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$1 million theft case in Carlton County near settlement

CARLTON — The former Carlton County transfer station employee accused of stealing upwards of $1 million from the county is close to reaching a settlement with prosecutors, attorneys said at a Wednesday hearing.  

Joanne Marie Wappes, 63, appeared in State District Court in Carlton for the first time since October, shortly after she was charged with felony theft by swindle and embezzlement of public funds.

 The appearance was originally scheduled as a contested omnibus hearing, but Wappes’ attorney, Douglas Hazelton of Minneapolis, sent a letter to the court last week indicating that they would not be contesting the evidence. On Wednesday, he asked Senior Judge Dale Wolf to schedule a new hearing date, at which time a plea agreement may be in place.

“We’re close in trying to resolve this case,” Hazelton told the judge.

Assistant St. Louis County Attorney Karl Sundquist, who is handling the case on behalf of Carlton County, agreed that a resolution is within reach. The attorneys did not discuss terms of a potential settlement.

Wolf scheduled a new hearing date for Sept. 3.

Wappes, who had worked at the transfer station since 1984, was charged on Sept. 20 following an investigation by the county.

According to the criminal complaint, investigators discovered that Wappes allegedly would give some customers a false receipt for a transaction and later substitute a correct cash register tape. That resulted in a seemingly accurate tally for each day, even though the actual number of cash-paying customers who used the transfer facility was greatly in excess of the number of transactions recorded on the “legitimate” cash register tape.

Investigators reviewed various days of surveillance video and “on any given day, at any given hour, the defendant could be observed manipulating the cash register using the method described to steal public funds from Carlton County,” the complaint stated.

Authorities later said that the total amount of theft was believed to be in excess of $1 million.

Several previous court dates for Wappes were continued by the court prior to Wednesday’s hearing. Sundquist attributed the delays to the complicated nature of the discovery process, which included obtaining years-old bank records.

Wappes has no prior criminal history and is out of jail on pretrial supervised release.