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Former head of Duluth child abuse agency may face prison for $125,000 theft

Patricia Ann Miller

DULUTH - The former executive director of First Witness Child Abuse Resource Center in Duluth stole more than $125,000 from the agency, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Minneapolis said, and it will ask the court to sentence her to 21 to 27 months in prison.

That information was contained in a document federal prosecutors filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis.

Patricia Ann Miller of Duluth pleaded guilty in November to mail fraud for scheming to trick First Witness into paying her personal expenses by claiming those expenses were business-related.

The government said Miller is responsible for a loss of $125,518.91. That puts her in a sentencing level for those convicted of taking more than $120,000 but less than $200,000.

Defense attorney Richard Holmstrom, who is representing Miller, has filed a motion to place his client at a lower sentencing level. Holmstrom argues that $15,677.96 of the loss was sustained from 1998 to 2002, but the charging document covers losses from January 2003 to July 2007.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ann Anaya argues that Miller is responsible for all of the thefts because they were part of the same course of conduct or common scheme.

Miller is scheduled to be sentenced in Minneapolis before U.S. District Senior Judge David Doty on April 21.

Miller left her position as head of the nonprofit in mid-June 2007, a day after a member of the First Witness board of directors reported the theft to Duluth police.

Holmstrom said his client took the money in small amounts over time, sometimes taking $50 or $100 and sometimes more or less, he said. "She feels horrible about it,'' he said.

Miller doesn't have a chemical dependency or gambling problem, and she didn't attempt to make excuses for her crime, Holmstrom said. He thinks Miller deserves probation or a less-than-guideline prison sentence.

"If there is anybody who has taken responsibility for her actions, it's Patty Miller,'' he said. "In fact, I had told her not to talk to authorities. When the authorities came to her door with a search warrant, she ignored my advice and gave a full confession. She simply couldn't live with herself. She admitted to everything. She didn't make any excuses and simply told what she did. I think that deserves some consideration. She's also making arrangements to pay a substantial amount of restitution.''

The mission of First Witness is to strengthen the community's response to child abuse. The center provides support for the investigation and assessment of child abuse cases, in addition to providing nationally recognized educational training for those who work with children.

Dana Wahlberg, past chair of the First Witness Board of Directors, said Wednesday that the agency recovered $100,000 of its loss from a fraud insurance policy.