Receipts show Moen made personal purchases

Published 2:43 pm Thursday, May 12, 2011

The judge in the trial of former Albert Lea City Manager Jim Norman ruled Thursday that the city’s former finance director did not show bias but he did allow evidence that revealed inconsistencies regarding her approach toward city-issued credit cards.

During proceedings without the jury Thursday, Norman’s lawyer, Peggy Rockow, argued to the judge that Rhonda Moen, who served as finance director at the time Norman was city manager, had given testimony that no personal purchases were allowed to be used on the city-issued credit card. Rockow also argued that Moen testified she was a “stickler” to make sure all receipts and documentation were turned in for all purchases.

Despite this, there were two instances, Rockow argued, when Moen herself reportedly used her city-issued credit card for personal purchases.

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She submitted to the court two receipts allegedly turned in by Moen that show she reportedly used her city-issued credit card to charge an airline ticket for her husband and valet parking.

Rockow asked that Moen’s testimony regarding the credit card be impeached because of this bias.

Judge Fred Wellmann ordered he did not think Rockow had sufficiently laid foundation to show that the city’s former finance director had a bias toward Norman.

For these reasons, her testimony could not be impeached.

The issue was of significance because Moen was the person who reported Norman to authorities for allegedly misusing the city-issued credit card.

After reviewing the matter over his lunch break and hearing additional arguments, Wellmann said while he did not think Moen fulfilled the definition of bias — which is defined as having hostility or partiality to the defendant — he thought Moen showed inconsistencies because of what was presented in the receipts.

Because of this belief, he allowed Rockow to question Moen in the presence of the jury about whether Moen herself had ever not followed the card’s user agreement.

The agreement states the card is not able to be used for personal purchases and issues a warning that any use of the card for such could be considered misappropriation of public funds and could be grounds for termination.

The judge said that, according to law, if Moen stated that she had not followed the agreement than the defense would not be able to enter the two documents containing Moen’s receipts into evidence.

However, if Moen denied ever not following the agreement, the defense could enter the two documents and ultimately let the jury decide if Moen had inconsistencies that might affect her credibility.

When asked the question during cross examination by Rockow, Moen simply answered with a “yes,” that at some point she had not followed the agreement.

No other follow-up questions were asked.

Thus, the jury will not see the detailed receipts from Moen.

The issue came about on what was the second day of Norman’s trial, following a lengthy period of jury selection.

The issue drew a fine line between an earlier argument by Rockow that Norman was selectively prosecuted by Moen. In an earlier pre-trial hearing, Wellmann argued that Rockow could not use this argument during the trial.

Other testimony from Moen

Moen stated one of her finance employees presented her with a credit card statement and a check from Norman to the city for about $2,163 on June 29, 2010. This was the same day the city transferred funds from its checking account to cover the credit card line.

Staff typically received the statements the third week of the month and then each department head is required to submit receipts and vouchers with the statement.

Moen’s accounts payable clerk reportedly told Norman’s assistant that she would need more detailed documentation regarding some of Norman’s purchases.

Moen stated she also had some questions. On July 16, 2010, when Norman was unavailable to talk in person, she said she sent him an email message toward the end of the work day Friday telling him he needed to be careful not to get his personal and city card confused.

She said Norman reportedly responded at about 7:30 a.m. the following Monday, June 19, 2010, saying he had not gotten his cards mixed up and that he had been in “terrible financial shape” when he moved to Albert Lea. He said he had no credit of his own.

Moen then reportedly told City Attorney Lee Bjorndal and then reported the incident to the state auditor’s office on July 25, 2010.

She said Norman initially responded that he understood but then made a second email stating that “this issue was being blown out of proportion and the expenses were valid moving expenses.”

Moen stated Norman was allocated $5,000 in moving and relocation expenses, according to his employment contract.

Moving expenses were defined as packing, moving, unpacking, storage costs and insurance charges, she said. There was not a definition for relocation expenses but she considered them to be one in the same as the moving expenses.

Other witnesses

Also on the stand Thursday were representatives from Herberger’s, Shopko, Home Depot and Walmart, who briefly talked about receipts of Norman’s purchases at their perspective stores involving the city-issued credit card.

When asked, each witness stated the purchases had been made before June 29.

Another witness from Wells Fargo, the branch manager in Mankato, talked about documentation that Norman was issued one platinum check card on June 16, 2010, and a second on July 30, 2010.