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County worker accused of $1 million theft terminated | Duluth News Tribune | Duluth, Minnesota

Published October 24, 2013, 12:00 AM

County worker accused of $1 million theft terminated

A Carlton County transfer station employee accused of stealing upwards of $1 million has been terminated, the county announced Wednesday.

By: Wendy Johnson, Duluth News Tribune

A Carlton County transfer station employee accused of stealing upwards of $1 million has been terminated, the county announced Wednesday.

Joanne Marie Wappes, 62, of Cloquet was terminated Oct. 3 and did not file a grievance challenging the decision, according to Dennis Genereau Jr., the county’s human resources director.

“The County is reviewing its procedures for the handling of cash transactions,” Genereau said in a statement. “In addition, the County is reviewing all of its options for recovery of stolen funds and will seek restitution in the criminal proceedings.”

Wappes was charged in State District Court on Sept. 20 with theft of public funds and theft by swindle. Security camera videos from the transfer station allegedly show Wappes manipulating the cash register and handing out false receipts to customers.

Because she worked for Carlton County, the case has been handed over to the St. Louis County Attorney’s Office for prosecution to avoid a conflict of interest.

Wappes appeared in Carlton County Court on Wednesday afternoon for a continued Rule 8 hearing with her newly retained attorney, Douglas Voigt Hazelton of the Halberg Criminal Defense firm in Bloomington, Minn. Representing the prosecution at Wednesday’s hearing was St. Louis County Criminal Division Head Gary Bjorklund, who said the chief prosecutor for the case would be Karl Sundquist of Hibbing, who was unable to attend the hearing.

Both attorneys informed Judge Robert Macaulay that they would need considerable time to go over findings of the discovery process in the case and asked for a further continuance of the Rule 8 hearing. Hazelton indicated that Wappes has waived her right to a hearing within 28 days, and Macaulay set Wappes’ next court date for 1:30 p.m. Jan. 31. Macaulay indicated that he plans to set aside a significant amount of time for the hearing on that date, explaining, “We’re not sure just what that hearing will bring.”

The county was made aware in March that there was a possible financial impropriety taking place at the transfer station. The administration used security camera footage as part of its investigation.

After gaining search warrants, investigators identified numerous bank accounts owned by the defendant, obtained information regarding her wages, and confirmed that she was depositing “great sums” of money into various accounts and CDs that greatly exceeded every penny of wages that she had earned from her sole source of income through Carlton County.

Additional “piles of money” were located in Wappes’ home, according to County Attorney Thom Pertler, adding that the total figure of all funds could amount to more than a million dollars.

The case against Wappes took an unusual turn earlier this month when a man who burglarized her home twice in the fall of 2010 claimed he took cash from the dwelling far in excess of what he was convicted of stealing. David Michael Smith, 51, of Cloquet was sentenced to 18 months in prison in March 2011 and served eight months with credit for time served.

In the meantime, Genereau said, the county continues to review its procedures for the handling of cash transactions.

News Tribune staff writer Tom Olsen contributed to this report.

via County worker accused of $1 million theft terminated | Duluth News Tribune | Duluth, Minnesota.

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