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Former church treasurer enters guilty plea in embezzlement case

Kara K. Amundson-LaVenture1 / 2
Michael LaVenture2 / 2

A Roberts woman who worked as a St. Paul school administrator has pleaded guilty to embezzling funds from a St. Croix County church.

Kara K. Amundson-LaVenture entered the plea to one count of felony theft during a Tuesday, May 30, hearing in St. Croix County Circuit Court. The 43-year-old, along with husband Michael LaVenture, was responsible for nearly $190,000 in unauthorized funds accessed between 2011 and 2015 from New Centerville United Methodist Church in the town of Rush River, according to a criminal complaint filed last year.

In exchange for her guilty plea, prosecutors dismissed five other felony charges against Amundson-LaVenture, who served as the church treasurer and was an assistant principal at Highland Park Middle School until she resigned in January. St. Croix County Assistant District Attorney Erica Ellenwood said she will seek a sentence of three years in prison and six years on probation.

LaVenture, 46, also appeared in court Tuesday, where a weeklong jury trial was scheduled to begin Nov. 6. He’s charged with five counts of felony theft to which he pleaded not guilty in January.

St. Croix County Circuit Court Judge Scott Needham asked at the hearing how Amundson-LaVenture pleaded to the charge.

“I plead guilty,” she said behind tears.

Gary Ritner, pastor at New Centerville United Methodist, said the missing funds were collected for mission trips administered by the Wisconsin Conference United Methodist Church. He said he feared it could impact people's willingness to give in the future.

“It undermines the confidence of donors,” Ritner said after the hearing. “You can't put a dollar figure on that.”

Amundson-LaVenture will be sentenced Sept. 5.

Among elements in the case yet to be sorted out is the matter of restitution. Amundson-LaVenture’s attorney Lars Loberg said that after a $100,000 insurance company payment, there remains an approximately $60,000 amount that’s still contested. That issue will be considered at a separate hearing.

Michael LaVenture’s final pretrial hearing was set for Oct. 24.

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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