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Danube, Minn., whistle blower pleads guilty

OLIVIA -- While she was publicly demanding that the town's police chief be suspended while investigated for an alleged wrong doing, Sharon Lothert was taking advantage of her position as a city council member and president of the Economic Development Agency in Danube to steal rent checks written to the city.

Lothert, 59, of Hector, admitted to the offenses during a court appearance Friday in district court in Olivia.

She pleaded guilty to a felony charge of theft and a gross misdemeanor charge of misconduct by a public official.

District Judge Randall Slieter accepted the pleas, and dismissed two others, felony theft charges and a felony check forgery charge as part of an agreement reached in the case.

The agreement requires that Lothert reimburse the city for the money that was taken, up to a maximum of $21,940. City officials allege that figure represents the amount that was lost from Aug. 2009 through Dec. 2010.

Judge Slieter ordered a pre-sentence investigation. There was no agreement reached on a sentence as part of the plea. Minnesota sentencing guidelines recommend a stayed sentence of one year and one day in jail for a first time offender.

The complaint alleges that Lothert took over the financial accounts of the EDA from Aug. 2009 through Dec. 2010. An audit of the Danube EDA accounts subsequently identified discrepancies in the EDA accounts for the period.

Lothert was charged with theft, check forgery and misconduct by a public official on June 6.

In court on Friday, Lothert acknowledged handling the EDA's check book and financial accounts. She admitted to depositing some of the rent checks from a city-owned apartment complex into her personal account.

She also admitted to using the city funds for her own use. "To pay some things, yes,'' she said in response to questioning.

She did not indicate what she used the funds to pay, although that issue is likely to be raised as part of the pre-sentence investigation.

The case against the police chief was eventually resolved with the dismissal of a misdemeanor charge against him for alleged misuse of funds in the fire department's smelt fund account.

Lothert resigned her position on the Danube city council earlier this year and moved out of the community.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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