A former Merickel Lumber employee has been sentenced in a theft case involving about $80,000.
Brenda Rae Bakken, 57, Wadena, was charged with both felony theft and felony theft by swindle in April 2019. She was sentenced before Judge Doug Clark Friday, July 17, 2020 for felony theft by swindle, while the felony theft charge was dismissed. Terms of the sentence are that Bakken is to pay back $79,036.10 in restitution, funds that she stole from customers and Merickel Lumber. She must also pay a $1,000 fine, serve 45 days in the Wadena County Jail starting Aug. 3 and remain on supervised probation for 20 years. Bakken is to also complete a gambling assessment and consume no alcohol/controlled substances, with the exception of prescribed medications. Bakken has a mandatory 40 hours of Sentenced to Serve community service.
Bakken worked in accounts receivable at Merickel Lumber from June 2014 through December 2018. Court records show Bakken stole funds from June 2016 through December 2018. In that position, Bakken had access to account information and funds. While Bakken maintains she did pay back some that she stole, Merickel Lumber staff said she only returned about $300 using a credit card. Other funds she returned to accounts were just taken from other people's accounts, according to court records.
Merickel Lumber office manager Missy Seelhammer and one of the owners Jason Merickel both gave victim impact statements to the court. Both touched on the opinion that 45 days of confinement or house arrest did not match the crime.
Wadena County Attorney Kyra Ladd understood their concern but said the agreement the parties came up with was made in an effort to allow Bakken to get back to work in order to pay off the high cost of restitution. Ladd said that first and foremost the restitution should be paid back.
In her victim impact statement, Seelhammer shared that Bakken not only stole money from the business and customers, she stole time away from her and others employees who spent hundreds of hours tracking down all the swindling that took place over those years.
"I cannot pay my children back for the time away from their mother," Seelhammer said.
She expressed many sleepless nights and added stress induced by Bakken's actions. Seelhammer said in the investigation it was discovered that Bakken not only stole from random customers, she stole from her own relatives.
"She had no boundaries and stole from family and friends," Seelhammer said.
Merickel also spoke about other costs that he thought should be included, such as overtime. Merickel said it was discovered that Bakken was being paid overtime while she was stealing from the business and customers.
"Paying back what you stole is not punishment," Merickel said. He asked for an extended jail time. "What God thinks of you is more important than what anyone else thinks of you."
In her statement during the sentencing, Bakken expressed remorse for what she had done and took full responsibility. She spoke about her gambling addiction and how she had lost control of her life for a period during the death of family members. She shared that she is going through counseling and feels she is in a better place now. Bakken looked forward to an opportunity to once again work in a job she is passionate about. She is currently working three days a week outside of Wadena County.
"It was never my intent to take money and not return it," Bakken said. "What I have done has ruined my life."
"This was something that I will regret for the rest of my life," Bakken continued. "I feel very sorry for the people I have hurt."
In previous proceedings, Seelhammer indicated that Merickel Lumber promptly paid back all customers the amounts that were wrongfully taken. She shared that the loss will continue to be felt by employees who have had losses in their profit sharing. Bakken's profit sharing earnings will go towards paying off restitution costs.