Stark County Sheriff race turns ugly as public accusations of sexual assault cover-ups and affairs surface

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Sep. 8—DICKINSON — With 60-days remaining before Stark County voters cast their ballots in the general election, an otherwise cordial race for sheriff has turned ugly as accusations of two sexual assault cover-ups; alleged parties involving minors and sexual affairs between elected officials surfaced over the weekend.

An anonymous letter, penned under a pseudonym of Thomas Pain, spread across Dickinson’s many social media community pages on Monday. The two page letter levied multiple spurious allegations and prompted The Dickinson Press to reach out to both candidates to provide opportunities for response. Stark County Sheriff Corey Lee and his opponent Fern Moser agreed to address the accusations in sit-down interviews on Wednesday.

The anonymous letter circulating social media alleges that while employed with the Stark County Sheriff’s Office, Fern Moser’s license was suspended for two weeks following an investigation into a party at his home in which he was aware that minors were present and in which alcohol was served.

Moser confirmed that he was in fact suspended by the North Dakota Peace Officer Standards and Training Board for his involvement in an incident involving a minor consuming alcohol and that he as a result served a two-week suspension working in the evidence locker at the Stark County Sheriff’s Office in a non-police authority position.

Documents obtained by The Press confirmed that Moser’s license was suspended by the North Dakota Peace Officer Standards and Training Board for the incident and in his defense Moser admitted to the charge. Sheriff Corey Lee and Lt. Eldon Mehrer both spoke on behalf of Moser at the board meeting resulting in a two-week suspension.

“I’ll put it to you like this, I’m not going to throw somebody under the bus. There was not ‘minors,’ there was only one under age person,” Moser said. “I took the blame and accepted all responsibility. I told the Sheriff that… who we were and what it was. When we all got done with everything he then turned it over…I don’t know this, you’d have to ask him, but he turned it over to [then State’s Attorney] Tom Henning and Henning said ‘I can’t do anything with this because you’re looking at criminal charges,’ and it got sent to Dunn County. Later Dunn County refused to prosecute.”

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According to a North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation report dated March 14, 2019, the party in question began at Moser’s residence at approximately 8 p.m. on March 9, and was attended by five individuals who did not reside in the residence. All parties moved into the basement of the residence and began to engage in, “drinking beer, taking shots and playing dice.” One of the individuals present was known to Moser as being under the legal drinking age and was provided with alcohol, the report confirms.

“The individual was, I would say 19 to 20,” Moser said. “I don’t want to get the other organization in trouble or anything like that, but we are all a group and when he showed up, an individual automatically gave him one. I did think about it for a second, but at the same time it was a bad decision on my part and I didn’t lie to the Sheriff. When we went to the POST board, he came and told everybody that “he admitted it” and it is what it is and we have no qualms.”

The anonymous letter further alleges that two sexual assaults were committed by an individual who was Moser’s, “best friend,” and that an attempt was made by Moser to cover it up using his authority and position at the Sheriff’s Office.

Moser acknowledged that there were two sexual assault complaints filed against an individual known to him, and that both alleged incidents were reported to have occurred in Moser’s proximity — once at his home and once in a vehicle belonging to him. Moser denies that either incident was known to him until a Bureau of Criminal Investigations investigation was launched and was notified by Sheriff Lee of the allegations.

“If I covered it up, I’m sure Sheriff Lee would have stepped up and fired me on the spot,” Moser said of the sexual assault cover-up allegations levied in the anonymous letter. “As far as what happened, I can’t tell you. I don’t know. This happened allegedly hours after everyone went to bed. I believe [the victim] walked out the door, but he never came up and said anything. He didn’t say nothing to me and I knew nothing about it until Sheriff Lee pulled me in his office and said ‘we need to talk to you’ and he informed me that.”

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When asked what he would have done had either of the alleged victims approached him to report the sexual assaults by his friend, Moser said he would have told the individuals to report the sexual assault allegations.

“I would have said you have to talk to the authorities because obviously, even in my capacity, he’s a fellow officer as well and I’m not getting involved,” Moser said.

Regarding the letter, Moser said he believes that it should have been written with the person’s real name.

“Have the cohones to put your name on it,” Moser said.

Despite the letter, which seemingly targeted much of its attention at Moser, he said it would not change his position to run an “high road” campaign and that he personally found the letter to be inappropriate, targeting people not involved in either campaign.

Included in the anonymous letter were multiple alluding sentences to longstanding allegations concerning Sheriff Lee, many of which have circulated in the community regarding multiple affairs and his fathering children with married women. Among the allegations raised of note is that Lee had engaged in a sexual relationship with Stark County Commissioner Carla Arthaud, raising ethical concerns.

Speaking to The Press, Lee said the rumors have been something that have circulated since his previous campaign launched and that they have continued to grow in outlandish size with each retelling.

“Many people have questions about my personal life. I have addressed those questions repeatedly over the past two years and I have moved on and become a better person as a result of everything I have been through,” Lee said. “Yes, Commissioner Arthaud and I were involved for a short time and there was a brief romantic situation that evolved from that.”

When pressed on his belief on whether his romantic relationship with an elected commissioner, with the voting authority on matters related to his department, were appropriate, Lee said that there has never been any favoritism shown in either direction in the years following.

“At no time did this involve, interrupt or interfere with Stark County business. There were never any commission votes that were swayed as a result of this relationship. If people were to even question these votes they can refer to any county business as it is all open records,” Lee said. “There were a couple of times there were 4 to 1 votes, but there was never an instance where there was a 3 to 2 vote that occurred where she would be a deciding factor.”

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The Dickinson Press reviewed all votes by the Stark County Commission related to the Stark County Sheriff’s Office and confirmed that Arthaud’s votes played no ultimate outcome of any decisions related to the sheriff’s office.

“I think we’ve run a fiscally responsible ship,” Lee said. “I’ve never had to lobby or politic for our commission to get something done, nor would I.”

Arthaud spoke briefly with The Press on the rumors and confirmed their accuracy, noting that while there was a brief romantic relationship between the two, it had never impacted her decisions from the dais.

Addressing other rumors that have circulated in the community regarding alleged affairs, Lee said that he was dismayed that so many people were being unnecessarily impugned as a result of the ongoing campaign between Moser and himself.

“In regards to the other rumors that I am aware of, or of which surfaced in the recent statement released on Facebook, they are simply not true. I am not the father to any of the Marsh children. In fact, I am unable to have children. I did raise an amazing stepdaughter from age 7 until now. She turns 22 next month and our relationship is the strongest it has ever been,” Lee said. “I have made these matters known to friends, my staff and many others who have contacted me over the past two years. I have moved on and am in a serious relationship for over a year now.”

Lee added, “I will continue to be focused on my position as the Sheriff of Stark County and I hope to continue on with this role as we move forward.”

The author of the anonymous letter has not been identified and both parties stated on the record that they did not commission, influence or pen the letter and were unaware of the identity of the author.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The anonymous letter made other allegations concerning non-public officials and The Press has chosen not to repeat, nor address these allegations.

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