams requested the hearing to clear his name of any wrongdoing.