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Sunburg man makes first appearance on charges of theft for gas not used in DNR work

WILLMAR — A 47-year-old Sunburg man made his first court appearance Wednesday on two felony theft charges for making gasoline purchases on his state-issued fleet card, then not using the fuel for patrols while working as a state conservation officer.

James Clifford Steffen was released on his personal recognizance. His next appearance is Oct. 31 in Kandiyohi County District Court. He also faces a misdemeanor theft count in the case.

According to the complaint, Steffen allegedly charged more gas on his fleet card than was used in the state-owned boat, all-terrain vehicle and snowmobile he used as a Department of Natural Resources conservation officer.

According to Rich Sprouse, a public information officer for the enforcement division of the DNR, Steffen is not currently employed by the DNR.

According to the complaint filed July 24 in District Court, the investigation was conducted by the Wright County Sheriff's Office and found approximately 435 gallons of fuel was charged to the account but not used for state purposes. A total dollar amount was not assigned for the fuel.

An investigation by the DNR first began when a citizen reported suspicious purchases of gasoline by Steffen at a Sunburg gas station, including when Steffen filled his state-owned work truck and numerous portable gas cans in his state-owned boat.

The DNR found that the purchases were made by using a "9999" code, which is supposed to be fuel for other equipment, such as boats, ATVs and snowmobiles.

The Wright County officer found that there were 13 unusual purchases of gas using the code for other equipment between July 18, 2010, and April 2012. The average quantity of gas purchased was 27.99 gallons, much more fuel than is needed to fill the tank of an ATV, boat or snowmobile.

DNR officials checked the fuel usage and consumption on Steffen's ATV, boat and snowmobile, finding that the vehicle usage fell well short of the fuel amount purchased on his state-issued fleet card.

DNR officials had also taken Steffen's watercraft on Aug. 1, 2012, and replaced it with another watercraft on Aug. 2, 2012. Studies on the boat, based on fuel consumption and hours on the motor, showed there were 51 gallons of gas unaccounted for between Aug. 2 and Oct. 5, 2012.

Fuel usage logs were also reviewed, showing Steffen made gas purchases under the 9999 code for "other equipment" amounting to 469.9 gallons of fuel between July 2010 and August 2012, well beyond the estimated 112 gallons of fuel the analysis showed Steffen using in a two-year period in his ATV, boat and snowmobile.

All but one of these 9999-coded gas purchases were made at the same gas station in Sunburg.

The investigator noted that there was a discrepancy of approximately 387 gallons between the gallons of gas purchased and the average usage by Steffen in the state-owned equipment.

The complaint also notes that between Aug. 2 and Oct. 5, 2012, there were 51 gallons of fuel that could not be accounted for, amounting to approximately $179. The price of $3.49 per gallon was the lowest price paid for gas on Steffen's fuel card.

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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