Charges: Worker stole $700K from MN employer; spent it on hotels, clothes

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In "one of the largest" cases of suspected employee embezzlement seen in Minnesota, a worker has been charged with stealing almost $700,000 from her employer.

The Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced Tuesday that Karen Jane Breyette, 53, of St. Bonafacius, has been charged with seven counts of theft by swindle over $35,000, with the amount she is suspected to have stolen totaling $682,881.

The thefts are suspected of having occurred after she was taken on by Buffalo, Minnesota-based medical device company PenRad Technologies as a bookkeeper in Jan. 2008.

The total amount she is believed to have stolen is thought to be closer to $900,000, the attorney's news release said, but some of these alleged thefts cannot be charged due the five-year statute of limitations.

"We prosecute numerous cases each year of people embezzling from their employer or a volunteer organization, but this is one of the largest amounts we have seen," Freeman said.

"... (we) will seek restitution for as much of this as possible. However, it is another warning for businesses not to put too much financial control in the hands of just one person."

Proceeds to pay for hotels, clothes

Breyette is said to have used the company credit card to pay for hotels for her vacations and to purchase clothes and other items for her personal use.

She also used the company checkbook, writing four $4,000 checks to herself, and another for more than $6,000 to pay for silver bullion bars that were later recovered at her house, according to the criminal complaint.

The biggest amounts were taken through the payroll system, where Breyette is accused of noting her correct salary in the payroll ledger, but transferring more to herself through the electronic payroll, charges note.

She is said to have made attempts to repay her earlier thefts in 2011 and 2012 by not paying herself anything, but fell $100,000 short in her attempts.

She is also accused of making wire transfers from the company's accounts to other bank accounts – two of which totaling $42,000 were to a company, Gentle Green Cleaners, of which she was a part-owner.

PenRad was based in Minnetonka prior to moving to Buffalo in 2012, so the case was investigated by Minnetonka police.

Breyette will make her first court appearance on Sept. 1.

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