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Duluth consulting firm, 50 Below, pleads guilty to charges

A Duluth consulting firm with large clients nationwide pleaded guilty Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis to embezzlement and theft charges.

A Duluth consulting firm with large clients nationwide pleaded guilty Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis to embezzlement and theft charges.

50 Below Sales & Marketing Inc. pleaded guilty to one count of embezzlement and theft from an employee benefit plan after charges were brought by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Minnesota. The company specializes in online solutions for manufacturers, distributors and power-sports dealers, according to its Web site.

According to the plea agreement, the business unlawfully and willfully separated and converted to its own use money, funds, property and other assets of about $45,098.54 from its 401(k) savings plan from December 2004 through May 2005. The U.S. Attorney's Office said the savings plan is an employee benefit plan.

50 Below Vice President Mike Rollo referred questions Tuesday to the firm's Minneapolis attorney Matthew Forsgren.

"50 Below was unable to make timely deposits to its 401(k) plan between December 2004 and May 2005,'' Forsgren said. "50 Below then worked with the Department of Labor to ensure that all affected accounts were current and accurate. During this process, it was undisputed -- and it now remains undisputed -- that no officer of 50 Below personally benefitted from the failure to make timely deposits.''

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Forsgren said the company employs more than 125 people. "The company has fully cooperated with the Department of Labor to ensure that the company is in full compliance,'' he said. "The company looks forward to the resolution of this case, and the company intends to continue to do business in Duluth with this situation behind it.''

The maximum penalty the business faces is five years probation and a $500,000 fine. U.S. District Judge David Doty will hand down the court's sentence at a date not yet scheduled.

The case resulted from an investigation conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor. Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicole Engisch prosecuted the case.

MARK STODGHILL covers public safety and courts. He can be reached weekdays at (218) 723-5333 or by e-mail at mstodghill@duluthnews.com .

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