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Ex-GOP chair Carnahan ordered to repay Hagedorn family members in claims court ruling

Family members of late U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn sought the return of funds used for Hagedorn's cancer treatment. Former state GOP chair Jennifer Carnahan, Hagedorn's wife, plans to file a counterclaim.

Jennifer Carnahan
Jennifer Carnahan, who ran in the 2022 special election for the open First Congressional District seat, is photographed on Tuesday, March 29, 2022. A judge recently ordered Carnahan to repay more than $20,000 to family members of her late husband, Rep. Jim Hagedorn. The funds were intended to pay for Hagedorn's cancer treatment.
Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin
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FARIBAULT COUNTY, Minn. — A conciliation court judge has ordered former Minnesota GOP chair Jennifer Carnahan to repay more than $20,000 to family members of her late husband, former 1st District Rep. Jim Hagedorn, that was intended to fund Hagedorn's kidney cancer treatment.

In two claims court judgments filed on Dec. 28, 2022, in Faribault County, Carnahan was ordered to return $10,383 plus $80 in fees to Robert and Kathleen Kreklau, Hagedorn's stepfather and mother, and $10,000 plus $80 in fees to Tricia Lucas, Hagedorn's sister.

Kirk Tisher, Carnahan's attorney, said he and his client disagree with that ruling. Carnahan said she intends to file a counterclaim.

The dispute involves payments made by the Kreklaus and Lucas to Envita Medical Centers in Scottsdale, Arizona, to cover Hagedorn's cancer treatment.

According to the claim statements filed in May 2022, Hagedorn and Carnahan sought alternative treatment for Hagedorn's cancer — which had returned in the summer of 2021 after his initial diagnosis in 2019 — at Envita after Hagedorn's providers at Mayo Clinic had "exhausted its options for treating his cancer."

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U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn

Hagedorn's treatments at Envita were not covered by his health insurance. The claims judgments say that Hagedorn's treatments were estimated to cost $55,000. The Kreklaus contributed $25,000 to Hagedorn's care through a home equity loan, and Lucas provided $10,000 through her personal credit card.

Hagedorn died on Feb. 17, 2022 , before he could finish his treatments at Envita. Because Hagedorn's actual treatment costs did not reach the estimated $55,000 total amount, the claims judgments say that the Kreklaus did receive a refund from Envita for $14,617.

Both Lucas and the Kreklaus filed claims requesting that the remaining funds they contributed be refunded. In their filings, the plaintiffs say the payments toward Hagedorn's treatment were loans that Carnahan was to repay. In a statement, Carnahan said she believes those payments were gifts.

"It was always my belief and still is that the money Jim's family paid to Envita Medical Centers was a gift," Carnahan said. "Just as I had done, I believed Jim's parents and siblings wanted to give him the best chance possible to live to fight another day. The financial payments made to Envita by Jim's family were never predicated on any personal promise of repayment by me."

Carnahan said Hagedorn had asked his family for financial help for his treatment after Carnahan spent her savings on temporarily moving to Arizona.

"My husband's treatment took place in Scottsdale, Arizona, during the height of the busy snowbird season," Carnahan said. "Rates for hotels were incredibly high and in our first week there I spent nearly $3,000 to have us stay at a three-star hotel, that likely would have cost one-half or one-third of that had it not been during the high season."

Because Hagedorn's treatment was estimated to span three months, Carnahan said she found a short-term apartment in Scottsdale and covered the security deposit and furniture rental costs.

"All of this was a significant cost, which I again used my savings to pay for," she said. "My husband unfortunately was in debt with no savings, so he asked his family for help."

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The conciliation court ultimately ruled in the plaintiffs' favor, ordering Carnahan to repay more than $20,000 between Lucas and the Kreklaus. A counterclaim has not yet been filed.

Hagedorn received his initial cancer diagnosis in February 2019, shortly after taking his 1st District seat in Congress. He received immunotherapy treatments at Mayo Clinic and underwent surgery in December 2020 to remove one kidney. Hagedorn's cancer reoccurred in 2021 .

Dené K. Dryden is the Post Bulletin's region reporter, covering the greater Rochester area. Before joining the Post Bulletin in 2022, she attended Kansas State University and served as an editor for the student newspaper, the Kansas State Collegian, and news director for Wildcat 91.9, K-State's student radio station. Readers can reach Dené at ddryden@postbulletin.com.
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