by LeAnn R. Ralph
MENOMONIE — One felony count of theft and false representation in excess of $10,000 has been dismissed in Dunn County Circuit Court for a 56-year-old Knapp man convicted of stealing from the West Wisconsin Land Trust.
The Honorable William C. Stewart dismissed the felony charge against Richard E. Gauger during a court hearing July 8.
Gauger, the former executive director of West Wisconsin Land Trust for more than 10 years, pleaded no contest in July of 2011 to one felony count of false representation involving more than $10,000 to obtain property from the West Wisconsin Land Trust.
He also pleaded no contest and was found guilty of two misdemeanor counts of stealing property valued at less than $2,500.
On both of the two misdemeanor counts, Gauger was sentenced to 20 days in jail, 100 hours of community service and 16 months of probation.
According to the plea agreement, if Gauger successfully completed the sentence on the misdemeanor counts, the felony would be dismissed after two years.
Gauger was charged on all three counts as a party to a crime.
Gauger’s former co-worker who was the associate director of West Wisconsin Land Trust, Edith M. Kadlec, also was charged in the case with one misdemeanor count of the theft of less than $2,500 of movable property.
According to the criminal complaint, Gauger was fired as the executive director on July 12, 2010, in part because the land trust had come under the scrutiny of the federal government for misappropriation or misuse of federal grant funds.
Kadlec resigned as associate director on August 8, 2010.
In July of 2011, Kadlec pleaded no contest and was found guilty on one misdemeanor count of stealing property valued at less than $2,500.
She was fined $500 and ordered to pay court costs of $383.
According to the organization’s website, “Since 1988, West Wisconsin Land Trust has conserved over 25,000 acres of farms and natural areas throughout 18 counties in western Wisconsin.”
After Gauger and Kadlec were no longer employed by West Wisconsin Land Trust, Jane Prohaska, interim executive director, discovered that no credit card statements were in the land trust’s office for the past several years.
Duplicate statements ordered from the credit card company indicated numerous charges made by Gauger to the corporate credit card that were inappropriate, that had been approved by Kadlec, and that had been paid from West Wisconsin Land Trust funds.
According to the complaint, spreadsheets developed by Prohaska revealed more than $66,000 in inappropriate charges that Gauger made to the WWLT credit card from 2007 to July of 2010.
Investigators also noticed that Gauger had charged coffee and lunch to the credit card nearly every working day, totaling hundreds of dollars each month.
Gauger reviewed the spreadsheets and indicated that some of the charges were legitimate business expenses, although he admitted that nearly $27,000 charged from January of 2007 to July of 2010 were inappropriate.
In November of 2010, Gauger went to Minneapolis and delivered a check for $25,000 to John Goetz, president of the WWLT board of directors, to cover a portion of his unauthorized credit card purchases using the land trust’s credit card.
Gauger told investigators he made the unauthorized purchases because “it got too easy” and “because I could.”