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UPDATE: Former Chokio-Alberta, Minn. school district business manager sentenced to 18 months in prison

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MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. - Liane Claassen, former business manager for the Chokio-Alberta school district, was sentenced to 18 months in prison and ordered to pay more than $263,000 in restitution in federal court today.

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Claassen, 44, of Chokio, was charged with one count of wire fraud in May 2011 for stealing approximately $300,000 from the district over 10 years. Claassen pled guilty to the charge in July 2011.

Thursday, Judge John R. Tunheim sentenced Claassen to 18 months in prison on the wire fraud charge and ordered her to pay $263,240.32 in restitution.

Two Chokio-Alberta employees spoke at Claassen's sentencing hearing.

Secondary teacher Becky Draper said that when she looks back at the time Claassen confiscated funds from the district, she sees a time of many changes in the district.

"This was a decade when the school district went into Statutory Operating Debt," said Draper. "This was a decade when salaries were frozen, supply requisitions were put on hold and student textbooks were taped back together because the books had to last for a few more years."

Building Leader Lori Maher said that students in the district have watched as community members have come forward to donate time and energy to helping the school while the school struggled financially.

"Staff members have been cut and programs reduced. Through the negotiation process, staff have graciously accepted very minimal pay increases and eve a freeze in salary to take strain off the district budget," said Maher. "When staff asked for supplies or resources, they often commented how Liane acted as if it was coming out of her own purse. Now we know why."

In her plea agreement, Claassen admitted that between July of 1999 through August of 2010, she used the school district's computer to pay herself more money than her salary allowed. As the district's business manager, Claassen was responsible for payroll for all district employees and was entrusted to authorize bank transfers.

Claassen also admitted illegally transferring money into her retirement account and covering up her scheme by making misrepresentations to her employers regarding the district's financial condition.

This case was the result of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. It was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Christian S. Wilton.

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