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Woodbury man accused of stealing $80K from St. Paul school district

James Allen Elwood, 63, of Woodbury, is accused of stealing more than $80,000 from the St. Paul School District over a three-year period while he was employed by the district.

A Woodbury man is accused of stealing more than $80,000 from the St. Paul School District by diverting the district's payments for electricity bills into his personal account over a three-year period.

James Allen Elwood, 63, was charged Wednesday, Sept. 23 by the Ramsey County Attorney's Office with one count of felony theft of public funds.

According to the criminal complaint, Elwood, while employed by the school district, altered the school district's Xcel Energy payment documents to divert district funds into his home Xcel utility account. He then claimed overpayments on his personal account for his Woodbury residence and received large refunds, the complaint states.

Elwood was employed as an assistant accounting tech and is on paid administrative leave, St. Paul schools district officials said last week.

"This type of theft is a shocking violation of a public trust," said Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner in a statement on the alleged incident.

As an employee in the district's accounting department, one of Elwood's regular duties was to request and obtain checks from the St. Paul Public School's business office and use those checks to pay Xcel Energy for energy provided to buildings owned and operated by the school district.

Once Elwood received the large checks he allegedly prepared a "Payment Distribution Document," which listed multiple Xcel Energy account numbers and the dollar amount Xcel Energy was being requested to credit to each account, the complaint stated.

The document was then sent to Xcel Energy, along with the large check or checks. Elwood is alleged to have sent a modified "Payment Distribution Document" to Xcel Energy in order to divert school district money to his personal, residential Xcel Energy account on several occasions.

Unusually high balance

In August Elwood's residential energy account from Xcel had a credit balance of $19,410.96. He attempted to get a refund of nearly $19,000. The high positive balance on his residential account and the large refund request prompted Xcel Energy to investigate further, the complaint states.

When the account came up as Elwood's residential account, with a pattern of refunds over a three year period, with payments had been made by St. Paul School District check, the refund request was declined and the Minnesota State Auditor's office stepped in.

The state auditor investigation concluded that a total of $81,087.68 in District funds were diverted to Elwood's private residential Xcel Energy account.

A Sept. 16 letter sent from the state auditor's office to the school district recommended the district review its internal control procedures and consider limiting or eliminating the ability of employees to "pick-up" checks from the business office.