A Wadena woman entered a guilty plea to felony theft by swindle and is expected to pay back about $80,000 in restitution.
Brenda Rae Bakken, 57, was charged with both felony theft and felony theft by swindle in April 2019. An amended plea agreement entered into on Jan. 22, shows Bakken pleaded guilty to felony theft by swindle, while the felony theft charge would be dismissed. Bakken is scheduled to be sentenced in April in Wadena County District Court.
Bakken worked in accounts receivable at Merickel Lumber from June 2014 through December 2018. Court records show thefts took place from June 2016 through December 2018. In that position, Bakken had access to account information and funds. In a court transcript from the Jan. 22 hearing, Bakken said "I moved money around in accounts, paid it back here and there, and it just -- it got out of hand, and I just lost control of it."
Merickel Lumber office manager Missy Seelhammer said in the business' investigation, Bakken paid back less than $300 using her personal credit card.
"She falsified customer statements that overstated the amount due – when they paid the over-stated amount, she stole that money to pay back other accounts," Seelhammer wrote in an email. "She paid them back with someone else’s money, which is not her paying it back."
Merickel Lumber submitted a theft total of $71,348.25 and additional restitution costs came from the time and resources the business expended to determine the extent of loss.
The terms of the plea agreement show Bakken would serve 10 days of local incarceration and 30 days of house arrest. She would also pay a fine of $1,000 and pay restitution of $79,036.10 to Merickel Lumber Mills, Inc., which includes $10,000 reduction in the total amount of restitution as the victim (Merickel Lumber) received $10,000 from insurance company due to the loss.
Seelhammer indicated that Merickel Lumber promptly paid back all customers the amounts that were wrongfully taken.