WILLMAR -- A 28-year-old Litchfield woman made her first court appearance Thursday on a single felony theft charge for allegedly stealing $39,516.99 intended to help students pay school expenses.
Jessica Beth Kruger is charged in Kandiyohi County District Court with stealing the money from Lutheran Social Service in Willmar. Kruger was released on her personal recognizance. Her next appearance is Jan. 11.
According to Timothy Johnson, local Lutheran Social Service supervisor, Kruger is no longer employed by the agency.
According to the complaint, local Lu-theran So-cial Service officials met with Willmar police in April and reported that there had been an employee theft from the Educational and Training Voucher Program. An internal investigation revealed that Kruger had stolen about $50,000 from the program.
The program provides financial assistance for students, in the form of gift cards, to help defray the cost of school expenses and may also cover room, lodging and transportation costs. Kruger was responsible for determining whether students were entitled to the assistance and for issuing them the gift cards. The money for the program was government funds.
A review showed that Kruger had used Lutheran Social Service funds to purchase the gift cards that were to be given to the students. However, students contacted had never actually received the gift cards.
During an interview with her supervisors, Kruger allegedly admitted that she had kept the gift cards for her personal use since 2007. She said she took the cards to Minneapolis and sold them on the street for about half of their face value.
She identified 30 student files where the thefts happened and they were reviewed, showing that the students should have received $39,516.99 in gift cards and funds for room and board and transportation.