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‘Irish Traveller’ rural construction fraudsters plead guilty to North Dakota cases

Two men accused in a series of construction scam cases have been sentenced to prison time and to pay restitution.

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Ladd Erickson, McLean County states attorney at Washburn, N.D., pressed racketeering charges that ended with guilty pleas from “Irish Traveller” construction fraudsters, Bartley Gorman Jr., 56, and his son, Sean Patrick Gorman, 27. They will serve at 15 months in prison, and pay restitution of $729,000. Photo taken Oct. 22, 2019, at Washburn, N.D. Mikkel Pates / Agweek
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WASHBURN, N.D. — Two men accused in rural construction scams pleaded guilty to felony and misdemeanor charges in South Central District Court on Feb. 8, 2021, and were ordered to pay restitution and spend more than a year in prison.

The father-and-son pair — Bartley Gorman, Jr., 56, and his son, Sean Patrick Gorman, 27 — appeared from Ft. Worth, Texas, via Zoom to change their plea from not guilty to guilty.

South Central District Judge James Hill sentenced them each to 30 months in prison with 15 months suspended and two years of supervised probation. He also ordered them to pay $729,000 in restitution, in addition to court costs.

Prosecutors have said the two men are part of the "Irish Travellers," which they described as a longstanding organized crime group, also called the “Travellers,” "The Irish Mob," or the "White Gypsies." (Traveller with the double "l" is the British English spelling of the word.) The investigators say the Gormans previously were involved in a widespread roofing scam that members of the group perpetrated on elderly people in Oklahoma. In North Dakota, investigators said the Gorman General Contracting company, based in the Minot area, carried out a “pattern of racketeering activity.”

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Bartley Gorman Jr.

Bartley Gorman faced two felony charges for illegal control of an enterprise and exploitation of a vulnerable adult, both in McLean County.

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Sean Patrick Gorman

Sean Gorman, in the case handled on Feb. 8, faced felony charges of exploitation of an eligible adult and construction fraud, as well as misdemeanor charges of unlawfully acting in the capacity of a contractor without a license and failure to produce merchant license, all in McLean County. Sean Gorman faces additional related charges, also in McLean County, which are scheduled for a change of plea hearing on Friday, Feb. 12.

Ladd Erickson, McLean County state’s attorney, prosecuted all of the cases, which involved entities run by the Gormans performing "deceptive work" and deceiving and intimidating victims, typically elderly or otherwise vulnerable. Gorman General Contracting operated as a “shell business to conduct a pattern of racketeering in North Dakota oil-producing counties,” according to court documents.

Documents filed in the case explained the scam, saying the Gormans would "just show up" and start working, demanding payments that third party experts deemed "exorbitant in relation to the work or supplies." The poor quality work would often lead to future projects and extortion. In other instances, they would show up and offer a low price for projects and later escalate the costs.

Erickson said the case included a man in McKenzie County being defrauded out of $1.9 million by Gorman and others. The state’s attorney in McKenzie County agreed to a non-prosecution agreement in which the Gormans would be ordered to repay $666,000 for which they were considered responsible. Hill ordered the Gormans to pay $63,000 in restitution to victims in McLean County.

McLean County had seized $381,437 from Gorman bank accounts.

Hill, operating from Bismarck, N.D., allowed the Gormans a delay in turning themselves in because of a family health matter. They are ordered to turn themselves in to McLean County by 9 a.m. on March 1, 2021. There, they are expected to undergo a quarantine for COVID-19 before being transported to the North Dakota State Penitentiary in Bismarck.

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Hill ordered them to have no contact and not come within 100 yards of victims.

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Bartley Gorman, Jr., 56, and his son, Sean Patrick Gorman, 27, on Feb. 8, 2021, pled guilty to rural construction fraud and were sentenced to 15 months in North Dakota prison, and will turn them in at the McLean County Jail at Washburn, N.D., on March 1, 2021. Photo taken April 22, 2019, in Washburn, N.D. Mikkel Pates / Agweek

The Gormans made few statements during the hearing other than, "No your honor. Thank you." Sean Gorman was represented by James C. Ochs, of Clayton, Mo., near St. Louis, who specializes in defending contractors criminally prosecuted for consumer fraud. On his website, Ochs says he’s successfully represented contractors in 22 states, including North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa. The local sponsoring lawyer is Andrew Schultz of Bismarck. Bartley Gorman Jr. was represented primarily by criminal defense lawyer Joe Tamburino, of Minneapolis, and locally by Jesse Walstad, Bismarck.

Erickson indicated that there are warrants out in Dunn County, N.D., for other people in related construction scam cases.

“If I find out that there are additional ‘Traveller’ activities in North Dakota, within my statute of limitations … and I have jurisdiction to charge, I fully intend to file those charges,” he said.

In the plea agreement, Erickson insisted on all of the restitution on the “front end for our victims” and for prison time. Erickson explained that defendants in such construction scams often follow a pattern: "be confronted by police, pay restitution, and not end up with a conviction.”

“It’s kind of built into the system, that if law enforcement confronts you, just pay the money. Hopefully it doesn’t get in the media or you don’t get a charge,” Erickson said.

Mikkel Pates is an agricultural journalist, creating print, online and television stories for Agweek magazine and Agweek TV.
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