Golden Valley clerk's 2 jobs crossed a line

  • Article by: TASNIM SHAMMA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 30, 2011 - 12:13 AM

The fired license worker had a supervisor's OK for part-time job with auto dealer, despite city policy.

A clerk in Golden Valley's motor vehicle office got her supervisor's permission to work part time at a car dealership despite a city policy that prohibits conflicts-of-interest in outside jobs.

Now that employee, Courtney A. Olson, 35, of Maple Grove, is facing criminal charges that she used her job in the motor vehicle office to falsify documents to benefit the car dealership, Quality Auto Sales and Finance of Spring Lake Park. When Olson's supervisor discovered the alleged bogus paperwork in March, Olson was fired and the office was abruptly shut down without explanation.

A lawyer for Quality Auto owner Terry Nord acknowledged that the dealership hired Olson to speed up paperwork. But the lawyer, Thomas Bauer, pointed out that no one from Quality Auto has been charged and said the dealership was a victim as well.

Golden Valley City Manager Tom Burt said the city has a clear policy that employees must obtain approval for any outside employment and that it cannot be a conflict of interest. Burt said he did not learn until the investigation began that Olson's supervisor, Steve Dahlberg, had approved Olson's work at Quality Auto even though it violated city policy. He said he could not publicly discuss what happened to Dahlberg, but he said that employment violations can result in a range of discipline, including termination.

Hired by Golden Valley in 2008, Olson was one of six employees at the motor vehicle office. According to the criminal complaint, Olson told police that Quality Auto had started paying her only in the previous three or four months. Olson would greet Nord, the owner of Quality Auto, and she told police his response would be, "How are we coming on titles?"

Olson admitted to police on March 25 that she stamped "paid" on forms presented by Quality Auto knowing that fees and taxes hadn't been paid but understanding that the company needed those forms to get financing for the vehicles, according to the criminal complaint.

Olson also is accused of stealing more than $10,000 from the cash register, Golden Valley police detective Laura Gould wrote in the June 22 complaint.

Olson was charged with three felonies, including theft of public funds, and two gross misdemeanor counts of misconduct of a public employee.

A former Quality Auto employee urged Olson to fax forms with the "paid" stamp to Quality Auto on the basis that the company would pay the office later and in addition Olson would periodically receive $200 from the company, according to the criminal complaint.

Olson told police that she "probably never once thought about it the first time [she] did it" and "needed the money," the complaint said.

Bauer, the lawyer for Nord, said that hiring someone to expedite paperwork was "nothing nefarious" and typical for the industry because the state takes a long time to process applications. Bauer said Nord did not know Olson was falsifying records.

Dan Greensweig, assistant administrator of the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust, said he could not recall a situation like Olson's on the municipal level in Minnesota.

"The public has an expectation that people will be treated equitably -- an expectation that any city would have," Greensweig said.

Dahlberg first alerted police after a finance company that dealt with Quality Auto, Security Auto Loans, approached him in late March about several forms that appeared suspicious.

An employee who looked up the transactions discovered that none of the titles had been transferred to the state. Dahlberg identified Olson's handwriting on the forms, the complaint said.

The motor vehicle office remains closed as auditors review its records.

Tasnim Shamma • 612-673-7603 Twitter: @TasnimS

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