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Lake Park mayor makes court date

The mayor of Lake Park has been released on his own recognizance after his first appearance in Becker County District Court Monday, on a criminal charge that alleges he financially exploited his sister, a Down’s syndrome patient.

Aaron Lee Wittnebel, 32, was charged Aug. 6 in Becker County District Court with financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult and failure to provide care, a felony.

Court documents state Wittnebel, who was his disabled sister’s guardian and conservator of her estate, had failed to pay for more than $6,000 of her care at Divine House in Detroit Lakes, and that about $5,409 of her money was missing.

Wittnebel has denied any wrongdoing, and said in a previous interview with the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead that he will continue his mayoral duties for the time being.

For now, Wittnebel’s fellow city officials appear supportive of his decision.

“From the city’s perspective there is nothing out there (in the court charges) that would prevent him from continuing to fulfill his duties as mayor should he choose to do so,” said Lake Park City Attorney Charles Ramstad.

“This is a personal case and does not affect city business at this time,” said Lake Park City Council member Amy Degerstrom, in a statement submitted via e-mail. “He has the right to due process and as a council member I respect that right.”

Wittnebel did preside over the city council’s regular Aug. 12 meeting, Ramstad said.

His next court appearance, an omnibus hearing, is set for Sept. 23. His attorney, Joe Irby, indicated Monday that the hearing would most likely be contested.

Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.

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