Archived Story

County fights embezzlement

Published 12:00am Friday, March 29, 2002

Mower County taxpayers’ pockets have been picked.

Friday, March 29, 2002

Mower County taxpayers’ pockets have been picked.

Embezzlement isn’t new to the state or the nation. What is uncommon is to have three alleged thefts in one county in such a short amount of time.

According to the state auditors office, which handles most of the documentation investigation of government fraud cases in the state, multiple fraud cases are usually something that is seen in metro counties.

"Fortunately, they all create a paper trail," said Deno Howard, general counsel/deputy state auditor.

The state preforms the audit without charge to the county, city or township. Government thefts number about 300 per year, she said, and the auditor’s office is experienced in dealing with the investigation of the documentation.

"We deal with documents and make our reports to the county attorney. We have the expertise and the manpower to investigate the thefts, and we do it well," Howard said.

Mower County’s alleged thefts happened over the same period of time, she added, which may account for the number.

Usually, exposure of criminal actions and being labeled as a felon is enough to deter most people.

Presently Cheryl Lynn Barrett, a Mower County employee, is being prosecuted for allegedly embezzling nearly $25,000. She has pleaded not guilty and is scheduled for a jury trial on April 15.

In the county’s most recently prosecuted case, county employee Gary Eppler was found pleaded guilty to ‘theft-temporary taking-felony.’

The county said Eppler took more than $8,000 in county equipment. Besides the equipment, the county is asking to be reimbursed for 107 hours of county employees time which was put into the investigation.

Eppler was sentenced to supervised probation, which was stayed. The conditions of the stay include $545 in fines, 60 days of electronic home monitoring at the defendant’s expense, work release, restitution to be determined by the ‘victim’ (Mower County), no similar offenses, a restitution hearing, letter of apology to departments to be approved by probation and completed by April 1 and a mental health evaluation and follow any/all recommendations.

Eppler’s attorney is challenging the county’s request for some items in the county’s $13,199.77 restituion request.

Last year, the county brought charges against county employee, Cheryl Stoa, for theft. Stoa has since finished paying $7,500 in restitution.

The county’s insurance company paid an additional $13,500 in unrecovered costs.

Mower County coordinator Craig Oscarson gave a personal impact statement to the court on behalf of Mower County in the Eppler case.

Oscarson told the Herald that he believes sentencing needs to carry more of an impact.

In his statement he said, "As a representative of the victims, Mower County would request the court issue the full sentence as allowed by law, including jail time…When Mr. Eppler removed items from Mower County for personal use and profit, he not only committed theft, but broke the trust the public needs to have in government and its employees….We would ask the court to seriously consider what message is to be sent tot he public, the true victims."

Call Ailene Dawson at 434-2235 or e-mail her at ailene.dawson@austindailyherald.com.


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