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Former VFW manager sentenced for theft

A former manager of the Osakis VFW Post was sentenced to 10 days in jail and ordered to pay $8,000 in restitution for theft.

Michelle Renee Manders, 40, was charged with two counts of felony theft in April for allegedly taking money from the post's ATM machine over the course of three years for her own personal use. She pleaded guilty to one of the charges — theft, indifferent to owner rights — and the other theft charge was dismissed.

Judge Daniel Benson handed down the sentence in Todd County District Court on Oct. 3 and gave Manders a stay of adjudication, which is essentially a continuance of the sentencing. If Manders doesn't violate the terms of her five-year probation, the charge will be dismissed and she won't be convicted of the crime.

Her probation includes 13 conditions, such as keeping in contact with her probation agent, cooperating with searches, having no alcohol or drug-related offenses, completing a gambling assessment and following the recommendations, not entering the Osakis VFW property, seek medical and psychological services as needed, remain law abiding and maintaining employment.

She is allowed to complete her jail sentence through Huber and work release programs as approved by the sheriff.

The case stems back to Jan. 25, 2018, when the Osakis Police Department contacted the Todd County Sheriff's Office about a report of theft from the Osakis VFW and Manders was identified as the suspect, according to court documents.

The sheriff's office handled the investigation because of a conflict of interest — Police Chief Chad Gulbranson and Officer Calvin Uhl both serve on the post's gambling committee.

The sheriff's office reviewed the VFW's accounting documents, which indicated losses from the ATM machine in 2015, 2016 and 2017 totaling $17,420.

As manager, one of Manders' duties was to fill the ATM machine when it was short on funds, according to court documents.

After Manders was informed of her rights, she admitted taking money from the machine that totaled up to $8,000 for her own use, according to court documents. The thefts would have taken place in 2015, 2016 and 2017.

The statute of limitations prevented charges from being filed for any funds that were missing prior to 2015.

VFW statement

The Osakis VFW Post issued a written statement for the judge to consider before sentencing. Here it is:

The following comments are on behalf of VFW Post 7902 and are not intended in any way to disrespect those in support of the accused.

Let it be stated first of all that the recent theft at the Osakis VFW did not involve gambling funds. No gambling revenue was missing. That being stated, civic organizations such as VFW clubs have a unique attribute in that charitable gambling funds may be used legally to offset a number of operational expenses. It is not a necessity that these expenses are paid with gambling funds, but it is a definite benefit and a luxury. However, the ultimate objective of charitable gambling profits is to donate that profit to needy organization and individuals within the community and not to be spent on operational costs. The more the club needs to rely on the use of charitable gambling funds to offset expenses, obviously, the less there is to donate.

As a result, when a civic organization such as a VFW is the victim of theft, in essence, that theft is from every potential charitable gambling donation recipient in the community. The theft is not just from the club. It is from needy veterans and their families, schools, kids' organizations, churches, city projects, individual hardship cases, scouting organizations, disease research, and a host of other qualified and legitimate causes.

The Osakis VFW will never be made whole financially in the aftermath of this fiasco. When one considers the hours invested by those in the position of leadership during the seemingly endless string of meetings necessitated by this event, the total cost to the club dealing with the investigation, the anguish created by the transition to new manager ship, and the statute of limitation time element to collect the actual loss in dollars, the recovery will be just a fraction of the actual loss.

In addition, beginning with the admission on January 25, 2018, and continuing to the present, scuttlebutt comments continue to circulate that others were aware of or even complicit in this plot. The preposterous notion that anyone in a position of leadership had even a remote idea that this was happening is absolutely disgusting and despicable. How must the implicated individuals and their families feel when concocted suggestions surface that they were involved or aware? This reprehensible and calculated scheme was plotted and carried out by one individual and one individual only.

We are all born into the world with a set of physical and mental attributes. Some we can control, some we cannot control. But the one we have complete and total control over is "individual effort." As adults, we all know the difference between right and wrong. Taking what belongs to others is wrong. There are no acceptable explanations. There are no excuses. Theft is theft. Embezzlement is embezzlement. It is not justified or explainable under any conditions.

It is time to stand up, accept responsibility, accept the consequences, make total restitution, stop pitting VFW members against each other, and stop tarnishing the reputation of innocent others, at least one of whom cannot defend himself.

Al Edenloff

Al Edenloff is the news and opinion page editor for the Echo Press. He was born in Alexandria and lived most of his childhood in Parkers Prairie. He graduated with honors from Moorhead State University with a degree in mass communications, print journalism. He interned at the Echo Press in the summer of 1983 and was hired a year later as a sports reporter. He also worked as a news reporter/photographer. Al is a four-time winner of the Minnesota Newspaper Association's Herman Roe Award, which honors excellence in editorial writing.  

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