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Windom official charged with 23 felonies

WINDOM -- The Economic Development Authority Director for the City of Windom has been charged with 23 felonies after an audit turned up the possibility of misuse of public funds.

James Scott King, 65, of Windom, was charged Friday in Cottonwood County District Court with 23 counts of theft by swindle following an investigation by the Cottonwood County Sheriff's Office.

According to Cottonwood County Attorney Doug Storey, the investigation is continuing, and the criminal complaint against King will probably be amended to include additional charges.

"It is very time-consuming to get people in and meet with them," Storey said. "The sheriff's office is continuing to do so."

According to the criminal complaint, Storey was contacted by Windom City Attorney Dan McDonald about the results of an audit conducted by a CPA from the accounting firm Dennis Rick, LTD. The CPA explained her suspicions had been raised when she saw all of King's receipts she had reviewed from 2004 and the first eight months of 2005 had been duplicates instead of originals.

The CPA had at least two hotel receipts that appeared to be created on a computer other than the hotel's, guest check receipts that showed no logical chronological progression of numbers and mileage reports for trips to hotels and restaurants that may not have been for EDA purposes or never took place.

The Cottonwood County Sheriff's Office was chosen for the investigation instead of the Windom Police Department to avoid any possible appearance of conflict of interest. Search warrants were executed on Jan. 5 at King's home and office, with many documents being taken as evidence, along with computers, credit card billing statements and more.

Sheriff Jason Purrington and Deputy Jeff LaCanne met with the property accountant from the Four Points Sheraton Hotel in St. Paul and showed her five receipts bearing the name of the hotel. After checking the dates on the receipts, the property accountant indicated King was not registered at the hotel for the first two dates listed, that three meals and an additional night stay had been cut and pasted on the third receipt, and the other two were valid. She pointed out discrepancies in the receipts from King compared to a receipt issued by Four Points -- such as type face and format, numbering and coding systems, FOURPOINTS as one word when it should be two, and no logo.

In other expense reports, King included a large number of guest check receipts for meetings that allegedly took place at PJs in Bingham Lake. The individuals whose names appeared on the checks were contacted. One individual from the Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership (SMHP), whose name appears on seven guest checks, told the sheriff's office he could not recall ever going out to eat with King and had never been to PJs.

Another SMHP employee, whose name appears 11 times, said he had never eaten out with King either, nor had he been to PJs. Three other SMHP employees' names appear on the receipts, all of whom said they had not eaten out with King or had paid their own check. Two employees showed dates listed on the receipts when they had actually been out of town.

Also on the expense reports were mileage summaries for the same dates as the false hotel invoices, each a 300-mile round trip. He was paid slightly more than $120 in mileage for each trip. For each of the allegedly forged meal receipts there was a mileage summary of a 10-mile round trip, for which he was paid the going rate of $.405 per mile, or $4.05 per trip.

From the 23 felony counts of theft of under $500 of public funds, King was reimbursed for more than $1,400 of alleged false expenses, with more counts possible pending.

For each charge of theft by swindle, the maximum penalty is five years imprisonment and/or a $10,000 fine.

King, who did not return a phone call from the Daily Globe, was not in custody as of Monday afternoon, according to Storey. He is scheduled to make a court appearance at 11 a.m. Jan. 23 at the Cottonwood County Courthouse.