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Woman pleads to lowered theft charge for taking money from Lutheran Social Service

WILLMAR -- Jessica Beth Kruger, 29, of Litchfield, pleaded guilty Thursday to a felony theft charge for taking $39,516.99 intended to help students pay school expenses from Lutheran Social Service in Willmar.

As part of a plea agreement in Kandiyohi County District Court, she paid $13,000 in restitution on Thursday and will make arrangements to repay the remainder of the money and will receive a stay of imposition on her sentence. Under a stay of imposition, the felony conviction could be reduced to a misdemea-nor if she complies with the sentencing conditions.

Kruger will be sentenced July 15.

The single theft charge was filed after local Lutheran Social Service officials met with Willmar police in April 2009 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 had 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.

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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