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Veterans officer sentenced to probation, fine on theft charge

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WILLMAR -- The Kandiyohi County veterans service officer was sentenced Thursday to five years of probation, a $1,000 fine and a host of conditions on a felony theft charge for taking money veterans paid for bus rides to the Veteran Affairs hospital.

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Trisha Lynn Appeldorn, 34, of Pennock, received a stay of adjudication on her sentence, handed down by Judge Kathryn N. Smith in Kandiyohi County District Court. Under the stay, no conviction will appear on Appeldorn's record if she complies with the court's conditions.

Before she was sentenced, Appeldorn said she is taking steps to be a better wife, mother and person.

She acknowledged her actions disappointed her employer and family.

"Through all of this I have let a lot of people down," she said.

Conditions set by Smith include that Appeldorn pay $214 in restitution, complete a chemical use assessment and follow all recommendations, not use alcohol or drugs and submit to random testing.

She must also take prescription medications as prescribed, follow the aftercare recommendations of Project Turnabout's Vanguard gambling program, not enter bars that have pull tab gambling unless for her work and approved by probation, attend Gamblers Anonymous and continuing meetings for the Vanguard program and serve 30 days of electronic alcohol monitoring starting Dec. 10.

Court records show that Appeldorn paid the $214 in restitution, the $1,000 fine and $87 in court fees on Thursday.

Tom Anderson, Appeldorn's attorney, argued that his client deserved leniency and support from the community and that she, her family and employer have been put under great strain by newspaper reports of the charges and court proceedings.

"She is a tremendous asset to the community," Anderson said, noting that since Appeldorn started working as the veterans service officer, enrollment by county veterans in health, disability and pension programs has increased greatly. "She knows the challenges veterans face in this county. That's why she has served them so well."

Appeldorn, he noted, was serving in the Air Force overseas when she was injured in an auto crash.

Rich Ronning, the Willmar city attorney who has been named a special assistant county attorney to prosecute the case, urged that Appeldorn had violated conditions of release by using alcohol and expressed concern that she hasn't been honest with officials about her alcohol use.

"She will not get through this if she is not being honest," he said, pressing the court to impose electronic alcohol monitoring on Appeldorn.

Appeldorn had been placed on paid administrative leave from her county post, but was allowed to go back to her job in April. Kandiyohi County Administrator Larry Kleindl has said an internal investigation would be delayed until the court process was completed.

The theft charge was filed Feb. 11 after a Willmar Police Department detective met Jan. 25 with Kleindl regarding missing funds from the veterans service office. Kleindl explained that veterans pay $10 per trip, given to the bus driver, to ride a county bus to the VA hospital. The bus driver in turn would give the cash and checks to the veterans service office on a daily basis. Then the funds would be turned over to the county auditor for deposit.

Kleindl had been advised that there had been no deposits since June 2007 and told the detective that Appeldorn had showed up in his office that morning of Jan. 25 with a big wad of cash.

The detective met with both Kleindl and Appeldorn later the same day. Appeldorn explained that she had simply been putting the envelopes with the bus receipts in a drawer and that she didn't get around to making up the deposits and taking them to the auditor's office.

She further explained that she had taken the materials home the night before and got everything together and then brought the money into Kleindl's office.

On Jan. 28, the detective was informed by County Auditor Sam Modderman that the $2,284 that had been turned in was $214 short of the $2,498 in receipts issued by the bus driver.

On Jan. 30, the detective met with Appeldorn, who admitted that she had taken small amounts of money from the bus receipts and that the total must have been around $200.

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