BISMARCK, N.D. -- Eight North Dakota State University football players are among 15 people who were formally charged Friday with faking petition signatures in a scandal that kept two initiatives from getting on the November ballot.
The 15 are scheduled for their first court appearance Oct. 2 in Fargo, said Birch Burdick, the Cass County state's attorney. They were charged Friday with a misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of a year in jail and a $2,000 fine.
Of the 15 defendants, 11 are present or former members of NDSU's football team, which is the defending NCAA Football Championship Subdivision champion.
Four of the accused players are starters - running back Samuel Ojuri, offensive lineman Joshua Colville and defensive backs Marcus Williams and Brendin Pierre.
The list includes backup defensive backs Bryan Shepherd and Aireal Boyd, linebacker Antonio Rodgers and redshirt freshman wide receiver Demitrius Gray, as well as former players Joshua Gatlin, Don Carter and D.J. McNorton. Gatlin was a defensive back, Carter a linebacker and McNorton a running back.
NDSU Coach Craig Bohl has said the current players will not be disciplined until the criminal charges are resolved and the allegations were not considered serious enough to suspend them from the team.
Burdick and the prosecutors assigned the case, Cherie Clark and Tracy Peters, did not respond immediately on Friday to requests for comment. The players have been told not to comment on the case.
The players were among the people hired to gather signatures for two ballot measures. One sought to establish a state fund to promote conservation, environmental and water projects, financed by a share of North Dakota's oil tax collections. The second was aimed at making marijuana use legal for people suffering from chronic pain and debilitating illnesses.
Secretary of State Al Jaeger disqualified the measures from the ballot this week, saying that checks of the petition signatures had uncovered significant fraud. Jaeger said petition carriers were given daily signature quotas, and may have felt pressure to meet them by making up names.
Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said the petitions included names that were copied from phone books and cellphone lists. Others appeared to be simply fabricated, he said.