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Gov. Dayton to tour fire-ravaged Madelia

Gov. Mark Dayton will visit Madelia, Minn., on Friday morning, according to the local Chamber of Commerce, two days after a devastating fire destroyed businesses along the rural town's Main Street. Dayton plans to tour the worst-hit areas and meet with some of the business owners who lost everything in the blaze. 

The fire levelled six buildings and may have damaged another so severely that it will have to come down, said Karla Angus, executive director of the Madelia Area Chamber of Commerce.  

"We are rebuilding, we do know that," said Angus. The town doesn't have vacant space available to house the displaced businesses, so existing businesses have been offering space in their buildings to host some of those that were lost, she said. 

The total cost of the damage as well as the cause of the fire are still being determined, she said. Insurance agents and the state Fire Marshal's office were in town on Thursday, she said.    

Photo: A firefighter sprays water at smoldering ruins in Madelia, Minn., on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016. Photo credit: Associated Press

Meeker County deputy charged with stealing drugs, Christmas toys

Travis Sebring (Meeker County Sheriff's Department)

Travis Sebring (Renville County Sheriff's Department)

A Meeker County sheriff’s deputy told investigators he had been stealing drugs from his workplace for about a year before they caught him pilfering prescriptions, office furniture and donated Christmas toys.

Travis Sebring, 33, was charged Thursday in Meeker County District Court with multiple felony and misdemeanor counts of theft and drug possession.

Sebring’s colleagues began building the case against him just before Thanksgiving, when Chief Deputy Dan Miller spotted Sebring, who was off duty, “digging through” a locked drop-off box that county residents use to safely dispose of expired or unwanted prescription drugs. According to the charging documents, Miller watched Sebring remove a tote from the Drug Take Back Box and carry it into a nearby stairwell, out of range of the surveillance cameras.

Miller and Meeker County Sheriff Brian Cruze reviewed surveillance footage of the drug drop-off box and spotted a pattern. According to the complaint, footage showed that Sebring, both on duty and off, repeatedly “would unlock the box and dig through the tote” and carry it off to the staircase. He would then reappear in the lobby, sometimes tossing empty bags into the trash.

The county called in investigators from the neighboring Renville County Sheriff’s Department, who installed hidden cameras in the stairway and prepared a sting.

On Tuesday, they placed a bag filled with 23 acetaminophen hydrocodone pills — a prescription narcotic — in the drop-off box.

According to the criminal complaint:

Sebring started his shift at 9 p.m. About a half-hour later, he unlocked the box, removed the bag and retreated to the stairwell, where the hidden cameras captured him stuffing the prescription painkillers into his pockets. He was called in for questioning by 10 p.m. and a search of his home and squad car turned up not only the missing hydrocodone, but “in excess of 100 other prescription medication tablets that have yet to be identified by law enforcement.”

Sebring had three methylin pills — a stimulant used to treat ADHD — in his pants pocket when he was questioned. In his squad car, investigators found the missing hydrocodone, as well as two prescription bottles made out to someone other than Sebring, containing tramadol — an opiod painkiller, the complaint said. He told investigators he took the tramadol at the same time he took the hydrocodone from the drop-box.

“The defendant admitted taking medications from the Meeker County Sheriff’s Office Drug Take Back Box for personal use. The defendant stated that he could have been taking medication from the Box for as long as a year, but could not give an exact length of time,” the complaint said.

Pills weren’t the only thing Sebring allegedly stole.

Late on the night of Dec. 19, video surveillance spotted him walking through the county courthouse basement with “two large, bulging garbage bags” and loading them, without permission, into his squad car. At that time, the basement level community room was filled with donations for the county’s Christmas toy drive, according to the complaint.

When questioned by investigators this week, Sebring admitted taking toys and giving them to family members. A search of his home turned up many of the stolen items he identified, including a football, Disney bathtub toys and a Thor action figure, the complaint said.

On Jan. 2, video cameras spotted Sebring taking a wooden chair from the county courthouse and loading it into his squad car. Searchers discovered the chair in Sebring’s garage. The search also uncovered a small quantity of marijuana and drug paraphernalia in the deputy’s home, according to the complaint.

Sebring faces four felony counts of theft and drug possession and five misdemeanor counts of theft, drug possession and misconduct by a public employee.

Sebring, who has served as a Meeker County deputy since 2009, has resigned his post and was released on his own recognizance after his initial court appearance Thursday morning.

Jennifer Brooks • 612-673-4006

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