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Cloquet woman pleads guilty to felony theft after stealing from employer

A Cloquet woman who admitted to taking money from her employers at Best Oil Company pleaded guilty to one count of felony theft on Monday.

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Lori Ann Kelley, who was slated for a contested omnibus hearing that day, instead entered a guilty plea to an amended count of taking funds in excess of $1,000 but not more than $5,000. As part of a plea agreement, two other felony theft charges against her will be dismissed.

Kelley's attorney, Sonja Sturdevant, recommended she be granted a stay of adjudication, three years probation and five days of work duty with Sentence to Serve.

Sturdevant further indicated that Kelley reserves the right to contest whatever restitution amount is ultimately set in the case.

Assistant Carlton County Attorney Jeff Boucher said the settlement was discussed and ultimately approved by the owners of Best Oil, indicating that all concerned felt it was "an appropriate outcome."

In questioning her client before Judge Robert Macaulay, Sturdevant established that Kelley had worked at Best Oil from 1992 to July 2013.

"During the last six months you worked there," questioned Sturdevant, "did you take cash that didn't belong to you?"

Kelley replied in the affirmative, saying it came from cash payments made by customers.

"I paid some of it back on payday," she stated, "and some of it I did not."

Boucher then asked if the amount she kept during the time period from Jan. 1, 2013, and June 25, 2013, was in excess of $1,000, and once again Kelley replied in the affirmative. Boucher went on to question the exact mechanics of how she took the cash from her employer, and Kelley said at times when a customer made a payment she and others  would sometimes "borrow" the money from the cash drawer, admitting once again that she didn't always repay it.

"Sometimes I couldn't always pay it back," Kelley said. "I had rent to pay and that kind of thing."

Boucher questioned whether her supervisors ever balanced the books at the end of the day and became suspicious.

"They must not have," said Kelley.

According to the criminal complaint filed in the case, on July 8, 2013, Cloquet Police Chief Wade Lamirande (now retired) responded to Best Oil Company in Cloquet to investigate a reported employee theft. Through investigation and interviews, Cloquet Police Department investigators later learned that Kelley, 43, was involved.

Allegedly, Kelley would take receipt of payments at the business and take money from the payments for herself. The business learned of the theft through reviews of suspicious entries in their books and on deposit receipts. Lamirande made contact with Kelley, who he said was cooperative and admitted to taking money from the business for approximately the past year and a half. Though she said she was unsure of the exact amount taken, she estimated the range to be at between $3,000 and $5,000.

The business performed a review of the suspect transactions and indicated they believe the amount taken to be much higher, possibly in excess of $50,000.

The thefts reportedly began in January 2012 and continued into June 2013. Kelley was initially charged with three felony counts of theft, each coinciding with a particular time period, including $15,268.62 from Jan. 1, 2012, through June 30, 2012; $19,560.70 for July 1, 2012, through Dec. 31, 2012; and $15,719.59 for Jan. 1, 2013, through June 25, 2013.

Judge Macaulay set Kelley's sentencing date for 9 a.m. Monday, June 16.