6 years of probation for ex-Minnesota Power executiveA former member of Minnesota Power’s management team shuffled into a Duluth courtroom Friday wearing a blue jail jumpsuit, leg shackles and handcuffs.
By: Mark Stodghill, Duluth News Tribune
A former member of Minnesota Power’s management team shuffled into a Duluth courtroom Friday wearing a blue jail jumpsuit, leg shackles and handcuffs.
Susan Kay Thompson, 55, then apologized to her former employer, the judge, the prosecutor and her family before being sentenced to six years’ probation — including 60 days in the custody of the Bethel Women’s Program — and ordered to pay $150,000 restitution after pleading guilty to the theft of corporate property and to the felony crime of failing to appear in court on a felony offense.
The Hermantown woman worked as director of customer service for Minnesota Power for more than 20 years until resigning on Jan. 25, 2010.
Thompson took advantage of her opportunity to address the court before being sentenced. She said that she wakes up every day regretting the poor choices that she made.
She said she regrets on her parents’ graves that she did not display the values they instilled in her. She apologized for wasting the court’s time by repeatedly failing to appear for scheduled hearings and she apologized to her husband and son for the pain, stress and embarrassment she caused them.
Friday’s hearing was scheduled as a sentencing for the theft conviction, but Thompson also pleaded guilty to a felony charge of failing to appear in court on Feb. 14, her original sentencing date. She said she had a panic attack that day on the courthouse steps and couldn’t go through with the sentencing, leading to the new charge of failing to appear in court.
Defense attorney David Keegan told the court that his client is worthy of redemption. Thompson’s first attorney withdrew as her counsel for ethical reasons after she failed to appear for her Feb. 14 sentencing.
Judge John DeSanto told Thompson that he believed in redemption and that he believed she could earn it by following the conditions of her probation, which include 200 hours of community service.
The judge told Thompson there was evidence that she had been less than honest in reporting her medical history. The defendant had claimed she missed some of her court appearances for medical reasons, but some of the medical documentation she provided to the court appeared fraudulent.
DeSanto ordered Thompson to provide accurate and complete medical information to her probation officer.
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.
Allete, the parent company of Minnesota Power, discovered the missing money during an internal audit it conducted.
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 Thompson was under internal investigation for “credit card reconciliation delinquencies and false expense purchases.”
Thompson pleaded guilty in December to the theft of corporate property. She admitted that she used a corporate credit card for personal expenses, that it was against corporate policy and that she defrauded the company.
Chris Anderson, associate general counsel at Allete, presented a victim’s impact statement at Friday’s hearing. Anderson told the court that the company was saddened by the actions of a former colleague and friend. He said Thompson’s actions violated the company’s standards for integrity, shattered the trust of employees and harmed Minnesota Power’s reputation as a respected regional corporate citizen.
“These are not victimless crimes just because the victim is a corporate entity,” Assistant St. Louis County Attorney Nathaniel Stumme said outside the courtroom after the hearing. Stumme prosecuted the case. “It’s been my experience in prosecuting that I can think of a no better example of a financial crime where the impact has been so intensely personal to the people that Ms. Thompson worked with from the bottom up and who trusted her.”
Under state sentencing guidelines, DeSanto stayed the execution of Thompson’s 21-month prison sentence for the theft charge, but he did not stay imposition of sentence. Had he stayed imposition, the felonies could have been wiped from Thompson’s record if she successfully completed probation. She will remain a convicted felon after completing probation.
DeSanto sentenced Thompson to one year and one day for the failure to appear conviction. That sentence will be served under the same probationary conditions as the theft conviction.
The court ordered Thompson to obtain a mental health evaluation and follow all recommendations, take all medication as prescribed, and to not work in a job handling money without the approval of her probation officer.
The defendant’s restitution payment schedule is a minimum of $200 a month, but DeSanto told her that he expects her to have the money paid back by the time her six-year probation ends.
Thompson was released from the St. Louis County Jail on Friday after spending 20 days there. She is expected to meet with her probation officer on Tuesday and check into the Bethel Women’s Release Center on April 9 or earlier if a bed becomes available.
The Bethel program promotes its curriculum as focusing on self-image, socialization training, anger management, parenting issues, sexual abuse education and individual treatment as needed, helping women “reorient their thinking and learn the necessary skills to develop a healthy, rewarding lifestyle.”