A former executive pleaded guilty in federal court to criminal fraud that destroyed a Little Falls credit union.

Margurite Cofell this month admitted her guilt in a long-running scheme that, according to court documents, cost the St. Francis Campus Credit Union more than $2.5 million and forced its liquidation.

Cofell, who served as manager, then chief operating officer and later as president of the credit union, admitted to a variety of fraudulent actions between 2006 and 2014.

She sometimes made electronic deposits into fictitious accounts she created and also issued fictitious loans in the names of unwitting credit union members. Cofell also admitted taking cash from the credit union’s vault.

In a plea agreement in U.S. District Court in St. Paul, Cofell pleaded guilty to a single count of credit union fraud. She could be sentenced to up to 30 years in prison, although federal sentencing guidelines call for a sentence of roughly seven to 12 years in prison.

John Reinan

Lake Vermilion

Bats in Soudan mine fall victim to fungus

Visitors to the Soudan Underground Mine near Tower may notice something is missing as they plunge below the Earth’s surface.

The bats that hang out there are dying in large numbers because of white-nose syndrome, a devastating fungus. Minnesota Department of Natural Resources researchers found that 89% of the bats that hibernate there have died since the fungus was confirmed in the state four years ago, said Ed Quinn, natural resource program supervisor for the DNR’s parks and trails division.

At one time, the mine was home to more than 10,000 bats during the winter, he said. Now the number could be down to about a 1,000.

The irritating fungus arouses the bats from hibernation, causing them to use precious energy at a time when they have no food. “Sometimes they’ll fly out and we don’t know if they’re looking for food or just trying to get away from what’s irritating them,” Quinn said. “And of course there’s no food and it’s cold and they die.”

Researchers hope that the problem can be stemmed in part if surviving bats can enter hibernation healthier. To help, researchers are assessing the effectiveness of artificial structures where bats can roost in the summer, allowing them to put on body weight, raise their young and heal from the lesions left by the fungus.

In the meantime, mine tours will continue. To keep the fungus from spreading, visitors must walk across mats soaked with Woolite and water, which kills the spores, Quinn said.

Mary Lynn Smith