- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 17, 2016

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - The head of North Dakota’s biggest state agency faces misdemeanor charges for allegedly impeding an investigation into the drowning death of a child who was under the supervision of an unlicensed day care provider.

Maggie Anderson, director of North Dakota’s Department of Human Services, was charged Friday with conspiracy to obstruct a government function and refusing to perform a public duty. McHenry County State’s Attorney Cassey Breyer also filed the same charges against Laurie Gotvaslee, director of the North Central Human Service Center in Minot, and agency attorneys Jonathan Alm and Julie Leer, who has resigned.

Their initial court appearances are set for March 23. Each of the misdemeanor charges are punishable by up to a year in jail and a $3,000 fine.

Breyer did not return telephone calls or an email seeking comment on Wednesday.

State Bureau of Criminal Investigation Special Agent Craig Zachmeier alleged in a 43-page affidavit that some in the agency attempted to backdate a day care provider’s license and also worked to impede his investigation.

Anderson’s attorney, Michael Hoffman of Bismarck, said his client “is not guilty of any crime” and that she knew nothing of the alleged fraudulent license.

Anderson oversees the agency of some 2,000 employees and a more than $1.7 billion annual budget.

Gotvaslee refused to comment on the charges against her, and Alm did not return telephone calls Wednesday seeking comment.

Leer’s attorney, Mark Friese of Fargo, said in a statement that criminal charges against his client “are wholly improper.”

Jennifer Barry, a former early childhood administrator for the agency, also has been charged with a misdemeanor public duty charge and felony tampering with physical evidence for allegedly telling an employee to delete emails about the case. Barry resigned from the agency in August and an affidavit filed in the case said she has denied the accusations.

Barry did not return telephone calls seeking comment. She also is due in court next month and faces up to six years in prison and up to $6,000 in fines.

The McHenry County Sheriff’s Department said 5-year-old Gracelyn Aschenbrenner was found unresponsive in the Velva city swimming pool on June 8. The girl was unconscious when she was taken out of the water and remained on life support until she died July 1.

Authorities said the child was under the supervision of KidQuarters in Velva. Heather Tudor, the day care operator, has been charged with negligent homicide in connection with the child’s death and operating a child care facility without a license. She has pleaded not guilty. Her trial is scheduled for April 4.

The affidavit said that the license for the day care expired a week before the child was found unresponsive in the pool. Investigators said Cheryl Johnson, a McHenry County social worker, allegedly submitted an application to the agency in mid-June, asking that the day care’s license be backdated to June 2, or six days before the incident.

Johnson faces charges that include felony criminal conspiracy and tampering with public records, also a felony.

A preliminary hearing for Johnson was delayed last week. Her attorney, Lloyd Suhr, said Johnson will plead not guilty to the charges. A court date has not been set. She faces more than 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine.

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