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Former Cottonwood clerk charged with embezzling

 


The former clerk of the Cottonwood school district has been accused of embezzling thousands of dollars from the district.

Michelle Lund is accused of taking more than $9,000 in unauthorized loans and advances over a two-year period. Some of the money was repaid through payroll deductions, but prosecutors said in the charging document that $3,900 is unaccounted for.

Lund pleaded not guilty to a felony count of embezzlement during her arraignment on Oct. 8.

The school board suspended Lund indefinitely after meeting with deputies Oct. 1, 2002, according to the charging document.

She had been employed by the Cottonwood school district for more than 10 years, said Bev Peterson, who chairs the district's school board. The Cottonwood school district has two schools north of Havre with a total enrollment of 16.

The district has had difficulty finding a replacement for Lund, she added.

Peterson declined to discuss the case and said she didn't know Lund had been charged.

Deputy Hill County Attorney Gina Bishop was assigned to prosecute the case after former County Attorney David Rice was appointed as district judge, Bishop said today. She declined to comment about the case.

"I inherited the case and unfortunately I haven't had the chance to review it as much as I would like," she said. "I just don't have anything to say at this time."

Lund could not be reached for comment.

The Hill County Sheriff's Office began investigating in October of 2002 after Peterson told deputies that Lund had taken money from the school without authority, according to the charging document filed in District Court. Peterson told deputies that Lund wrote herself advances without the knowledge of the school board, the charging document said.

Peterson had requested financial reports from Lund but Lund did not comply for more than a year, the document said. When deputies reviewed the records with Peterson, they discovered that unauthorized advances had been paid to Lund and a teacher, according to the charging document.

Lund was able write herself advances using school district checks that Peterson had presigned, the document said.

Deputies interviewed the teacher, who said Lund had told her the advances had been approved by the school board, according to the document. The teacher said she accepted the advances because she was occasionally short of money. She said all of it was repaid with payroll deductions.

The teacher, who was tenured, resigned in May, Peterson said.

The teacher has not been charged with any crime.

Lund acknowleged in a letter to Peterson Nov. 5 that she owed the school district $2,900, according to the charging document. Two days later, she forwarded a check to the school in that amount, the document said.

During an interview Nov. 14, Lund told deputies that Peterson knew about the advances, a claim Peterson denied, the document said.

Lund said she needed money to help her through the summer, the document said.

A certified public accountant hired to audit the school district's financial records found that Lund had taken nearly $9,000 from Oct. 10, 2000, and Sept. 12, 2002, according to the charging document. The accountant found evidence of many paybacks and salary deductions, but the school account was still short $3,910 after the district received the $2,900 check from Lund, the document said.

 

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