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May 25, 2018

2/13/2018 7:28:00 AM
Former MHLT employee avoids prison for embezzlement
Dutcher skimmed money from 2012-15 deposits
Jamie Taylor

A former office employee at the Minocqua J1 School District charged with the theft of over $11,000 from school deposits dating from 2012 until she resigned in early December 2015 was sentenced last Thursday to three years probation and 30 days in jail.

Dawn C. Dutcher, 55, of Arbor Vitae was regionally charged with a single count of theft in a business setting over $10,000, a class G felony on July 28, 2016 and made her initial court appearance before then court commissioner Galen Bayne-Allison, who set a $5,000 signature bond.

She made her first appearance before Branch II Judge Michael Bloom with her attorney Amy Lynn Ferguson on Sept. 12, 2016 and waived her right to a preliminary hearing on Oct. 19 of that year. Bloom ruled there was sufficient evidence to move the case forward. ADA Mary Sowinski filed an information with the same single count, and Ferguson entered a not guilty plea on Dutcher's behalf.

The case slowly moved from pre-trial conference to pre-trial conference as Ferguson and ADA Jillian Pfeifer grappled with the large amount of evidence involved in the case and trying to determine exactly how much money was involved. The two eventually told Bloom on Nov. 22, 2017 that a resolution was near, and last Thursday's hearing was scheduled on Jan. 22, with a restitution summary filed with the court Feb. 8.

As part of a plea agreement, Pfeifer amended the charge to theft on a business setting not less than $2,500 nor more than $5,000, and Dutcher pled no contest.

According to online court records, MHLT district administrator Dr. James Ellis and another representative of the school addressed Bloom on the matter of sentencing, and numerous letters of support for Dutcher were also submitted.

After hearing statements from both lawyers and Dutcher, Bloom accepted the plea agreement, withholding sentence on the class I felony and placing her on probation for three years, with 30 days in jail to start no late than April 9, and pay $4,948.26 in remaining restitution.

According to the report of Minocqua police detective David Geiss, the investigation into Dutcher's alleged theft at MHLT began on Dec. 18, 2015, when Ellis and financial manager Gina Taylor-Kolzow came to the MPD with the first evidence that something was wrong with a single deposit the district made to its bank. According to the report, the copy of the receipt the school had received from the bank's copy of the slip from a late November deposit did not match the one the district had. While the total amount deposited was the same, $395 in cash was not listed while checks were found to make up the difference.

Taylor-Kolzow told Geiss she had since learned of other recent deposits where the same technique to run the total in cash allegedly taken to $854 from deposits. She also had possession of a check for $433 from Dutcher written to the school.

According to the report, on Dec. 8, 2015 Ellis, Taylor-Kolzow and other district administrators confronted Dutcher about the altered deposits. Ellis gave Dutcher the choice of resigning her position or face the entire school board voting to fire her, and the report states Dutcher provided her resignation.

The report said Dutcher asked for a meeting with MHLT school board members Mary Whitman, Carol Melms and Ellis. At this meeting, the report said she allegedly admitted to 10 other incidents where she had altered deposits, switching cash for checks, and offered to pay back $1,775, which Ellis would not accept.

Geiss' report says he met with Ellis and Taylor-Kolzow again on Jan. 7, 2016 and Taylor-Kolzow said she had obtained copies of deposit slips from the bank, and was able to provide documentation of deposits being altered dating back to 2013, and was still going through earlier ones.

On Jan. 29, Geiss interviewed Dutcher, who allegedly admitted to exactly what Taylor-Kolzow had surmised, saying she thought if she paid the money back, it wouldn't be considered stealing. She also admitted she still owed the district "maybe a $5,000 difference."

Eventually, it was alleged Dutcher had allegedly managed to divert $11,659.27 in cash with the deposit switch from 2012 to 2015 while MHLT had received only $3,048.63 back from her.

Dutcher originally faced a fine of up to $25,000 and up to 10 years in prison on the original charge.

Jamie Taylor may be reached via email at jamie@rivernewsonline.com.

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