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Former Duluth businessman found guilty of stealing $800,000 from state

A former Duluth businessman accused of stealing nearly $800,000 from the Minnesota Department of Revenue was found guilty of felony theft Thursday in state district court in Duluth.

Kevin Charles Owens, 54, was charged in 2010, after allegedly cashing two checks from the department that were erroneously sent to him in 2008. A jury of seven women and five men deliberated about two hours before returning the verdict.

Owens will be sentenced by Judge Mark Munger on Sept. 15. But he’s not likely to serve additional time. The “presumptive” sentence for the crime is 363 days, but that time is usually stayed.

Since Owens already has served 80 days in jail after being arrested for the crime, and because he has no major criminal record, lawyers in the case said he’s not likely to serve more.

Munger allowed Owens to remain free pending sentencing, under supervised release, but the judge confiscated Owens’ passport, saying he was a potential flight risk.

When Owens was charged in 2010 he was listed as living on Minnesota Avenue on Park Point and was owner of Owens Yacht Sales at 371 Canal Park Drive.

He was ordered to appear in court in November 2010, but skipped town, and wasn’t found until U.S. Marshals captured him in a Zumbrota, Minn., campground in May, 2012. Various legal delays then combined to stall the case for more than two years.

According to the criminal complaint, the Department of Revenue on March 18, 2008, issued two checks made payable to Owens Yacht Sales Inc., in the amounts of $560,980.12 and $221,982.06. The department said the checks were issued erroneously “due to human error” and “somewhat complicated internal accounting errors.”

A Revenue Department internal investigation found that the checks were inadvertently issued when its personnel were reviewing and attempting to correct old taxpayer account ledger systems.

According to bank records, Owens cashed the checks one week after they were issued.

The criminal complaint alleges that Owens was quickly notified of the erroneous state tax refund and was repeatedly requested to return the money or to make arrangement for payments. But the state says Owens refused to give the money back.

Bank records indicate that the defendant spent the entire $782,962.18 of within several months.

Prosecutors said Owens used the money to pay off debts. In a 2008 civil trial in St. Louis County District court, a jury determined that Owens owed two parties more than $800,000 for breaching his contractual promise to build condominiums on Park Point.

Prosecutor Nathaniel Stumme said it was important for the state and its taxpaying citizens to secure the conviction, even if Owens won’t serve more time in jail.

“He’s exposed now to be a convicted felon and he deserves the consequences that flow from that, even if the state doesn’t get back a penny,” Stumme told the News Tribune.

Owens’ defense attorney, Keith Shaw, declined to comment on the verdict.

Department of Revenue officials also have attempted to recover at least part of the money Owens took by seizing Owens’ remaining assets.

Three other charges against Owens in relation to the theft — failure to pay over state funds, failure to pay income tax and failure to file a tax return — had previously been dismissed.

Owens still faces court action for a probation violation from an earlier driving under the influence of alcohol conviction. Owens failed to show up for probation meetings when he fled the region in 2010.

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