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Wadena Farm Service Agency employee charged with stealing loan money

A Verndale farm wife and program technician at the USDA’s Farm Service Agency office in Wadena has been charged with stealing more than $100,000 through a loan scam she is charged with engineering.

Michelle Richter, 43,  processed 16 separate FSA loans ranging in amount from $1,389 to $34,733 to her Wadena County family farm, stealing a total of $108,334 from the FSA beginning in December of 2013 through last November, said U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger in outlining the complaint on Wednesday.

The indictment, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in St. Paul, charges her with 16 counts of theft of public money and seven courts of computer fraud.

Richter, who was responsible for processing FSA loan applications for farmers in Wadena and Hubbard counties in north-central Minnesota, filed the loans ignoring FSA conflict-of-interest rules prohibiting her from working on loans to any family members, said Luger.

She processed and approved her own loans by secretly using the computer username and password of a co-worker without the second employee’s knowledge, said the complaint. She also approved the disbursement of the loan proceeds without the required authorization of the FSA county executive director and to further evade detection she kept the unsigned loan documents on her person and did not file them in the FSA office, said the complaint.

Neither Richter nor her husband signed the agreements pledging crops as security for the loans and on some applications she  falsely inflated the amount of crops available to support the loans, according to Luger.

This case is the result of an investigation conducted by the USDA Office of the Inspector General.

The USDA loans are intended to stabilize and support farm income for the nation’s farmers.

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