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River Falls man accused of stealing more than $200K from business

David W. Briese

Authorities allege a River Falls man charged with felony business setting theft received more than $200,000 in kickbacks and gifts for a period of three years while working for a Hager City-based company.

Daniel W. Briese, 48, was charged Sept. 26 in Pierce County Circuit Court with felony theft—business setting over $10,000 and agent accept commission/bonus in relation to alleged incidents on and between Aug. 18, 2014 and April 19, 2016. If convicted of the felony, he could face up to 10 years in prison and at maximum a $25,000 fine.

According to the complaint:

In 2014, Trinity Industries bought Thomas & Betts in Hager City, which specializes in "industrial products and services ranging from railcars, barges, storage containers, and aggregates to highway products, structural wind towers, railcar parts, and railcar leasing and management services," according to its website.

The transition included examining the logistics of its shipping department, of which Briese was in charge. When supervisors asked him questions about his practices, he abruptly quit, which made them suspicious.

They allege Briese was having a shipping company called Red Eye Express, owned and operated by Debbi Johnson, charge the plant a higher rate and was getting kickbacks from the owner.

During an interview with Johnson, she told investigators that she knew what she was doing was "kind of wrong," but that "things snowballed out of control."

She printed off a spreadsheet showing Briese received $55,632.30 in 2014 and $108,314.10 in 2015. She admitted she had also given Briese a credit card as part of the kickback, and Red Eye paid the bill.

Johnson said Briese also asked her to register Red Eye as a "disadvantaged business entity," which forces companies to use smaller businesses. This in turn, allowed Briese to use Red Eye more for Trinity's needs, giving him an even larger kickback.

During an August 2016 interview with Briese, he said he "incurred a lot of stress and pressure because he had to meet certain quarterly goals due to stocks and bonuses." He had wanted an accounting job, but ended up working in shipping, he said.

He admitted to buying a snowmobile with the Red Eye credit card, and offered to pay all the money back on a payment plan while showing remorse. When asked why he did it, he said he was angry at the company for wasting money and poor management. He defined equity theory as "people who feel like they aren't being treated fairly causing problems in the workplace such as stealing, taking sick days, sabotage and causing problems."

Several drivers admitted to knowing something wrong was going on; one even quit after confronting Johnson.

Johnson and Bruce Williams, who co-founded Red Eye, began working with Briese when Trinity was still Thomas & Betts. Williams told police Red Eye hauled for them on holidays when no one else would, and that Briese got greedy and kept raising the kickback percentage.

According to Johnson's records, the total amount of money received by Briese between 2013 and 2016 is $218,462.27. The amount would not include the amount of money that Trinity was technically out by paying Briese a higher rate. This also doesn't include the amount he received while the company was owned by Meyers or other gifts not paid for with the credit card. The amount may include a boat, truck, gift cards or cash.

Racketeering, receiving stolen property, fraudulent writings/by forgery, forgery—writing or objects and agent accept commission/bonus charges against Briese were dismissed Sept. 26 as the new case was filed. He posted a $5,000 signature bond Sept. 26.

A preliminary hearing is set for 2 p.m. Nov. 28.

Sarah Nigbor

Sarah J. Nigbor serves as a regional editor for RiverTown Multimedia, a position she began in April 2017. She joined RiverTown Multimedia in October 2013 as a news reporter for the New Richmond News, before being appointed editor of the Pierce County Herald in February 2015. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Spanish and French in 2001. She completed a minor in journalism in 2004. 

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