Trial likely in Atkinson Township swindle caseJust a few minutes before Traci Juntunen’s settlement hearing was set to begin at the Carlton County Courthouse Wednesday afternoon, Juntunen’s attorney John Lind asked prosecuting attorney Leslie Beiers for a few minutes of her time. As the two lawyers disappeared beyond a barrier at the back of the courtroom, 15 people waited in the audience, most of them residents of Atkinson Township who have followed her case since it began.
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
Just a few minutes before Traci Juntunen’s settlement hearing was set to begin at the Carlton County Courthouse Wednesday afternoon, Juntunen’s attorney John Lind asked prosecuting attorney Leslie Beiers for a few minutes of her time. As the two lawyers disappeared beyond a barrier at the back of the courtroom, 15 people waited in the audience, most of them residents of Atkinson Township who have followed her case since it began.
After an investigation by the Office of the State Auditor, Juntunen was charged with three counts of felony theft by swindle in August 2010 for allegedly submitting false claims for reimbursement while serving as an Atkinson Township board supervisor. Although the monetary amount is not large for the alleged crimes – $300 for an Energy Efficiency Small Grants Program grant application; $250 for a deposit on blueprints for a new township building as well as a $50 claim for a meeting in McGregor with the architect – they were charged as felonies because they involve public money.
When Lind and Beiers reappeared and the court was called to order, both attorneys told Judge Robert Macaulay the two sides had been unable to reach any plea agreement in the case.
Beiers then noted that she had filed a total of five Spreigl notices, which alert the court and the defending attorney that the state intends to offer evidence regarding previous convictions or “bad acts” such as crimes of dishonesty.
“The state requests that the court rule on these five incidents, including two convictions and three other bad acts between 1997 and 2007,” said Beiers, an assistant St. Louis County attorney who is prosecuting the case at the request of the Carlton County Attorney’s office, which claims conflict of interest.
When it was his turn to speak to the judge, Lind asked that the court look closely at the Spreigl notices, arguing that some of the cases “happened a long time ago” and their introduction “has to be balanced against character assassination.”
This is not the first time Beiers has prosecuted Juntunen, although the last time Juntunen was still Traci Salo and she had been charged with falsely reporting a crime, something she pleaded guilty to after the case dragged through the court system from April 1993 to April 1996.
That 1993 case – which began when Juntunen was discovered in her car with her hands, legs and face bound in duct tape on Gillogly Road in Carlton County and claimed to have been kidnapped by three unknown men – is likely one of the convictions Beiers referred to in her Spreigl notices. The other conviction is a check forging charge from 2003 in Douglas County, Wis., in which Juntunen was accused of altering the amount on a check written to her from $9,000 to $19,000 and then cashing it. Juntunen was convicted only of theft of less than $2,500 in that case, a Class A misdemeanor.
Judge Macaulay stated he would put his ruling on the Spreigl notices in writing, and asked if either side demanded a speedy trial. Neither did.
Because there has been no plea agreement in the current case, it appears increasingly likely that Juntunen’s case will go to trial.
Before that can happen, however, Judge Macaulay has up to 90 days to rule on the Spreigl notices. After he makes his decision, he suggested a pretrial hearing be set.