As trial begins, board chair says Tews was trusted while the director of the food shelf
WILLMAR -- The board of directors of the Willmar Area Food Shelf questioned then-director Victoria Tews about charges made at Willmar's Cub Foods and Cash Wise Foods stores, but were told that the food shelf had run out of food items and that Tew...
WILLMAR -- The board of directors of the Willmar Area Food Shelf questioned then-director Victoria Tews about charges made at Willmar's Cub Foods and Cash Wise Foods stores, but were told that the food shelf had run out of food items and that Tews had bought more to tide the local agency over until the next shipment arrived.
"We had no reason not to believe it was anything else," said John Bergman, the chairman of the food shelf's volunteer board of directors. "We took her at her word."
Bergman, of New London, was the first witness called Wednesday in the jury trial of Tews, 38, of Raymond. She is charged with making unauthorized purchases on the food shelf's accounts at the local stores.
The trial, in Kandiyohi County District Court, continues today.
Tews faces one felony theft charge, two gross misdemeanor theft charges and one misdemeanor theft charge for making the purchases between May 2003 and May 2005. Those reduced charges came in an amended complaint filed Wednesday morning before the jury of 10 women and three men was selected in the case. One juror will be an alternate.
The charges against Tews had been amended Tuesday to four felonies -- for the same $1,977 worth of purchases, including 16 grocery charges ranging from $33 to $282.
The amended complaint is much different than the original complaint filed April 26, 2006, detailing five felony theft counts. Food shelf officials had alleged that Tews purchased $8,225 worth of gift cards and made more than $5,030 in unauthorized charges on food shelf accounts at the local stores. The alleged charges included items like laundry detergent and fabric softener, dog and cat food, hairspray, magazines, over-the-counter medications, flowers and bug spray.
Bergman and Christie Kurth, the current food shelf director, both testified that the food shelf purchases most of its food from Second Harvest Heartland Food Bank. The agency also buys through food suppliers such as Foodservice of America and Sysco, but relies mostly on the food bank and community donations for food.
"We try to buy the most through (the food bank) because of the cost. It is the cheapest," Bergman said. "It doesn't make sense for us to buy from the grocery store."
The food comes from the food bank in case lots by the truckload, Bergman said. Tews was authorized to purchase from the local grocery stores if supplies of particular items ran out before the next shipment or to buy products needed to clean the food shelf building and stock the restrooms.
The food shelf provides food to between 10 and 20 clients per day, or about 300 needy families a month, and disperses about 250,000 pounds of food per year, Kurth said.
Kurth testified that since she has served as director, since October 2005, the food shelf has made only several purchases from the local stores and has not purchased from the local Cub Foods at all since that time. The purchases that have been made included large quantities such as 20 cases of peanut butter, several cases of saltine crackers and 20 to 25 dozen eggs, she said.
She also testified that the amount charged at Cash Wise is much less than in previous years, noting that the food shelf received a $1,300 donation at the store in December 2005, and that there is still more than $200 remaining of that donation.
Food shelf employee Susan Boonstra, of Willmar, also testified that the food shelf buys large quantities of food from the food bank. She did not know that Tews was charging on the local accounts until she reviewed receipts after Tews was no longer working for the food shelf. Boonstra served as the food shelf's interim director between August and October 2005.
"We had not, to my knowledge, purchased large amounts of groceries through the stores," she said.
Boonstra also testified that in the years of working with Tews, she knew that Tews had three children, one of whom would have been in diapers during the period in question, and a dog and a cat.
Stephen Wentzell, assistant county attorney for Kandiyohi County, showed the court charge sheets, on the food shelf's account signed by Tews, and itemized receipts including the purchase of large numbers of items, such as Huggies diapers, Gerber baby cereal, cat and dog food and deli items like meats, salads and cut fruit. The charged items also included single containers of yogurt, cans of juice and tuna, 12-packs of soda, a single dozen eggs, matches, potato chips, dill pickles, mayonnaise, ketchup, applesauce and packages of meat.
"Do you believe any of these items would have been used for the food shelf?" Wentzell asked Boonstra.
"No," she responded.