Insurance agent faces felony theft charges

Published 3:50 pm Saturday, May 1, 2010

An Albert Lea insurance agent faces six counts of theft charges in connection with the role he had as property manager of an apartment complex.

Reid Curtis Nelson, 57, is accused of taking $31,857 from the former owners of the Town House Apartments, 206 and 208 W. College St. According to the court files, the theft came in the form of writing checks for personal interests on the bank account of the apartments he managed.

“I have no statement to make at this time,” Nelson said on Friday.

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He noted he had not hired a lawyer yet.

Reid Nelson is the brother of Freeborn County Attorney Craig Nelson. Because of the conflict of interest, Assistant Steele County Attorney Christy Hormann filed the charges. They were filed Wednesday in Freeborn County District Court.

Reid works as an agent for Strong Agency Inc. in Albert Lea and Reid’s father, Roger Nelson, is the owner of Strong Agency.

Roger Nelson and Ralph Peterson had co-owned the apartments since 1976 before they sold it in December. They are friends. Peterson is a retired lawyer and his name is in the title of the Christian & Peterson law firm in Albert Lea.

Peterson’s daughter and son-in-law, Patricia and John Hareid, contacted the Albert Lea Police Department in December 2009, with suspicions about the figures on the checks Nelson disbursed.

She told police detective Deb Flatness that she first had concerns in December 2008, when her father and mother received a $1,000 check for their half of the revenue from the Town House Apartments. Patricia’s sister asked Reid Nelson about the check amount, and, according to the court files, he told them he owed Peterson a few thousand dollars.

Patricia Hareid told authorities that the family accountant would receive handwritten accounting of the income and expenses from Nelson. The books from Jan. 1, 2009, to Aug. 31, 2009, listed $31,410 as income and $26,182 as expenses, but Patricia Hareid said there were no receipts or documentation.

And when selling the apartments, it was clear the expenses weren’t going toward upkeep because, the court files state, the “the buildings were in such disrepair that the purchase price had to be lowered by $20,000.”

John Haried, a lawyer at Christian & Peterson, requested copies of the bank records and copies of the checks from Roger and Reid Nelson twice. The court file states he did not received anything. However, Patricia soon acquired copies of the Town House Apartments checks from Wells Fargo Bank.

“The checks that were received from Wells Fargo were mostly written out to ‘Cash.’ The endorsement on the back of most of the checks was by The Nasty Habit bar,” the court files state.

There were also checks to a dentist, a mortgage company and to Reid Nelson, the court files allege. The Harieds showed the checks to Flatness.

His pay for collecting rent and managing the apartments, according to an agreement, was to be $300 a month, but the court files say the checks were for more.

On Jan. 13 of this year, Flatness met with Reid Nelson, who said he had managed the apartments for 10 years. Court files say he told Flatness the usual amount of the checks to his father and to Peterson were $1,000 but sometimes $500 if there wasn’t enough money in the account.

She showed him the checks written to “cash,” and, according to the court files, he said those were to people who made repairs. When Flatness pointed out they were endorsed by The Nasty Habit or Aragon bars, Nelson “admitted that he had been taking the money out for himself, not apartment expenses.”

He told the detective that when he started he thought it would be a “one-time affair” but without any supervision of his books, he kept taking more, according to the court files.

The detective obtained records from Wells Fargo Banks for the Town House Apartments. She also obtained a search warrant for the Strong Agency, where he kept the apartment records. He allowed her to search his home for more apartment records.

Reid Nelson has been ordered to appear May 19 in Freeborn County District Court.

He faces six counts, each with differing dates and dollars and, depending on the dollar amounts, differing penalties. Five of the six are felonies:

 April 26, 2007 through Sept. 31, 2007, $6,144.22, a maximum punishment of 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine.

Oct. 1, 2007, through Dec. 31, 2007, $3,450, a maximum punishment of 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine.

Jan. 1, 2008, through June 30, 2008, $7,100, a maximum punishment of 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine.

 July 1, 2008, through Dec. 31, 2008, $4,825, a maximum punishment of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Jan. 1, 2009, through June 30, 2009, $9,712.70, a maximum punishment of 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine.

One count is a gross misdemeanor:

 July 1, 2009, through Sept. 30, 2009, $625, a maximum punishment of one year in prison and a $3,000 fine.

The police investigation also states that the Town House Apartments had no insurance from February 2007 to the end of 2009, although the costs of insurance — $23,796 — were noted on the books.

About Tim Engstrom

Tim Engstrom is the editor of the Albert Lea Tribune. He resides in Albert Lea with his wife, two sons and dog.

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