A.L. woman accused of swindling

Published 7:51 am Sunday, November 16, 2014

An Albert Lea woman is facing charges for allegedly taking money from the accounts of at least a half dozen vulnerable adults at a local residential care facility and using it for her own purposes.

Stephanie Lynn Behrends, 28, appeared in Freeborn County District Court on Thursday on one count of financial exploitation involving a vulnerable adult and one count of check forgery, both felonies.

Behrends was a program coordinator at REM Woodvale in Albert Lea at the time of the alleged misuse in 2011 and 2012. The facility houses people with intellectual and physical disabilities.

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Court documents state a program coordinator is in charge of managing and keeping records of the residents’ finances. There was reportedly more than $4,000 in missing and unaccounted for funds under Behrends’ control.

The criminal complaint states staff at REM Woodvale began to suspect Behrends was stealing funds from residents in the fall of 2011 when conducting monthly financial audits. There were numerous missing receipts.

Administrators began reviewing the financial records more in depth in May 2012 after a weekend staff member discovered that all of the residents’ checkbooks, savings books, ledgers and cash pouches were missing from a locked cupboard in an apartment Behrends was assigned. The documents were in Behrends’ office.

Court records state upon further review administrators found Behrends had not made any entries in the residents’ ledgers since several months prior and the dates recorded for bank deposits and withdrawals were often inconsistent with bank records.

Three residents had received overdraft notices, and Behrends had reportedly written out numerous checks for cash.

Administrators also found inconsistencies in some of the purchases reported. For example, a Walmart receipt was submitted for one resident for about $140. The receipt indicated purchases of tank tops, crop tops, polo shirts and capri pants, though the resident wore only sweatshirts and sweatpants.

Behrends reportedly admitted to a police detective in May 2012 that she had written checks to cash from the residents’ accounts and used the money for herself, including using it to buy marijuana and personal items. She said she was unsure how much money she had taken, but agreed the amount was probably between $4,000 and $5,000.

Behrends is also accused of forging another staff member’s name on at least six checks or withdrawal slips.

Freeborn County District Court Judge Ross Leuning allowed Behrends to be released Thursday.

Her next hearing is Dec. 18.