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Former Duluth yacht salesman gets 3 years’ probation for cashing erroneous tax refund checks

A former Duluth yacht salesman who was found guilty of stealing nearly $800,000 from the Minnesota Department of Revenue was sentenced Monday to three years of probation, but not before he attempted to discharge his defense attorney.

A former Duluth yacht salesman who was found guilty of stealing nearly $800,000 from the Minnesota Department of Revenue was sentenced Monday to three years of probation, but not before he attempted to discharge his defense attorney.
Kevin Charles Owens, 54, expressed dissatisfaction with the services of his attorney, Keith Shaw, and attempted to forgo representation at his sentencing hearing.
Owens was convicted by a jury on a felony theft charge in August. He cashed two tax refund checks sent to him erroneously in 2008 and spent the money within several months, refusing to make arrangements to pay it back, according to court documents.
After his conviction, Owens complained about Shaw’s services and the Judge Mark Munger’s handling of the case, while maintaining his innocence. The judge refused to discharge Shaw prior to the hearing but allowed Owens to make arguments on his own behalf prior to sentencing.
Munger sentenced Owens to one year and one day in jail, but stayed the time for three years of probation. He served 80 days in jail prior to the case going to trial. Owens was also ordered to perform 100 hours of community service and undergo a chemical dependency evaluation and mental health diagnostic.
It is expected that Owens also will be ordered to pay restitution, but that issue was reserved for a Dec. 23 hearing.
Prosecutors say the former businessman owes $782,962.18, but Owens contested that figure because he said nearly all of his assets were seized and sold off at auction.
“It is double jeopardy,” he argued. “How can they take all that, and then still tell me I owe them?”
In any case, the parties agreed that Owens likely will be unable to repay the total restitution in any period of time. Owens is not working and said he has a heart condition.
With the upcoming restitution hearing and a likely appeal of the conviction, the case probably will continue to be tied up in the court system for some time. The charges were filed in November 2010, which Owens said was two years after he was first notified of the investigation.
Owens, the former owner of Owens Yacht Sales in Canal Park, skipped town before appearing in court and was arrested by U.S. Marshals at a campground in Zumbrota, Minn., in May 2012. The case then underwent more than two years of legal delays before it proceeded to trial.
A probation officer conducted a presentence investigation and recommended that Owens be sentenced to seven years of probation, a suggestion that was echoed by prosecutor Jessica Fralich.
Shaw argued that three years of probation would be adequate.
Owens, however, complained that he has had the case hanging over his head since 2006 and asked for only two years of probation.
“This has been hanging over top of me for a long time,” he said.
Munger fired back at Owens over the delays in the case.
“We had to send a federal marshal to go find you in a campground,” Munger said. “Part of the reason this took so long is because of your behavior.”
Ultimately, Munger imposed three years of probation, determining that seven years was excessive. He added that extending the probationary period would not matter for restitution purposes because of Owens’ financial status.
“It’s unreasonable that the state would see $100,000 a year,” he said. “Whether it’s two, three, five, seven years, it won’t matter one iota.”
Munger declined to hear Owens’ arguments for a new trial, directing him to seek relief from the Minnesota Court of Appeals and the Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board.
Among the issues, Owens had wanted a contested sentencing hearing, but Shaw and Fralich said no such hearing was needed because there was no criminal history to dispute, only sentencing guidelines.
Munger stated that he would discuss with Chief Public Defender Dan Lew whether Shaw will continue to represent Owens.

Related Topics: CRIME
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 tolsen@duluthnews.com.
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