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Bemidji business owner charged with six felonies

A 51-year-old Bemidji business owner has been charged in Beltrami County District Court with three counts of felony credit card fraud and three counts of felony theft by swindle.

The charges against Margaret Jo Hirt, owner and operator of Dewey Furniture, 201 Minnesota Ave. N.W., were filed Friday and signed by Judge Shari Schluchter. A court appearance date has not yet been set.

According to the criminal complaint:

Hirt has been the primary sales person for Dewey Furniture since 2008. She conducts most of the sales and is responsible for accepting payment from customers and ensuring furniture is ordered from manufacturers.

In 2009 and 2010, three furniture manufacturers, Ashley Furniture, Inc., Furniture Traditions, Inc. and Best Craft Furniture, notified Hirt they would no longer accept orders from her unless they were prepaid because she had been delinquent in paying for orders.

On Jan. 10, Feb. 15, March 27, April 9, and Dec. 14, 2010, seven customers ordered furniture totaling $11,744 in value. In each transaction, Hirt required partial or full prepayment of the orders, which the customers complied with. They prepaid either with credit cards or from checking accounts. None of the customers received the furniture orders and none received refunds from Dewey Furniture.

The Bemidji Police Department began investigating the case in 2010. Since then, the Police Department has received numerous complaints from other Dewey Furniture customers about credit card fraud, consumer fraud and theft of money by Hirt and Dewey Furniture. These additional complaints are currently under investigation.

If convicted, Hirt faces maximum sentences of five years in prison and $10,000 in fines on each of the six counts.