ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Former ag association treasurer to serve jail time for $50,000 theft

WILLMAR, Minn. - Before he was sentenced Monday to 30 days in jail, the former treasurer of the West Central Ag Sales Association apologized to the judge for swindling the group out of $50,000.

WILLMAR, Minn. - Before he was sentenced Monday to 30 days in jail, the former treasurer of the West Central Ag Sales Association apologized to the judge for swindling the group out of $50,000.

“My intent was to pay it back,” said Robert Craig Starz, 66, who pleaded guilty in June to felony theft by swindle in Kandiyohi County District Court. “I’m making every effort to pay it as fast as I can.”

Per the plea agreement, he brought an envelope containing $15,000 to the sentencing, much of it in cash. The money is the first part of the $49,803 he has been ordered to pay in restitution.

Judge Donald Spilseth, presiding at the hearing, did not appear sympathetic.

“Don’t call it a loan. It was a theft,” Spilseth said, to which Starz nodded.

ADVERTISEMENT

Spilseth did grant a stay of imposition on the charge, meaning the felony conviction may be reduced to a misdemeanor upon successful completion of probation requirements.

Starz was sentenced to serve 10 years of probation, with conditions including cognitive skills training and a written letter of apology. He was ordered to turn in his permit to carry a firearm, which will be voided.

Starz, of Richmond -- formerly of Atwater, was originally charged in February in Kandiyohi County District Court with three felony counts of theft by swindle. Two of those charges were dismissed at the sentencing hearing, per the June plea agreement.

He was a 35-year member and 10-year treasurer of West Central Ag Sales Association, an agri-business group with 16 to 18 active members and 30 to 40 total members.

The group is well-known for its Willmar Ag Show, an annual fundraising event to provide scholarships to students in an agricultural field of study.

Typically, the group hands out nearly 30 scholarships and grants each spring worth over $10,000 in total.

In 2016, it handed out two scholarships, only $1,000.

By February, when the charges were filed in court, Starz was no longer the group’s treasurer, group member Randy Barka told the Tribune then.

ADVERTISEMENT

According to the criminal complaint on the charges, two members of the association reported Starz’s misconduct to the Willmar Police Department Dec. 28 after noticing $15,000 from the association’s checking account was missing and and the group’s $40,000 savings account had been emptied.

In his 10 years as treasurer, Starz had little to no supervision.

He was in charge of filing the group’s taxes and had access to both of its bank accounts.

At the group’s Jan. 8 meeting, Starz admitted to embezzling funds for his own use. An audio recording of that meeting was given to a detective at the Willmar Police Department.

Later investigation revealed at least four unauthorized checks from 2012, 2014 and 2015 written to Bank of America, US Bank and Starz’s personal business.

According to court documents, in a Feb. 4 interview with police, Starz admitted to writing himself checks from the Ag Association’s account to pay for his personal credit card, business account and checking account, including a single 2012 check of $40,000 to make a credit card payment.

Starz is the former owner of New London Feeds, a business that closed abruptly in June 2015, according to Tribune archives.

He reportedly told police that “the interest rates that the Ag Association was receiving on their accounts is bad” and that he believed he could use the association’s money for his failing business, then pay the group back before anyone noticed.

ADVERTISEMENT

He also admitted to falsifying checking and savings total sheets to cover up the missing money from the accounts.

What To Read Next
Iowa-based Summit Carbon Solutions says its pipeline project will help ethanol plants. The project aims to capture greenhouse gas emissions and pipe the CO2 to western North Dakota for underground storage.
The number of cows going to slaughter is far above the five-year average. Attendees of the annual Cow Calf Days tour in Minnesota heard the latest on cattle trends.
As Mikkel Pates approaches his retirement from Agweek after 44 years in journalism, he talks to Rose Dunn about learning TV, covering ag's characters and scandals and looking toward the future.
Members Only
“In our industry there aren’t a lot of young people in it. I like the fact that there are a lot of young people in agriculture here,” he said of the Mitchell area.