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By LeAnn R. Ralph
MENOMONIE — A 24-year-old Wheeler woman has been charged with theft in connection with stealing nearly $21,000 from the Bridge Stop gas station in Wheeler.
Nicole Rose Poach appeared in Dunn County Circuit Court March 2 before Judge Rod Smeltzer.
Poach is charged with one felony count of theft in an amount between $5,000 and $10,000.
Her first initial appearance in Dunn County Circuit Court on November 10 was adjourned until December 8 to give Poach an opportunity to hire an attorney.
Judge Smeltzer set bail with a $300 signature bond during the November court hearing with the condition that Poach not have any contact with the Bridge Stop in Wheeler.
The December 8 initial appearance was adjourned to February 2 because Poach told the court she still wanted an attorney to represent her.
The February 2 initial appearance was adjourned to March 2 after Poach told the court she did, in fact, have an attorney to represent her, although the attorney did not appear in court with her.
At the March 2 hearing, Poach requested the hearing be continued to a later date, and Judge Smeltzer granted the request to give Poach time to hire an attorney.
According to the criminal complaint, the owner of the Bridge Stop gas station in Wheeler had contacted the Dunn County Sheriff’s Department in September of 2020 to say that a former employee, Nicole Poach, was suspected of taking money from the business over the past year.
Poach allegedly provided cash refunds to herself and would take the cash, and at the time the sheriff’s department was contacted, about $12,000 in missing money had been identified, although more money was still in the process of being identified, the complaint states.
When an investigator with the sheriff’s department spoke to Poach, the defendant admitted to theft totaling $20,962.92 from the Bridge Stop.
The money was stolen from the Bridge Stop through false refunds that had occurred during the time Poach was employed from June of 2019 to September of 2020, according to the complaint.
When the investigator started reviewing the paperwork from the Bridge Stop, the manager of the gas station and convenience store pointed out there were several refunds, some totaling over $4,000. The manager said the number of refunds was abnormal, because some employees never have any refunds in any given month, the complaint states.
The total amount of refunds Poach had entered in the cash register system was $20,962.92.
The manager of the gas station was able to recover one surveillance video from when Poach was working. On the video, investigators saw Poach emptying the cash register at the closing of business hours and then walking to a small table near the chewing tobacco and cigarettes. Poach’s back was turned to the camera, but it appeared she was going through the money and then placed something in her right front pocket.
Poach then continued on as she normally would and locked up the business, according to the complaint.
Investigators interviewed Poach at the Dunn County Sheriff’s Department on October 2. Poach admitted to taking money from the gas station by refunding merchandise that was not actually purchased, the complaint states.
Poach said she started stealing from the Bridge Stop a couple of months after she was hired and that while she thought it would be normal for an employee to average three refunds per month, the number of refunds she issued was not average.
Poach told investigators she would take the money at the end of her shift to the back table and described the table by the chewing tobacco and cigarettes that investigators had observed in the surveillance video, according to the complaint.
Stealing the money began, Poach said, after she became overwhelmed with bills piling up. She told investigators she had committed the thefts on her own and that no one was forcing her to take the money.
Poach also told investigators she thought only five or six of the refunds she had given were valid, and the refunds were never over $20, according to the complaint.
Theft by false representation of an amount between $5,000 and $10,000 is a Class H felony that, upon conviction, carries a penalty of a fine of up to $10,000 and/or six years in prison.
Poach is scheduled for another court hearing April 20 as a continuation of the March 2 initial appearance, which was continued from the February hearing.