A former employee has been sentenced to eight months in prison for stealing more than $315,000 from a northern Minnesota casino over more than six years, according to federal charges.

Jennifer L. Boutto, 33, of Willow Valley Township, Minn., was sentenced this week in U.S. District Court in St. Paul after she pleaded guilty to embezzlement and theft from the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa, operators of the Fortune Bay Resort Casino in Tower.

"Ms. Boutto took advantage of the managerial position she had been trusted with and selfishly stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa," Acting U.S. Attorney W. Anders Folk said in a statement after sentencing. "This brazen theft of tribal funds deeply impacted the Tribe's ability to provide services to its own members."

"Far too often crimes are committed against tribes in Indian Country and the punishment is a slap on the wrist," Bois Forte Tribal Chair Cathy Chavers said in a statement. "We are relieved to put an end to this matter and are now able to breathe a bit easier seeing justice done. Now our community can begin the process of healing and ensuring this never happens again."

Judge Eric Tostrud sentenced Boutto to a term below the federal guideline range of 18-24 months. He also ordered her to make full restitution and take part in a mental health counseling or treatment program.

Boutto was hired to book reservations in 2008 and then was promoted to front desk supervisor, a position that allowed her to issue cash refunds without direct supervision.

From January 2013 to October 2019, according to the prosecution, Boutto issued fraudulent cash refunds against the invoices of previous customers she knew had spent significant amounts of money at the casino. She then accessed the Fortune Bay vault and retrieved the refunded amount.

Prosecutors had argued for an 18-month prison term in court filings before sentencing. While the filings acknowledged that she and her husband had sizable medical expenses, "Boutto's scheme outpaced her apparent need and eventually became a mechanism of greed."

In total, Boutto executed the scheme 2,994 times and stole $315,739.87. Her average fraudulent refund was $28 in 2013, when she stole $15,060.22 by year's end. In 2019, her average theft was $531 in a year she stole $88,187.18.

She spent "significant sums on Amazon, travel, and a SiriusXM radio subscription," the filing continued. "Boutto also admittedly enjoyed relatively expensive recreational activities, such as hunting, fishing, and riding ATVs."

The defense asked the court to spare Boutto a prison term and instead sentence her to home detention with work release, restitution and supervised probation.

Upon her promotion to front desk supervisor, the defense argued in court filings, Boutto "saw millions of dollars passing through the resort and casino. The amount of money made by Fortune Bay seemed unreal to her, like made-up numbers that had no real meaning."

As her family medical expenses grew, Boutto stole "little by little ... to pay for hospital bills, medications and groceries," the defense contended. "Ms. Boutto used the money she stole to get by and she has nothing of significant value to show for the money she took."

A prosecution filing revealed that in the final and most active 18 months, she spent $8,426 on health and beauty services, $1,381 on hotels, $1,800 on liquor, $2,741 for motorcycle services, $5,600 on Amazon, $3,692 on iTunes and $1,514 at restaurants. An additional $22,457 was either withdrawn in cash or transferred to accounts or individuals.

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482