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Treasurer for Bemidji Masonic Lodge accused of stealing $35K, partly to pay for girlfriend's expenses

BEMIDJI - The former treasurer of the Bemidji Masonic Lodge has pleaded not guilty to a charge that he stole more than $35,000 from the Lodge.

Nathan Arlo Pochardt, 39, of Bemidji, pleaded not guilty Monday in Beltrami County District Court to a felony charge of theft by swindle, at which time a notice was entered to seek aggravated sentencing in the case.

Pochardt's next court date is scheduled for June 12 with pre-trial scheduled for Aug. 21.

According to the criminal complaint, Pochardt said he stole thousands of dollars from the Lodge by writing checks to himself on Lodge accounts and making cash withdrawals from those accounts. He told a detective that the reason for the thefts was the disintegration of his marriage and significant expenditures for a girlfriend.

Pochardt, who served as Lodge treasurer for several years through 2011, came under suspicion after the head of the Lodge, or the worshipful master, noted Pochardt stopped attending meetings and presenting treasurer's reports, according to the complaint.

Court papers state more than $35,000 went missing during Pochardt's tenure as treasurer and Pochardt admitted to police that he took thousands of dollars but claimed to have paid some of the money back.

Freemasons, once they are admitted into the Order, undertake solemn vows of upright conduct in their dealings both inside and outside of the Lodge, according to the complaint. Masons regard honesty toward one another as assured and secured as Masons, whose membership has included 14 U.S. presidents, regard a fellow Mason's word as his bond.

As treasurer, Pochardt was authorized to draw checks on the Lodge's bank accounts without those checks being reviewed and countersigned by another officers or Lodge member, according to the complaint. He also received Lodge bank statements at home and was exclusively responsible for reconciling deposits, withdrawals and other charges associated with those accounts. He collected rents and cash payments from those who used Bemidji Lodge Hall on a regular or occasional basis.