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Woman faces theft charges after she allegedly racked up more than $40,000 on local business' credit card

WILLMAR -- A 40-year-old Pennock woman made her first court appearance Thursday on charges that she allegedly charged more than $40,000 for personal vehicles, vacations, a furnace, computer equipment and cash advances on a Willmar business' credit card.

Christy Lynn Arends faces three felony charges of theft by swindle in Kandiyohi County District Court. She was released on her personal recognizance. Her next appearance is April 6.

According to the complaint, a Willmar police officer was called to Central Minnesota Senior Care, an affiliated company of Divine House, on March 28, 2008. A group of people including Debra Shriver, the owner of Divine House, met with the officer.

The group reported that Arends, as an employee of the senior care business, had fraudulently obtained a credit card jointly in her name and Divine House and had made $40,429 in purchases for her personal benefit between January 2007 and March 2008. The purchases had been discovered during an annual audit, in which credit card statements appeared to be altered and different than those provided by the credit card company.

The transactions included a $4,275 payment on a timeshare, $1,080 for a computer and accessories, $1,150 to a collection agency, $2,525 for a truck transmission, $2,800 for a cruise, $2,518 for a trip to Mexico, a total of $7,000 in payments for two vehicles, $5,520 for a new furnace and $2,547 for eye surgery. The transactions included numerous cash advances and other, smaller purchases.

Arends, through her attorney, cl-aimed she had a letter -- signed by Susan Je-nsen, as the business office manager -- that gave Arends permission to use the credit card from the business as a form of wage. Jensen denied seeing the letter and signed an affidavit of forgery to that effect.

A check of civil court records shows that Arends filed a conciliation court case in April 2008, seeking $4,800 in back wages from Divine House. That claim was countered by Shriver's claim that Arends had paid herself $3 more per hour than her regular wage and bonuses of $3,900 and $4,500 in March and May 2007, along with charging more than $35,000 on the credit card. That case was dismissed in July to permit the parties to litigate it in civil court. The civil court case includes a Jan. 14, 2009, filing that the parties had reached a mediated settlement and asked the court to dismiss all claims.

According to the criminal complaint, two police detectives executed a search warrant Aug. 20 on Arends' home and seized from the home a computer and accessories, game system, televisions and other items allegedly purchased with the credit card. They also photographed a 2006 300 M Sedan, a 2006 Dodge pickup, and a Bryant furnace in the basement of the home. The credit card had allegedly been used for $7,423 in down payments and accessories for the vehicles and $5,520 for the furnace.