WILLMAR — A woman who acted as secretary and bookkeeper for two New London family businesses has been accused of stealing nearly $400,000 in the past three years.

The woman, Melanie Beth Daniel, 49, of Mounds View, made her first court appearance Wednesday in Kandiyohi County District Court. Her next court appearance will be a pretrial hearing April 14.

Daniel is charged with 44 felonies — 39 charges of theft and five charges of theft by swindle.

She was released on her own recognizance on the condition she have no contact with the alleged victims and no access to the finances of another business. Bail for release without conditions was set at $50,000.

According to court records, an accountant hired by Lake Country Crane and Wachtler Inc. determined that $386,212.74 had been stolen since December 2016. The businesses are family-owned and located near New London. The family had employed Daniel since summer 2013.

The theft was discovered in June 2019 when the owner of Lake Country Crane said he wrote a $2,800 check to the owner of Wachtler Inc., and he noticed it was missing in his bank statement.

According to the criminal complaint, the staff at their bank found that the $2,800 Lake Country check had been endorsed and cashed by Daniel, and the $2,800 had not been deposited in the Wachtler Inc. account.

The day after cashing the $2,800 check, Daniel went to Italy for 10 days, according to the complaint.

Working with his bank, the Lake Country Crane owner found many questionable charges from his business, including payments to Kohl’s, Target and Blue Cross/Blue Shield. The companies do not pay for medical insurance for employees.

The family hired an accountant to go over their books and contacted the Kandiyohi County Sheriff’s Office.

The accountant found that the suspected employee theft started when Daniel was hired and continued until July 2019, according to the criminal complaint.

Daniel was in charge of the business finances. The owners generally did not look at bank statements or credit card statements, relying on Daniel to keep them updated, according to the complaint.

Daniel’s alleged thefts were accomplished in three ways, the accountant said. He had found online or recurring payments from a checking account, fraudulent use of a company credit card and writing fraudulent checks.

The accountant developed a spreadsheet showing alleged online payments made from business accounts to Home Depot, Capital One, Discover, Old Navy, Target, Kohl’s and Blue Cross/Blue Shield. Monthly payments to Capital One ranged from a low of $2,300 to several payments of more than $20,000.

In a meeting with the accountant and the owners, Daniel admitted to buying about $42 in groceries on the company credit card and wrote them a $42 check.

In a meeting with a deputy, she allegedly said she could explain some things but would need to take responsibility for others.

According to the complaint, the spreadsheet detailed charges that totaled $10,307.15 in December 2016; $50,276.27 from January through June 2017; $89,097.98 from July through December 2017; $98,802.81 from January through June 2018; $68,955.83 from July through December 2019; and $51,504.36 from January through July 2019.

In addition, a credit card that was no longer to be used for business expenses was used from December 2016 through July 2019 to charge $4,842.09.