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Former WCI accounting director enters plea in fraud, theft

WILLMAR -- Steven Douglas Byers, 55, of Kerkhoven, pleaded guilty Monday to one felony charge of financial transaction card fraud for stealing more than $17,000 from West Central Industries over a period of two years.

Under a plea agreement reached in Kandiyohi County District Court, nine additional felony charges of financial transaction card fraud and theft against Byers will be dismissed. Byers agreed to pay $17,676.96 in restitution, the amount taken from the agency when his personal expenses were charged on a credit card paid by West Central Industries.

Byers will be sentenced May 6. There will also be a restitution hearing that day to determine if Byers should pay additional costs, for audits, legal fees and other costs, incurred by West Central Industries.

During the plea hearing, Byers admitted to charging his personal expenses, like phone and grocery bills, on the credit card and then routing the bill to be paid with WCI funds.

"I was short of money," he said. "I was always going to pay it back."

He was the accounting director for West Central Industries at the time, and admitted he told executive director Charlie Oakes about the theft when he couldn't live with the deception anymore.

Byers was terminated from his employment in August, around the same time that Oakes contacted Willmar police and reported that Byers had opened a credit card account through West Central Industries without the knowledge of officials there. Byers had made numerous personal purchases on the card and West Central Industries had been paying the bill.

An audit revealed that Byers had used the card to charge $17,676.96 in personal charges between March 2007 and August 2009.

Gretchen Schlosser

Gretchen Schlosser is the public safety reporter, and writes about agriculture occasionally, for the West Central Tribune. She's been with the Tribune since 2006 and has 17 years of experience working in news, media and communications. 

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