WILLMAR — A New London man has entered a guilty plea while maintaining his innocence, called an Alford plea, to a felony theft-by-swindle charge.

Erick Anders Ortenblad, 35, was charged in 2019 with two theft-by-swindle felonies for allegedly bilking a Prinsburg couple and a relative out of more than $100,000.

In an Alford plea, a defendant pleads guilty without admitting guilt by agreeing that the prosecution has enough evidence to make a guilty verdict likely at trial.

Under a plea agreement, he entered an Alford plea to one of the charges last week in Kandiyohi County District Court. The second will be dismissed at sentencing.

When it comes to sentencing, an Alford plea is treated like a guilty plea.

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Ortenblad is to be sentenced May 10. According to the plea agreement, he is to receive a stay of adjudication.

With a stay of adjudication, the conviction will not go on his criminal record if he successfully completes court-ordered probation which could include restitution and mental health treatment.

In one case, Ortenblad was accused of borrowing $56,000 from a relative in 2016. The money was to be a loan that he would use to repay a loan to his father. When there had been no payment by the fall of 2019, family members reported the unpaid loan as “some type of swindle.”

In the other case, Ortenblad allegedly approached a Prinsburg couple in 2017 and led them to believe he was a pastor. He visited their home and prayed with them, paying special attention to the man’s health problems.

Ortenblad allegedly asked the couple for a $70,000 loan so he could purchase a church property in Willmar on short notice and start a new church. The couple said they gave Ortenblad a $70,000 check in March 2017 and made it clear to him it was a loan.

A Willmar real estate agent said he had shown Ortenblad a church building for sale in 2017. They never came close to an agreement on a price, according to the agent.

The couple said in 2019 they had not received any repayment or an explanation for the lack of payments, according to court records.

In both cases, Ortenblad said he would repay the loans when his home in Anna, Texas, was sold.

When he was interviewed by law enforcement, Ortenblad said he was unable to repay the couple, according to court records. He said that he had owed about $2,000 to his housing association and the association foreclosed on his home and sold it without giving him any financial compensation.

The day after he deposited the couple’s money in the church account, he transferred $55,000 to his father’s account in the same bank to repay a debt.

Ortenblad said the remaining $15,000 of the loan was spent on church expenses, including salaries for him and his wife.

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