Police address questions in Tuttle case

Published 9:26 pm Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Minnesota Department of Commerce and the Albert Lea Police Department are asking any people who had pending transactions with Albert Lea Abstract to fill out a form with information regarding their files and how they can be reached.

During an informational meeting Tuesday for people affected by the recent closure of Albert Lea Abstract, Albert Lea Police Chief Dwaine Winkels said authorities are trying to find the people who had escrow accounts with the company. They are working to ensure that customers of the business will not be adversely affected; however, it depends on the individual situations and whether money was involved.

“We want to help you as much as we can and try to expedite things as much as we can,” Winkels said.

Email newsletter signup

The meeting, which had to be moved to the board room of the Freeborn County Board of Commissioners because of high turnout of at least 70 people, follows the execution of a search warrant on June 22 at Albert Lea Abstract. During that search, authorities seized scores of files in connection to a criminal investigation against Freeborn County Commissioner Linda Tuttle, the owner of the title company.

Because of allegations of theft, Tuttle’s bank accounts were frozen the same afternoon. Several closings were delayed and additional questions surfaced for people who may have wired money in the hours prior to the arrest or who had given responsibilities to the title company to pay final mortgage payments or other aspects of closings.

Dawn Freeman, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker Holtan Real Estate, said 10 of her company’s clients have been immediately affected by the case, and there are two who wired funds the day of Tuttle’s arrest.

“They’re devastated,” she said.

Some of her clients were going to take advantage of the June 30th tax credit and some already had their bags packed and were ready to move.

“Now they can’t,” Freeman said.

She noted her top concern was to get wired funds released to her clients, who haven’t been charged with anything and shouldn’t face penalties.

Tuttle is accused of felony theft of about $48,000 through her title company. The police investigation alleges that between January and June of this year she took funds from six bank accounts to deal with her gambling debt at the Diamond Jo Casino seven miles west of Northwood, Iowa.

The means by which she reportedly took the funds is called “check kiting.” She allegedly transferred funds out of escrow accounts into Albert Lea Abstract’s business accounts, after which she wrote checks to herself or made cash withdrawals, according to police reports.

“The biggest thing is to find out what’s out there — what’s owed,” Winkels said.

The investigation is ongoing.

He said the extent of money and clients involved is still unknown, even a week after the files were seized. Investigators have begun going through the files and still have many more to go through.

He called the case a “tragic” one for the Albert Lea community, saying many people would be harmed by the alleged crime.

He wanted people to know the only abstracts seized were those that might have pending action — those with closings or title work.

For the people who just have paperwork they need to complete, he said the process would go quickly. But if money was involved, “you’re in for a delay,” he said.

He and Paul Hanson with the Minnesota Department to Commerce could not give a timeline for when affected people could expect to have some resolution.

Once an account is frozen, only the court has the authority to disburse funds, Winkels said. He encouraged people who were holding onto a check from the company to not cash that check.

Hanson encouraged people to spread the word to people who weren’t present at the Tuesday meeting yet were in the middle of a deal with Albert Lea Abstract.

The Albert Lea Police Department on Tuesday also sent a news release pertaining to the insurance fraud investigation on two insurance agents at the Strong Agency, a case not connected to the Albert Lea Abstract investigation.

It asked people with questions about insurance obtained through Strong Agency to take the following steps:

If you know the name of the insurance company, contact the company directly.

If the policy is on property on which you have a loan (such as a home or auto), your lender may have coverage information.

If you are unsure about which company your policy is with and you believe you purchased it through the Strong Agency, contact the Department of Commerce at 800-657-3602 (651-296-2488 within the Twin Cities area) or e-mail: market.assurance@state.mn.us.

If the funds for a realty closing were wired before the arrest, those funds would probably not be released until the close of the criminal investigation. If the funds were wired after the accounts were frozen, they should have bounced back to the bank.

Regardless of what type of pending transaction people have with the business, Winkels encouraged them to contact the Police Department with information about their file.

Old abstracts that do not have any pending transactions should still be at the company office.

The department is working with the state Department of Commerce to ensure that scheduled closings occur as soon as possible.

Winkels said U.S. Rep. Tim Walz is also aware of the situation.

The Police Department is willing to supply letters explaining the investigation for those who need them.

For questions, contact Winkels at 377-5209. Forms will be available at the Law Enforcement Center. There will also be a link on the city’s website.

Winkels said a representative from Albert Lea Abstract was invited to attend the meeting but was unable to do so.