- Associated Press - Monday, February 9, 2015

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - A criminal charge filed against Leith’s mayor accusing him of failing to control or report a dangerous fire is a case of revenge by local and state prosecutors, city officials said in a scathing statement indicating they would fight the misdemeanor charge to the North Dakota Supreme Court if necessary.

Leith Mayor Ryan Schock and two other city officials last year accused Grant County State’s Attorney Todd Schwarz of acting unprofessionally and possibly unethically while prosecuting white supremacist Craig Cobb, who tried unsuccessfully to turn Leith into an Aryan enclave.

They now believe Schwarz is targeting the mayor after he tried to clean up the town following Cobb’s departure, an accusation Schwarz denies.

Schock, City Councilman Lee Cook and town spokesman Greg Bruce wanted Cobb to serve prison time, but Cobb ended up on probation last year after reaching a plea deal with Schwarz in a terrorizing case. The three officials alleged in their complaint last year that Schwarz bungled the case by offering a plea deal and also used vulgar language while interviewing Cobb’s potential victims.

Schwarz called the complaint frivolous and it ultimately was rejected by a committee of the state attorney disciplinary board.

The charge filed against Schock in January stems from city efforts to demolish dilapidated and condemned buildings after Cobb left. Authorities allege that a fire Schock started on one property spread to an old church building that Schock owned and threatened an adjoining property owned by another man. Schock could face a year in jail and a $2,000 fine if convicted.

“This is pure retribution and a case of persecution, let alone a witch hunt,” Cook said in a statement the city released late Sunday.

Schwarz said Monday that when he and the county sheriff were approached by fire officials about what Schock had done, they decided to ask the Bureau of Criminal Investigation in the attorney general’s office to handle the investigation, “to avoid any appearance of impropriety.”

“(We) decided it was best that this be done outside, so there would be no valid claim of retaliation,” Schwarz said. “What this case needs to focus on is what Mr. Schock did.”

The attorney general’s office declined comment Monday, citing the ongoing case.

Schock, who is due to make his initial court appearance on Feb. 17, said he will fight the charge and “justice will prevail.” He declined further comment on the advice of the town’s attorney.

“Thousands of taxpayer dollars are now going to be spent on a jury trial that we will take to the North Dakota Supreme Court if necessary,” Cook said.

The city, which set up a legal defense fund in 2013 to help pay for its effort to oppose Cobb’s plan, is once again seeking donations to pay for Schock’s defense.


Follow Blake Nicholson on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/NicholsonBlake

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