Tews last witness called by the defense during her trial

WILLMAR -- Victoria Tews said Thursday that she purchased food and other items at local grocery stores to meet the special needs of the clients, volunteers and workers of the Willmar Area Food Shelf.

WILLMAR -- Victoria Tews said Thursday that she purchased food and other items at local grocery stores to meet the special needs of the clients, volunteers and workers of the Willmar Area Food Shelf.

Tews, 38, of Raymond, was the last witness called by defense attorneys in her trial, which continues today in Kandiyohi County District Court. She faces theft charges -- one felony, two gross misdemeanors and one misdemeanor -- for making unauthorized purchases on food shelf charge accounts between May 2003 and May 2005 at Willmar's Cub and Cash Wise Foods stores. Local purchases were expected by the food shelf's board of directors, Tews testified.

"If you expect your community to support you, then you are expected to support them (the local businesses)," she said.

Tews countered the prosecution's claims that she bought single items like hairspray, medication, baby cereal, diapers, soda, candles and deodorizers for her own use with testimony that she was buying for clients with specific needs or that the products were needed at the food shelf. She also testified that she bought cut fruit, salads and deli items for meetings hosted by the food shelf and purchased picnic items and soda as a way to honor the agency's volunteers and community service workers.

The candles and deodorizers were purchased because the food shelf had a "sometimes overwhelming odor," she said.


Susan Boonstra, the other employee of the food shelf, was recalled by the prosecution Thursday afternoon.

She refuted Tews' testimony about the need to buy medications and especially baby cereal.

"We always have a lot of baby cereal at the food shelf," she said.

Boonstra also told the court that she did not know of special shopping programs for the specific needs of clients and that she did not recall Tews bringing in large amounts of food to feed lunch to community service workers. Instead, the workers were allowed to purchase microwaveable dinners and soup from the food shelf. Or, if they had money, someone could go to a fast food place to buy them lunch, she said.

Tews' attorney, John Mack, entered a court exhibit of her personal checking account statements. He claimed the statements showed that Tews often accompanied the food shelf charge purchases with a personal transaction in the same shopping trip.

"I was on my own time, using my own gas," Tews said. "I was using my resources wisely."

She also testified she shopped on weekends and holidays as a way to fill time because she had great difficulty leaving her three children with their father for the weekend. Court documents show that Tews filed for divorce from her husband, Scott Burdorf, of Montevideo, in September 2002 and that the divorce was granted in April 2003. Many of the documents in the trial show that Tews was formerly known as Victoria Tews-Burdorf.

One of the exhibits entered by prosecutor Stephen Wentzell, assistant Kandiyohi County attorney, showed the dates and times of the 17 transactions made by Tews on the accounts. All of the purchases, except one, were made on weekends, holidays or after work hours. Tews said she brought the purchases into the food shelf the following business day. Food shelf logs showed some of the purchases were logged in properly, but others were not logged in or were combined with other entries. One of the purchases was made when Tews was supposed to be on vacation. Her timecards were also entered as a court exhibit.


Gloria Gardner, of Willmar, testified that she worked in the same building as the food shelf and that she was accustomed to seeing Tews' car backed up to the back door and Tews unloading a trunk full of grocery bags, both after hours and on weekends.

"It was normal to see her do that," she said, noting that she may have helped Tews unload some of the groceries and joked with her about how much dish soap she was purchasing.

Joe Eikmeier, a retired Willmar teacher and member of the food shelf board, told the court that the board had no problems with Tews' work performance and that she was encouraged to buy locally.

"We wanted some business to go to the local people," he said.

Attorney John Burns also served on the food shelf board. He told the court that the policies of the food shelf were not very strict, were out of date and internally conflicted with each other. The board, he said, used memories and tradition to guide some decisions.

"Our collective memory was a big part of it," he said, adding that statements of how the former director would have handled the situation usually settled any dispute the board had.

As the director, Tews had broad discretion over purchases, he said.

"There is nothing on that list that is outside of her discretion," he said. "Non-food items were made available to clients who were destitute."


The charges against Tews were amended Wednesday morning before the jury of 10 women and three men was selected in the case. That was the second change this week, as the charges were also amended Tuesday to include four felonies, for $1,977 worth of purchases including the 17 grocery charges, ranging from $33 to $282, at the local stores.

The amended complaint is much different than the original charges of five felony theft counts, which were filed on April 26, 2006. 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 while she worked for the food shelf. She was released from her duties in August 2005.

The case is expected to go to the jury today. Judge Donald M. Spilseth is presiding over the trial.

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