Mayor faces charges of theft

Published 9:55am Friday, July 11, 2014

Swearingen accused of stealing from Ellendale vet’s memorial fund

By Al Strain, Owatonna People’s Press

ELLENDALE — The mayor of the city of Ellendale is facing three theft charges after authorities say he stole hundreds of dollars from a fund for the city’s veterans memorial.

Roger Swearingen, 66, was charged with one count of gross misdemeanor theft and two counts of misdemeanor theft in Steele County District Court. The charges were filed on July 2 when the criminal complaint was issued as a summons.

Authorities allege that Swearingen had been taking out withdrawals from the memorial fund since October 2012, about a month before the people of Ellendale elected him as mayor after he ran unopposed.

Swearingen said he had no comment on the charges at this time.

On April 22 of this year, detectives from Mower County were briefed by a Steele County investigator about a theft report they had received in March from the Veteran’s Memorial Brick Fund.

The Mower County investigators met with Larry Otto two days later. Otto told the detectives that he and Swearingen were responsible for managing the memorial fund.

Otto said that he and Swearingen were both supposed to sign checks for the memorial as expenses occur, but reported that Swearingen had been making withdrawals from the account using only his signature.

According to the complaint, the American Legion confronted Swearingen about the withdrawals in late February and that Swearingen did not provide receipts or documents to justify the withdrawals.

When he met with investigators, Swearingen said he had taken out the withdrawals to pay for the bricks that are placed at the memorial, which are purchased from Herman’s Landscaping Supplies in Jordan, Minnesota.

From Oct. 2, 2012, to Dec. 22, 2012, Swearingen allegedly made three $100 withdrawals from the fund. From June through October of 2013, he withdrew $900 and then took out another $625 between Jan. 6 and Feb. 12 of this year, according to the complaint. Swearingen told officials that it is his signature that appears on the withdrawal receipts.

One of the withdrawals this year, taken out on Feb. 3, was for $400, which Swearingen said he took out to pay for bricks at Herman’s Landscaping. A fax from the company showed that expense dates were for Feb. 3, 2014, Sept. 16, 2013, and April 16, 2013, and the expenses totaled $340. Swearingen reportedly told investigators that he spent the other $60 on gas.

While being questioned, Swearingen told the detectives that he would use the withdrawals for buying the bricks, gas money and traveling to other areas to view other veteran memorials to get ideas.

When asked about a $100 withdrawal on Aug. 24, 2013, Swearingen said he used the money to pay for bricks. Investigators showed him a fax from the landscaping company stating that no bricks were purchased that day, according to the complaint.

After being shown that fax, Swearingen said “I don’t know what I did with that money. I needed it for something … I don’t have any proof of what I did with it,” according to the complaint. Swearingen said he had no receipts to show he purchased bricks or paid for gas for travel.

Swearingen also told detectives that — without consulting anyone else — he decided to sometimes pay himself a wage, $20 per hour, for when he would clean up the memorial. He did not document any of the hours, according to the complaint.

The summons issued by the court orders him to appear in court to face the charges on Aug. 18, a date that is about a week after filing ends for municipal government elections in Minnesota.

According to the Steele County Auditor’s office, Ellendale mayors serve for two years, meaning Swearingen’s term expires at the end of this year and he would have to seek re-election this fall to hold his seat. He could face up to a year in jail and $3,000 in fines if convicted of the gross misdemeanor theft charge.