The former chief financial officer of a large Granite Falls, Minn., contracting company, Fagen Inc., was charged Monday with embezzling more than $5.7 million from her employer, spending the illicit proceeds on five houses, at least three cars and several recreation vehicles, including a sailboat.
Kirsten Ann Tjosaas, 38, "abused her authority" as Fagen's CFO and corporate controller between 2006 and November 2015 by allegedly siphoning money to Fairmont Investments, a Nebraska-based company that she controlled, the charges say. Tjosaas, who has since been terminated by Fagen, was charged with one count each of wire fraud and money laundering.
Tjosaas was charged through a felony information, a procedure that often indicates a defendant doesn't plan to contest the charges.
Tjosaas' attorney, Timothy Webb, said his client "has continued to accept full responsibility and she is continuing to work with the government to liquidate assets and secure and return the missing funds."
"Ms. Tjosaas carried on an egregious embezzlement scheme over an eight-year period, stealing millions from a family-owned business," U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger said in a press statement. "These charges reflect a clear violation of both the law and the trust her employer placed in her."
Fagen has built nearly half of the nation's ethanol plants and has also constructed wind farms, chemical plants and grain elevators.
In her positions at the company, Tjosaas caused Fagen to issue at least 19 checks and wire transfers worth about $4.5 million to Fairmont Investments, court documents say. Tjosaas allegedly signed many checks using the "signature stamp" of another Fagen executive without that person's authority or knowledge. Prosecutors claim she made false entries into Fagen's general ledger to disguise illegitimate checks as payments to Fagen partners or company vendors.
Tjosaas deposited the stolen money into an account she had created for Fairmont at Granite Falls Bank. She then used the cash to buy five houses and other real estate in Florida, Minnesota, Tennessee and Arizona, as well as cars, all-terrain vehicles, a motorcycle, a water scooter and a sailboat, court documents say.
Prosecutors allege Tjosaas also fraudulently issued Fagen checks payable to another company whose bank account she could access and control. Between June 2006 and November 2015, she allegedly issued about 25 fraudulent checks into that account, totaling more than $1.2 million.
In a press statement, Fagen said it "has a long history of highly successful business ventures based on trust [and] is saddened by the breach of that trust by a former employee, Kirsten Tjosaas. Nevertheless, Fagen Inc. remains strong." Fagen said it has reviewed its internal controls "to ensure the integrity of its operations."
Tjosaas was "asked to leave" Fagen in November, said Joseph Dixon, a Minneapolis attorney representing the company. "After she left, there were certain discrepancies that came to light."
Court documents unsealed in February indicated that an FBI investigation proceeded rapidly after Fagen employees discovered suspicious transactions. In February, FBI agents interviewed Tjosaas in her Granite Falls home, during which she admitted embezzling from Fagen, the government said in a motion filed to prevent Tjosaas and her husband from selling properties suspected of being purchased with ill-gotten gains.
Tjosaas is a certified public accountant who started working at Fagen in 2004, becoming controller in 2007 and CFO in 2013. She is expected to appear at a later date before Judge Donovan Frank in U.S. District Court in St. Paul.