By Mark Stodghill, Forum Communications
DULUTH — A former Minnesota Power official pleaded guilty Tuesday to the theft of corporate property and agreed to pay $150,000 restitution.
Susan Kay Thompson, 54, entered the plea before Judge John DeSanto in State District Court in Duluth. Thompson appeared on a warrant after repeatedly failing for nearly two years to appear in court to face the charge against her. Her attorney said that Thompson’s failures to appear were largely related to health issues.
The defendant worked as director of customer service for Minnesota Power for more than 20 years until resigning on Jan. 25, 2010.
Under questioning by St. Louis County prosecutor Nathaniel Stumme, Thompson admitted that she used a corporate credit card for personal expenses, that it was against corporate policy and that she defrauded the company.
DeSanto accepted Thompson’s plea and directed an Arrowhead Regional Corrections probation officer to investigate the defendant’s background before sentencing on Feb. 14.
Duluth defense attorney Kevin Cornwell spoke on Thompson’s behalf outside the courtroom after the plea hearing.
“She’s obviously deeply sorry for what happened and she just wants to move forward and this starts the process,” Cornwell said.
Thompson was accused of stealing, or not being able to account for, more than $200,000 while using company money for personal expenses and weekend travel, making false claims of company travel and filing for reimbursements by forging her supervisor’s signature from 2000 through 2009.
According to the criminal complaint, Duluth police were contacted by a senior vice president at Minnesota Power on March 19, 2010. The company official said that Thompson was under internal investigation for “credit card reconciliation delinquencies and false expense purchases.”
The unaccounted-for funds were discovered during an internal audit conducted by Allete, the parent company of Minnesota Power.
Cornwell filed a motion to dismiss the case based on the fact that it fell outside the five-year statute of limitations. Stumme filed a new complaint narrowing the timeline of the alleged crime to Dec. 23, 2005, to Dec. 23, 2010. Court documents filed by the prosecution allege that the diverted funds still are more than $100,000.