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Pequot Lakes woman faces fraud charges

A 46-year-old Pequot Lakes woman is accused of stealing thousands of dollars from a business she worked for in Garrison. BrainerdDispatch.com Illustration

A 46-year-old Pequot Lakes woman is accused of stealing thousands of dollars from a business she worked for in Garrison.

Shannon Marie Steele, who was employed as a bookkeeper at Geo's Paint in Garrison during the time of the alleged crime, was charged at the beginning of this year with 10 felony charges—three counts of theft by check and seven counts of financial transaction/card fraud.

Steele first appeared in court Jan. 30. Bail was posted and she was released from jail. Her next court appearance, a plea hearing, is scheduled Feb. 12 in front of Judge Erik Askegaard.

According to the statement of probable cause filed against Steele, the Crow Wing County Sheriff's Office received a report Dec. 22, 2016, of an employee theft at Geo's Paint in Garrison. The report indicated Steele diverted several thousand dollars from the business accounts for her own use. The investigator met with the owners and learned in June of 2016, there was an opening for a bookkeeper filled by Steele. As the bookkeeper, Steele had access to the Geo's Paint checking account, its 5 Star Management checking account and various credit card accounts associated with the business. Steele also had access to one of the owner's personal accounts. Steele had authority to use one credit card to book rooms for employees when they traveled for the company and pay for specific business supplies. She did not have authority to charge any personal expenses.

Prior to filing the report, the owner stopped by the business on a Saturday and in the mail was a credit card statement. The owner opened the bill and noticed some charges, not for the business, Steele made without authorization. As a result of this discovery, the owners began to look closer at the business checking and charge accounts. Several discrepancies were discovered, including checks written out to Steele but entered into the Quickbooks registry as written for another vendor or not entered at all, the complaint stated. Credit card transactions were for various purchases unrelated to Geo's, but Steele entered the transactions as if they were for Geo's or did not enter them at all.

Steele's husband, Russell Clair Steele, 46, endorsed and cashed most of the fraudulent checks Shannon Steele wrote to herself from the accounts. They were deposited into his checking and savings accounts.

Between Aug. 18 and Dec. 22, 2016, 12 checks totaling over $37,000 were written to Shannon Steele from the Geo's Paint and 5 Star Management's checking accounts and deposited into her husband's account. Between June 1-30, 2016, checks totaling $11,439.07 were written to Steele, and between July 1 and Aug. 16, 2016, checks totaling $13,613.74 were written to Steele and deposited into her husband's account.

Steele also made unauthorized purchases using eight other Geo's Paint and the owner's personal credit card accounts unrelated to the business, the complaint stated. Steele's entries in Quickbooks showed the charges were at business-related entities when they were actually made at other companies. Between May 18 and Dec. 22, 2016, Steele charged more than $16,000 on the various credit card accounts.

After the theft was discovered and she was fired, Steele spoke to another employee and admitted to stealing the money because they deserved it, and threatened to retaliate, the complaint stated.

Russell Steele was charged with two felonies of receiving stolen property. The charges were dismissed in October.

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