August 15, 2013 |

Leonard receives probation, fines

On Friday, Mary Angela Leonard, former clerk of the city of Willow River charged with embezzling over $167,000 from the city, was sentenced to 21 months in the prison. Her prison time was stayed for 20 years probation on the condition that she spends 30 days in county jail with additional restitution to be made to the City of Willow River. Judge James T. Reuter presided over the trial.

Leonard wrote and forged checks under the mayor’s name from the City of Willow River during May of 2009 to August of 2012. She then cashed the checks and logged checks onto the computer under a legitimate account using the money to obtain property or services.

The prosecuting attorney requested a statement be made on behalf of the City of Willow River. Judge Reuter granted the request.

The statement, written by Willow River City Councilman Chris Ketchmark, was read as follows by the attorney, “Our close knit, small community of 410 suffered a devastating loss and betrayal at the hands of the defendant. A financial loss in excess of $167,000 in a town our size is quite substantial. This loss has delayed or prevented important projects and needs in our community. These include but are not limited to proper maintenance and repairs of our streets, repairing our sewer ponds, repairing our water lift station and purchasing equipment to do such repairs, maintenance and snow removal. The money this defendant admits to stealing from our city was not there when we needed it for infrastructure, let alone when the flood of 2012 ravaged citizens, homes and businesses there. This was money contributed by every hard-working, honest, tax paying citizen of our county.

“A betrayal and crime of this magnitude has had an emotional and psychological impact on the citizens of Willow River and those of us involved in its government. We are asked multiple times per week about how and why this crime happened. Those are questions only one person can answer. All we can tell the people we represent is that we’re doing our best to see that the defendant pays for her crimes and that it never happens again. As Councilmen, we are left to apologize and carry the burden of a crime we had no idea was happening and would never have guessed would happen by someone we trusted. Every financial decision we make as a council will now be second guessed and scrutinized because of something one defendant did. Our citizens were left feeling suspicious and untrusting of their government, again because of one person’s actions. At times it has felt like citizens were more upset at their government than the actions and crimes of the defendant.

"What outcome would we as a council and citizens of Willow River like to see in this case? Due to the repeated nature and length of time over which the thefts took place, we would like to see jail time and restitution in the maximum amount possible. As I stated, over 400 people have been affected by these crimes, not a nebulous “entity” but the City of Willow River. Every man, woman, and child in our town was stolen from and harmed by this defendant.

"Your Honor, I am a compassionate and reasonable human being. That being said, I feel very strongly that this defendant be punished to the maximum extent allowed. Gambling addiction is a disease, stealing multiple times over a period of years to support this disease, to enable this addiction is unacceptable. Stealing is not a disease. Theft is not a disease. Betraying your fellow citizens and those that hired you is not a disease. The first instance of stealing was a mistake, after that it was a calculated choice. Thank you. Dr. Chris Ketchmark.”

Leonard’s attorney stated that Leonard was looking forward to this day so she could express herself. Mary Leonard was then allowed to make a statement, “I just want to say how sorry I am. I stole a great deal of money from people I care about and put a burden on my family. I am glad today is here and I am in recovery and can start to make amends.”

Judge Reuter stated to Leonard, “We see this from time to time especially in this community where there are lots of opportunities with the casinos. People go and win and that seems to put a hook in them and each time there is an expectation to win. It becomes an addiction. The tragedy here is that there are victims, people in the government. People start to suspect those in government and they have to respond to questions of how and why. This has an impact on a small community and the people of Willow River. This case has impacted their impressions on people in government. We can hold people accountable. The city thinks one year in county jail is acceptable.

“It is concerning to me that in 2004, you went through the program for gambling addiction and you are aware of your gambling problem. But you are a lady with no track record, clean as a whistle. What is the right thing to do? I think 20 years of probation to insure nothing like this ever happens again is rational. You have no criminal record. The addiction was controlling your behavior, but this is not to dismiss you.”

The maximum fine of $30,000 was waived with Judge Reuter adding that this would create undue hardship and the minimum fine of $50 was imposed. Judge Reuter added that $100,000 was paid out from insurance to the City of Willow River. He also stated, “Regular payments toward restitution will be made (to pay the approximate balance of $65,000) and that funds in Leonard’s pension account will be applied to restitution as well.”

Other conditions imposed are that Leonard comply with recommended gambling programs and attend regular meeting regarding her addiction. Leonard is not to gamble, enter any establishment that allows gambling and remain law-biding. Judge Reuter added, “If you screw up, you will go back to jail.”

Leonard will begin her jail time on August 19.

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