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Danube police chief to have theft charges dismissed under deal

LITCHFIELD -- Charges of felony theft against Danube Police Chief Lester Schneider Jr. were continued for dismissal in a year under terms of an agreement approved Wednesday in district court in Litchfield.

The charges of theft and misconduct by a public official will be dismissed provided the chief abide by the agreement.

The agreement requires a letter of apology. In that apology, Schneider, 40, acknowledges his wrongdoing in taking money from the Danube Fire Department without authority to do so in 2006.

His spouse, Jammie Jean Schneider, 38, entered an Alford plea to a misdemeanor charge of theft as part of the same agreement. An Alford plea is recorded as a guilty plea. Under such a plea, the defendant does not admit to the facts of crime but acknowledges the evidence would likely result in conviction.

The couple appeared before District Judge Kathryn Smith in Meeker County. Meeker County Attorney Stephanie Beckman prosecuted the case on behalf of Renville County, where the charges were initially filed.

Judge Smith accepted the Alford plea by Jammie Schneider. Smith stayed imposition of a 90-day jail term and ordered Jammie Schneider to perform 30 hours of community service, apologize to the Danube Fire Department, and serve supervised probation for one year.

By entering the Alford plea, Jammie Schneider acknowledges that there was a likelihood of conviction based on the evidence. The judge told her that she was also acknowledging that there was evidence showing she had endorsed and deposited a check for more than $700 written by her husband on the account of the Danube Fire Department's smelt fund on July 18, 2006.

Charges of felony theft and theft - indifferent to owner rights were dismissed as part of the agreement.

The agreement with the police chief requires that he read a letter of apology to the Danube City Council. It also stipulates that he may not accept a position of fiduciary responsibility for one year. He must also perform 30 hours of community service and have no other or similar offenses.

The original charges allege that Lester Schneider, as assistant fire chief, wrote checks totaling $4,460 from the fire department's smelt fund to his wife in July, August and September of 2006. She allegedly placed the funds in their joint checking account and the two admitted using the money for their own use, including paying a couple of mortgage payments. A deposit of $5,045 was made into the fire department's smelt fry account on Oct. 31, 2006, by the chief's father, Lester Schneider Sr.

Jammie and Lester Schneider Jr. declined comment Wednesday after the hearing.

Whether or not the plea agreement and Schneider's acknowledgement of wrongdoing in it will affect his employment as police chief is a matter for the Danube City Council to decide, according to County Attorney Beckman. She said that the stipulation that he not handle money for a year would prevent him from serving as a department head on a county level, where he would be responsible for a budget.

The agreement is not expected to affect his ability to remain licensed as a peace officer. Neil Melton, executive director of the Minnesota Peace Officers Standards and Training board, said that it requires a conviction to revoke a license. He said the board would be reviewing the wording in the agreement as approved by the court.

Beckman said the decision to accept a plea agreement reflected the interests of justice.

Two factors stood out in the decision-making. Quite some time has elapsed since the alleged actions occurred. And, the victim did not want the matter prosecuted. The Danube Fire Department made known its desire not to see the matter prosecuted, Beckman said.

She said the case generated many accusations of "an old boy's club'' in Danube. It may very well be true that an old boy's club is controlling affairs in Danube, she said, but that is not a matter for the county attorney's office.