County employee charged with felony theft of public funds

By KBJR News 1

September 20, 2013 Updated Sep 20, 2013 at 5:55 PM CST

Cloquet, MN (NNCNOW.com) - A 62-year-old Carlton County employee is facing theft charges for allegedly stealing more than a million dollars.

Joanne Marie Wappes, a 29-year employee of the Carlton County Transfer Station, is facing one count of theft by swindle, and one count of theft of public funds. Both are felonies.

Wappes was in charge of collecting fees at the gate from people dropping off their trash and solid waste.

A criminal complaint says she developed an "elaborate scheme" of manipulating the cash register, and falsifying receipts.

After the Carlton County Sheriff's Department was tipped off July 10th of suspicious activity involving Wappes, they retrieved video surveillance footage that apparently showed her handing out false receipts to customers.

The criminal complaint goes on to say Wappes routinely manipulated the cash register tape, and substituted a correct tape, which made the end–of–day tally appear to be correct.

Using subpoenas and various search warrants, authorities became aware of multiple bank accounts in the hundreds of thousands of dollars in excess to all of her wages.

"That will take some time to methodically go through and pinpoint dates and dollar amounts," said Carlton Co. Attorney Thom Pertler after Friday's arriagnment. "So it is in the process, but it's going to take some time because there's just so much paperwork, and we're talking about the possibility of an extended period of time," he added.

According to Carlton County Attorney Thom Pertler, one bank account alone is in excess of $925,000.

While Sheriff Kelly Lake says the investigation is still ongoing, it could be a seven figure amount they're dealing with.

"Our county attorney Mr. Pertler did indicate that those are figures we are looking at, and that is a possibility," said Sheriff Lake on Friday, "but we have bank records going back years and years that we have to closely scrutinize."

Another unique aspect to this case: the victim, which, according to the county coordinator Dennis Genereau, is the taxpayer.

"I would estimate thousands of transactions occur in a month, maybe even thousands in a week," said Genereau, adding he's used the facility's services himself throughout the years. "People rely on that service; it's a service we provide to the citizens. They trust that service is going to be handled in an appropriate manner."

The judge has set Wappes's bail at $50,000, and has asked the probation department to look into the possibility of a pre–trial release contract.

Sheriff Kelly Lake says the county is working with the state auditor's office to make sure that nothing like this happens from now on.

Billy Wagness

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