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Attorney quits case after ex-Minnesota Power official fails to appear in court, again

Susan Thompson

In the end, even her attorney couldn't defend the actions of former Minnesota Power official Susan Kay Thompson.

Duluth defense attorney Kevin Cornwell on Thursday asked to be allowed to withdraw as Thompson's attorney for ethical reasons about a half-hour after Thompson failed to appear in State District Court for her sentencing by Judge John DeSanto for theft of corporate property.

DeSanto granted the request.

Thursday's no-show was a continuation of Thompson's long pattern of missing court hearings before she finally appeared in December to plead guilty to the felony. Thompson, 55, of Hermantown admitted that she used a corporate credit card for personal expenses, that it was against corporate policy and that she defrauded the company. As part of her plea agreement, Thompson agreed to pay $150,000 in restitution.

At the plea hearing, Thompson also was scheduled to return to court for sentencing at 1:30 p.m. Thursday. DeSanto waited until 1:55 p.m. and then convened the hearing with Cornwell, St. Louis County prosecutor Nathaniel Stumme, Arrowhead Regional Corrections probation officer Rian Langdon and Minnesota Power officials present -- but not the defendant.

Cornwell told the court that he had communicated by e-mail with Thompson at 12:30 p.m., and she gave him no indication that she wasn't going to report to court for sentencing.

The judge said he was issuing a bench warrant for Thompson's arrest, ordering that she be brought to the St. Louis County Jail until a new sentencing hearing can be held, with the victims being given another chance to tell the court how Thompson's crimes affected the company.

Outside the courtroom, Amy Rutledge, Minnesota Power's manager for corporate communications, said company officials wouldn't comment until they make their victim impact statement in court.

Thompson worked as director of customer service for Minnesota Power for more than 20 years until resigning on Jan. 25, 2010.

Thompson appeared at her plea hearing in December on a warrant after failing for nearly two years to appear in court to face the charge against her. Cornwell, more than once, told the court that his client's failures to appear were largely related to health issues and added that he couldn't elaborate.

Cornwell wouldn't comment outside the courtroom Thursday when asked specifically why he was withdrawing as Thompson's legal counsel.

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 money was discovered during an internal audit conducted by Allete, the parent company of Minnesota Power.

Cornwell 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 begin Dec. 23, 2005, and end Dec. 23, 2010. Court documents filed by the prosecution allege that the diverted money still totaled more than $100,000.