Deer River woman pleads guilty in countywide theft spree

A Deer River woman admitted Tuesday that she forged receipts and deposited checks into a personal bank account in order to swindle at least $43,000 from the owners of a cabin she had been hired to remodel.


A Deer River woman admitted Tuesday that she forged receipts and deposited checks into a personal bank account in order to swindle at least $43,000 from the owners of a cabin she had been hired to remodel.

Rinda Lynn Etter, 57, was hired in October 2013 to renovate a cabin on Sand Lake in the northern part of the county, according to court documents. The owner allowed Etter and her husband to live there for free, provided they perform remodeling work on the cabin.

Two years later, the owner had paid out $53,000 to Etter in building supply expenses - and found that less than $10,000 worth of remodeling had actually been completed, the charges state.

That was just one case in a three-year, countywide theft spree perpetrated by Etter, Itasca County prosecutors said.

Etter pleaded guilty in State District Court in Grand Rapids to eight counts of theft - including six felonies and two gross misdemeanors. In addition to the cabin swindle, authorities said she defrauded at least four local businesses of more than $5,000.


Under a plea agreement with the Itasca County Attorney's Office, Etter will be required to pay $53,000 in restitution to the victims. She's also expected to be placed on 10 years of supervised probation when sentenced by Judge Korey Wahwassuck on March 6.

The most significant case involved the cabin. Authorities said the owners reported Etter on Dec. 3, 2015.

According to court documents, the owners entered into an agreement with Etter, under which she and her husband would be charged $750 a month to live in the cabin - a cost that would be offset by 30 hours of remodeling work per month at $25 an hour. The owners also agreed to pay for all building supplies.

One of the owners told investigators that she wrote 32 checks out to Etter for supplies over the course of the project. When the owner started asking for receipts, she said it was like "pulling teeth," according to the complaint.

The owner said she eventually received some receipts from Etter, but they contained suspicious markings and dates. The owner said she eventually checked with the business and learned that the documents were actually quotes, and not actual bills of sale, that had been altered, according to the charges.

The owner stated she visited the cabin in October 2015 to show it to an acquaintance that was interested in purchasing the property. They found that a small amount of woodwork had been completed and a new water system and fireplace had been installed, but much of the cabin remained untouched.

Investigators analyzed Etter's bank account, confirming that she had cashed the owner's checks but found no checks written to any business associated with the receipts she had provided, according to the complaint.

Police spoke with Etter's husband, who estimated that about $10,000-$12,000 had been spent on purchasing materials before investigators informed him of the total amount she had received.


The deputy noted that the husband "became very upset and stated that he knew something was wrong by the way that Etter has been acting, that they have had similar problems in the past, and that he cannot get her to stop," the complaint states.

Investigators later conducted a search warrant on Etter's vehicle, recovering seven boxes of financial records. Deputies said they were able to located 21 receipts that had been altered with white-out and changed from "quotes" to "invoices."

Throughout the course of 2015, investigators also received four reports of businesses being defrauded by Etter.

In three cases, investigators said she claimed to be a vendor for a wholesale clothing company but failed to deliver products after cashing checks, including: $1,661 from Paddle Hoppers in Grand Rapids, $709 from Sleepy Hollow Resort near Northome and $339 from the 38 Outpost general store north of Grand Rapids.

Investigators said she also wrote a $2,753 check to Fireplace Lifestyles in Grand Rapids using a checking account that had been closed months earlier.

Tom Olsen has covered crime and courts for the Duluth News Tribune since 2013. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth and a lifelong resident of the city. Readers can contact Olsen at 218-723-5333 or
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