- Associated Press - Thursday, October 2, 2014

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - North Dakota’s Game and Fish Department is unable to account for a dozen guns that are missing from a volunteer hunter education program, despite an “exhaustive investigation,” the agency’s chief told lawmakers Thursday.

“We’ve run every lead into the ground,” agency director Terry Steinwand told the Legislative Audit and Fiscal Review Committee.

The agency’s first-ever audit in April found that 100 firearms provided to volunteer hunter education instructors were missing. Game and Fish was required to take an annual inventory of the guns but had not done so, according to the audit, which found misuse of public money and “noncompliance with laws, rules, and policies.”

Steinwand initially said the agency would have possession of the guns within a week of the audit. But after a months-long investigation, with the help of law enforcement, the agency has only 692 of the 704 guns on its inventory list, he said.

More than 1,500 past and present hunter education volunteers were surveyed during the investigation, which also included reviewing pawn shop records. None of the guns turned up at pawn shops, nor does the agency believe any were stolen.

“We still believe they still be in the hands of some hunter education volunteers who have retired,” he said.

The missing guns are entered in a federal database so they’ll be tracked if they ever show up, Steinwand said.

Game and Fish regulates hunting, fishing and trapping; manages land; and promotes conservation. The agency does not receive money from North Dakota’s general fund and is instead supported by state licensing fees and federal tax money from the sale of firearms, ammunition and other sporting equipment.

The state-performed audit also criticized the agency for not safeguarding sensitive personal information, including Social Security numbers. The audit said employees dealing with such information are supposed to undergo background checks but that did not happen in some cases.

Several of the agency’s employees also will reimburse the state after the audit found they improperly billed for meals and other expenses, Steinwand said. The state attorney general’s office had told the agency in a letter that a civil suit could be initiated to recover the improperly paid funds.

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