Court seeks arrest of ex-Minnesota Power executive
A state district court judge on Tuesday issued an arrest warrant for a former Minnesota Power official accused of stealing from the company, but who for 22 months has repeatedly failed to appear in court to face the charges against her.
Susan Kay Thompson, 54, is charged with the theft of more than $100,000 of corporate property. The defendant worked as director of customer service for Minnesota Power for more than 20 years until resigning on Jan. 25, 2010.
St. Louis County prosecutor Nathaniel Stumme said Thompson has an "extraordinary history of failures to appear."
Thompson failed to appear for her scheduled arraignment on the charges on Feb. 3, 2011, saying she didn't receive the summons and complaint. Her attorney then asked for a postponement of her next arraignment because he said his client suffered heart pains that morning and was hospitalized. According to court records, Thompson has had at least five failures to appear for court.
A plea hearing was scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Tuesday. Judge Mark Munger, prosecutor Stumme and defense attorney Kevin Cornwell were there, but not Thompson.
The hearing had been scheduled weeks in advance, as had the other hearings.
Cornwell told the court Tuesday that his client's failures to appear are "largely related to health issues." He said he didn't want to disclose too much of Thompson's medical condition, but said she is undergoing radiation treatment for cancer in a Minneapolis hospital.
Stumme told the court that it might sound harsh, but he was requesting that a warrant be issued to get Thompson into court. He said she has provided "little to no" confirmation of her medical issues and that it was troubling that she continually gave last-minute excuses that she couldn't appear.
Munger told the parties that when he first had the case more than a year ago he was told Thompson had difficulty making it to court because of a heart condition. Now it's cancer. The judge told the attorneys that it's certainly possible that Thompson is suffering from two horrific maladies, but there were suspicions enough for him to issue a warrant to bring her before the court.
Stumme said his understanding from Cornwell was that Thompson had been prepared to plead guilty on Tuesday.
"The leadership at Minnesota Power/Allete is bitterly disappointed that Ms. Thompson did not appear in court this morning to make a record of her guilty plea," Stumme said. "There are those who might be tempted to see a corporate entity as something less than a true victim of a crime, but the people of Minnesota Power/Allete have been deeply affected, many on a very personal level."
On March 3, 2011, Cornwell had asked the court to reschedule Thompson's second scheduled arraignment so that her husband, who was out of town, could be there to support her. Stumme opposed the request, saying in an e-mail to the court: "Ms. Thompson's desire for spousal support should yield in this instance to the state's desire to get this ball rolling."
Another judge granted the postponement that time.
On March 16, 2011, Cornwell sent an e-mail to Munger saying that his client had blockage in two arteries and surgery was scheduled for the next day. He told the court that a four-week postponement should be sufficient. "The state has been more than patient in this matter," Cornwell wrote in his e-mail to Munger.
Tuesday's latest failure to appear by Thompson came more than 1½ years after that e-mail.
According to court records, Thompson failed to appear on Feb. 3, 2011, March 3, 2011, April 21, 2011, Oct. 1, 2012, and Tuesday.
Cornwell didn't return a phone message asking for comment Tuesday.
"The record should reflect that the state and the court have been tolerant, perhaps overly so, in light of the serious nature of the health issues relayed to the court through Ms. Thompson's counsel," Stumme said. "However, the state was forced to request a warrant upon Ms. Thompson's absence this morning in light of her extraordinary history of failures to appear."
Thompson was accused of stealing, or not being able to account for, more than $200,000 while using company money for personal expenses and weekend travel, making false claims of company travel and filing for reimbursements by forging her supervisor's signature from 2000 through 2009.
According to the criminal complaint, Duluth police were contacted by a senior vice president at Minnesota Power on March 19, 2010. The company official said that Thompson was under internal investigation for "credit card reconciliation delinquencies and false expense purchases."
The unaccounted for funds were discovered during an internal audit conducted by Allete, the parent company of Minnesota Power.
Cornwell earlier filed a motion to dismiss the case based on the fact that it fell outside the five-year statute of limitations. Stumme filed a new complaint narrowing the timeline of the alleged crime to Dec. 23, 2005, to Dec. 23, 2010. Court documents filed by the prosecution allege that the diverted funds still are more than $100,000.