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Bemidji woman pleads innocent to business fraud, theft

Margaret Jo Hirt, 51, owner and salesperson for Dewey Furniture in downtown Bemidji, pleaded innocent Sept. 12 to three counts of felony transaction card fraud and three counts of theft by swindle.

Her next appearance in Beltrami County District Court is scheduled for Dec. 13. She entered her plea before Judge Sheri Schluchter.

According to the criminal complaint:

In 2009 and 2010, three furniture manufacturers, Ashley Furniture, Inc., Furniture Traditions, Inc. and Best Craft Furniture, notified Hirt they would no longer accept orders from her unless they were prepaid because she had been delinquent in paying for orders.

Seven customers in 2009 ad 2010 ordered furniture totaling $11,744 in value. In each transaction, Hirt required partial or full prepayment of the orders, to which the customers complied. They prepaid either with credit cards or from checking accounts. None of the customers received the furniture orders and none received refunds from Dewey Furniture.

The Bemidji Police Department began investigating the case in 2010.

If convicted, Hirt faces maximum sentences of five years in prison and $10,000 in fines on each of the six counts.