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Published December 14, 2009, 02:44 PM

Construction exec gets 37 months for tax fraud

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A former executive for a Dickinson construction materials company was sentenced Monday to just more than three years in prison for what he called a "stupid, stupid mistake" — cheating on more than $300,000 in taxes.

By: DALE WETZEL, Associated Press

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A former executive for a Dickinson construction materials company was sentenced Monday to just more than three years in prison for what he called a "stupid, stupid mistake" — cheating on more than $300,000 in taxes.

"I am very sorry for the whole thing," Micheal Fisher told U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland during his sentencing hearing.

Hovland sentenced Fisher to 37 months in prison, fined him $90,000 and ordered him to pay $308,069 to make up for taxes he avoided by having his family's company, Fisher Sand & Gravel Inc., pay almost $1.2 million of his personal expenses from 2001 through 2004.

Fisher used company funds to build a home, renovate a Dickinson truck stop he owned, pay bills for himself and family members and take an African vacation.

Hovland said he would recommend Fisher serve his sentence at a minimum-security federal prison camp at Duluth, Minn., and agreed to give Fisher more than a month to report there. He must begin his sentence by 1 p.m. Feb. 26.

Fisher may be able to shave a year or so from his sentence by undergoing alcoholism treatment in prison, the judge said.

Fisher is a former vice president and part owner of Fisher Sand & Gravel, which operates plants for processing road construction materials in a dozen states. The company was founded by Fisher's father, and its affiliates make concrete and asphalt, manufacture processing equipment, and do earthwork and blasting.

Fisher pleaded guilty last May to nine tax-related felonies, including one conspiracy charge, four charges of helping to file false corporate tax returns for Fisher Sand & Gravel, and four charges of filing his own falsified income taxes.

Federal prosecutors had asked that Fisher be sentenced to 46 months in prison, the maximum time Hovland concluded was called for by federal sentencing guidelines. Fisher's attorneys, James Hovey and Jon Jensen of Grand Forks, asked for less than 37 months, and suggested their client either be put on probation or allowed to split any time in lockup between prison and home confinement.

Jensen declined comment after Monday's hearing. Christopher Strauss, an attorney in the U.S. Justice Department's tax division, also declined comment. Hovland said he had received more than a dozen letters from supporters of Fisher, asking for leniency.

In a brief statement during the hearing, Fisher said he was "very sorry and remorseful" for his actions and said he especially regretted any time away from his 4-year-old daughter as a result of his offenses.

"I definitely made a stupid, stupid mistake," Fisher said.

The investigation also resulted in charges against Amiel Schaff, Fisher Sand & Gravel's former chief financial officer; Clyde Frank, the company's former comptroller; and Fisher Sand & Gravel itself.

Schaff and Frank were sentenced earlier this year to probation after pleading guilty to one felony conspiracy charge as part of an agreement with prosecutors. Fisher Sand & Gravel agreed to pay $1.16 million in back taxes, fines and penalties and cooperate with IRS tax audits.

Tom Dickson, a Bismarck attorney for Fisher Sand & Gravel, said Monday the money had been paid and the audits completed. He said the company's management had been revamped in the wake of the case.

"This is a really good company, with good people," Dickson said. "They have worked very hard to overcome what happened."

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