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Willmar, Minn., man charged for stealing more than $60,000 from Tripolis Church

WILLMAR -- Paul Alton Hanson, 50, of Willmar, made his first court appearance Wednesday on three felony charges of theft by swindle for allegedly stealing more than $60,000 from Tripolis Lutheran Church of rural Kandiyohi.

According to the complaint filed in Kandiyohi County District Court, Hanson allegedly wrote 129 checks to himself between July 2011 and January 2013 for $61,623.83 and disguised his actions by writing apparently legitimate church expenses in the church's financial ledgers.

Unconditional bail was set at $25,000. His next appearance is Aug. 14.

According to the complaint, the investigation began when church officials met with a detective from the Kandiyohi County Sheriff's Office in February. The officials reported that Hanson had been employed as the church treasurer and that they had received information from their bank that Hanson had been cashing numerous checks written to himself.

The officials told the detective that Hanson had admitted, during a meeting with the church's executive committee, that he had written the checks to himself for personal gain and not for compensation. The officials also disclosed that Hanson had apologized profusely and requested that the matter be taken care of within the church.

When bank officials had first notified church officials of the numerous checks Hanson was writing to himself, church officials believed Hanson was paying himself for mowing services provided to the church or that he was reimbursing himself for expenses paid with his own money. It wasn't until late in 2012 when church officials reviewed the cancelled checks that they found that Hanson had paid himself more than $60,000.

The checking account ledger and canceled checks were turned over to law enforcement. The ledgers and check memos indicate the checks, which were actually paid to Hanson, were recorded as donations to local and church missions, utility payments, repair bills to contractors, payments for altar supplies or Sunday School supplies and pastoral pension and federal tax payments.

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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