Ex-DNR officer James Steffen pleads guilty to felony theft charge
WILLMAR -- A former Department of Natural Resources conservation officer pleaded guilty Tuesday to a felony theft charge for allegedly charging more gasoline on his state-issued fleet card than what he used while on patrol.
WILLMAR - A former Department of Natural Resources conservation officer pleaded guilty Tuesday to a felony theft charge for allegedly charging more gasoline on his state-issued fleet card than what he used while on patrol.
James Clifford Steffen, 48, of Sunburg entered an Alford plea to the charge Tuesday. In an Alford plea the defendant does not admit guilt, but admits that a reasonable jury could find him guilty after reviewing evidence. It is recorded as a guilty plea.
As part of the plea agreement, Steffen will receive a stay of adjudication on the felony theft charge. This means that no conviction will appear on his record if he successfully completes probation.
An additional charge of felony theft and a charge of misdemeanor theft will also be dismissed as part of the plea agreement during sentencing Jan. 28.
According to the criminal complaint on the charges, 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.
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.
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.
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.