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Clerk who stole $400K gets jail time

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LA CRESCENT, Minn. — A woman who stole  $400,000 from the La Crescent-Hokah School District to fuel a gambling addiction has reached a plea deal with prosecutors and will pay back some of the money.

Mary Chris Turner will also serve one year in jail and be placed on probation for 20 years. She’ll be sentenced May 8.

An accounts-payable clerk in the district, Turner stole the money over 10 years by making cash withdrawals on district credit cards and cashing checks written to herself.

Turner told Judge James Fabian she used the stolen money to sustain her gambling habit, which, according to police reports, included trips to a local casino and bingo at Church of the Crucifixion in La Crescent.

Turner said she is being treated for her addiction, something she’ll continue in jail. She’ll also have work privileges.

Though Turner stole $416,000, her plea requires her to pay the district $292,671. The district could recoup another $100,000 in insurance.

“If I may say, my husband and I feel comfortable that we will get this paid off within five years,” she told the judge.

The district supports the plea deal, Superintendent Ron Wilke said.

“A tremendous amount of effort has gone into this for the district to be accountable to our communities,” Wilke said. “We’re working very diligently to address this and to do everything in our ability to make sure this does not happen again.”

Since the incident, Wilke said the district has reviewed all its securities and controls in the district office and individual buildings.

According to the state auditor’s office, 17 of the 81 fraud cases reported in 2012 involved school districts.

Only 3 percent of the cases are uncovered through the annual audit, which is how La Crescent-Hokah discovered its missing money.

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