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Judge rejects plea agreement, sets trial in embezzlement case

PARK RAPIDS -- Judge Paul Rasmussen has rejected a plea agreement and set a February trial date in the case of a former employee of the Park Rapids Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce charged with theft.

Donald Mark Lung, 56, of rural Akeley was charged June 29, 2006, accused of paying himself more than $14,000 from Chamber funds.

He had worked for the Chamber for about five years prior to being terminated from employment there June 5, 2006.

After he left, the Chamber reported discrepancies in the Chamber's bank account, learned several vendors had not been paid and reported the irregularities to the Park Rapids Police Department.

After further investigation of checks paid and authorized, it appeared that between Dec. 13, 2005 and May 11, 2006 Lung paid himself more than $14,000.

According to the court complaint, in the ledger books, Lung would falsely indicate the money was used on other expenses. Lung did not have Chamber authority to pay himself.

Maximum penalty on the felony charge is five years in jail and/or a $10,000 fine.

On Dec. 10, 2007, Lung entered an Alford plea on the charge. An Alford plea is one in which a defendant does not admit to a crime, but admits that sufficient evidence exists with which the prosecution could likely convince a judge or jury to find the defendant guilty.

Lung was scheduled for sentencing Thursday morning and appeared with his attorney, Bruce Kunz of Perham.

Kunz said the Chamber's insurance carrier would be providing information on claims paid so a restitution hearing could be scheduled at a future date.

Judge Rasmussen clarified that the plea agreement would allow the defendant to pay 50 percent on the claim (less insurance company payments) up front with the balance to be paid over time.

"I'm not going to accept the plea agreement and will set the matter for trial," Rasmussen said.

He scheduled a pre-trial hearing for Feb. 4 and the trial for 9 a.m. Feb. 13.