UPDATE: County employee charged with swindle, theft of public fundsCounty transfer station employee Joanne Marie Wappes, 63, of Cloquet was charged Friday morning with theft of public funds and theft by swindle. Carlton County Attorney Thom Pertler said the amount of money allegedly stolen by Wappes could total “as much as seven figures,” or over a million dollars.
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
In Carlton County Court Friday morning, Carlton County Attorney Thom Pertler said the amount of money allegedly stolen by a county transfer station employee could total “as much as seven figures,” or over a million dollars.
“There was money all over the house,” Pertler said, when he was arguing for a larger bail amount. “And maybe some that [investigators] didn’t find. So I’d say there is a definite flight risk.”
Joanne Marie Wappes, 63, of Cloquet was charged Friday morning with theft of public funds and theft by swindle. Judge Robert Macaulay set bail at the amount requested by Pertler — $50,000 bond/$5,000 cash — and ordered a pretrial release study for Wappes, who has no prior criminal record.
According to the criminal complaint (which was written before Wappes’ house was searched), the Carlton County Sheriff’s Department learned on July 10 that Wappes — who charged and collected fees for waste disposal at the gate of the transfer station — was allegedly stealing money. Wappes, who is on unpaid administrative leave from her job now, had worked at the transfer station since 1984.
After receiving the complaint of suspicious behavior, the defendant’s supervisor and law enforcement retrieved video surveillance footage of the office, from a recently installed camera. While reviewing the footage, investigators observed clearly suspicious behavior that involved Wappes manipulating the cash register and handing out false receipts to customers.
According to the complaint, investigators discovered that Wappes would allegedly give some customers a false receipt for the transaction and later substitute a correct cash register tape that then resulted in a seemingly accurate tally for each day, even though the actual number of cash-paying customers who used the transfer facility was greatly in excess of the actual number of transactions recorded on the “legitimate” cash register tape.
Investigators reviewed various days of the surveillance video — which County Coordinator Dennis Genereau said was installed this summer — and “on any given day, at any given hour, the defendant could be observed manipulating the cash register using the method described to steal public funds from Carlton County,” the complaint stated.
After gaining search warrants, investigators identified numerous bank accounts owned by the defendant and obtained information regarding her wages, and confirmed that she was depositing “great sums” of money into various accounts and CDs that greatly exceeded every penny of wages that she had earned from her sole source of income through Carlton County. The largest bank account, the complaint stated, contained more than $925,000. Although the other bank accounts have substantially less money, investigators were unable to verify any other source of income other than Wappes’ job at the county’s transfer station.
Investigators also conducted sting operations whereby they went to the transfer station and used marked large cash denominations to pay for their loads. Upon examining the bank bag at the end of the day, the bills used by investigators were not accounted for, nor were they deposited into the bank account used by the transfer station.
According to the criminal complaint, Wappes has deposited more than $30,000 into bank accounts for this year, but has earned only $17,500. For 2012, Wappes deposited approximately $45,000 into various bank accounts but earned approximately $28,000. As far back as 2007, deposits exceeded the defendant’s gross income by $63,000.
Carlton County Sheriff Kelly Lake said the investigation by her department and assisted by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) and the Minnesota Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is still underway.
“We have volumes of information to go through,” Lake said, explaining the paper trail of bank records and other records will take time, especially considering that Wappes had worked at the transfer station since 1984. “We will take our time and make sure we can recoup as much money as we can for the county and its citizens.
“We take this very seriously as a county,” she continued. “We are doing our due diligence in investigating this matter.”
The Carlton County transfer station at 1950 Highway 210 (3/4 mile west of Interstate 35) is open for business as usual. Regular hours through Oct. 31 are 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday. The household hazardous waste facility in the same location is open Tuesdays and Saturdays from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.