Bertram charged with five felony counts

This article submitted by Linda Stelling on 2/11/97.

Former State Representative Jeff Bertram, DFL-Paynesville, made his first court appearance on Monday, Feb. 10, on charges stemming from a January grand jury indictment. He appeared in Stearns County District Court before Judge David Leslie.

A reading of the charges was waived as Bertram had received a copy of the charges prior to his initial court appearance. Bertram was charged with five counts of aiding and abetting preparation of false or fradulent returns and 18 counts of obtaining certain prohibited solicitations, which was related to receiving corporation contributions.

On Jan 31, after two days of hearing testimony, a Stearns County Grand Jury indicted Bertram on 23 counts of campaign violations. The indictment was ordered to be kept secret until Bertram was charged in court. The grand jury also considered allegations that Bertram harassed a former Paynesville couple and coerced donations from an Albany radio advertising salesman.

The allegations surfaced during legislative ethics hearings last March. Bertram was censured by his colleagues at that time and did not run for re-election this past fall. In January, Bertram settled out of court with Greg and Kathy Peterson, Alexandria, on a defamation lawsuit, all the while maintaining his innocence.

The investigation was centered on contributions made in 1994 and 1995 when Bertram received more than $33,000 through the state campaign donation refund program. Under the program, the state reimburses residents who contribute to a candidateís campaign and then apply for the refund.

According to Harry Burns, Bertramís attorney, The Paynesville Press was among those corporations listed as giving a donation. Burns pointed out it is a criminal offense for a corporation to make such contributions. Peter Jacobson, publisher of the Paynesville Press, said ďMy contribution was written on a business check, but was charged back to me as a personal draw for income tax purposes, so no business deduction was claimed on federal or state taxes.Ē

In earlier statements, Bertram has called the probe and the grand jury process a waste of taxpayersí money. His attorney Harry Burns said the grand jury appears to be a politically motivated witch hunt. ďBertram was singled out for his campaign practices. I doubt if any campaign could withstand this close a scrutiny,Ē Burns added.

Bertram was released without bond following Mondayís court appearance. He did request a jury trial but Burns said very few ever go to trial, because many cases are resolved before a trial takes place. Bertramís next court appearance is set for 1:30 p.m., Monday, Feb. 24. At this arraignment hearing, Bertram will be asked how he pleads to the charges.

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