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Continued: Ex-Minneapolis principal gets jail time for swindling school

  • Article by: ABBY SIMONS and PAUL WALSH , Star Tribune s taff w riters
  • Last update: December 13, 2008 - 12:43 AM

A principal who fed her gambling addiction by stealing more than $350,000 from St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic school in north Minneapolis was sentenced Friday to three years in prison,

Joyce A. Klevence, 68, who left the school 18 months ago, was convicted on seven counts of theft by swindle for stealing from the school, which has 93 students in kindergarten to eighth grade. Restitution will be determined at a later date.

Her attorney asked that she be spared prison time, but Hennepin County District Judge John Holahan Jr. countered that the theft was "particularly egregious" because its victims were countless schoolchildren. He gave Klevence more time than recommended by state guidelines.

"It's also particularly troubling that you were in a position of trust," he told her.

Standing before the judge, Klevence turned and addressed members of the school and apologized for the first time, reading from a statement she had prepared.

"I am very, very sincerely sorry for the pain that my actions have caused," she said. "I would ask for forgiveness, but I do not expect it right away as it has been difficult to forgive myself. I will let it be in God's hands, as I know He has forgiven me."

Representatives of the school who were in court said the prison sentence is just, but it won't make up for the hurt she caused the school.

"I'm at a loss; I don't know if you can put into words what she's done," said Melissa Gregory, a member of the school's board of directors and a parent of two children in the school. "She did steal money from the school, but she stole so much more than that. And I don't know if that can be made up to them."

Since Klevence's arrest, Gregory said, the school has been working hard to restore donor confidence and to put systems in place to ensure the same thing will never happen again. "I hope she can forgive herself and we can learn to forgive her as well," Gregory said.

According to the charges:

Klevence, who was principal at St. Elizabeth Seton from July 1995 until June 2007, stole the money from school accounts starting in 2000 and used it to make car and loan payments and pay credit card bills.

The missing money was detected during a routine audit following her retirement. Klevence hid her thefts, in part, by presenting inflated expenses to the school's board of directors. She admitted to the thefts in letters she wrote to the archbishop of the Twin Cities and to two members of the school's board.

Klevence moved to New Mexico after she was charged, where she went to treatment for gambling addiction. At her sentencing Friday, she told the judge she had not gambled in 104 days and that her recovery from the addiction is "a life sentence."

Her attorney, Richard Kyle, asked Holahan not to give his client prison time, saying that it benefited no one, given that Klevence's tarnished reputation was punishment enough.

Klevence was sentenced to three years; state guidelines recommend one year and 11 months.

She will serve her time at the women's prison in Shakopee. With good behavior, she will be released in two years.

Klevence was stoic as she shook her attorney's hand and left in the custody of Hennepin County deputies.

Mary Beth Liekhus, who attended the sentencing in support of Klevence, served on the board of directors for the first six years that Klevence was principal. It's important to remember the circumstances of what Klevence went through before things fell apart, she said.

"We put enormous pressure on her to do an almost impossible task," she said. "We let her be strong, but we did not allow her any kind of oversight."

"She has pleaded guilty and asked for forgiveness," Liekhus added. "I have forgiven her, I will be visiting her and I will be praying for her."

pwalsh@startribune.com • 612-673-4482 asimons@startribune.com • 612-673-4921

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