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Former Alexandria police chief Rick Wyffels released on bail

Wyffels was charged with felony theft after a year-long investigation by the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

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Rick Wyffels

ALEXANDRIA – Former Alexandria Police Chief Rick Wyffels spent the weekend in the Douglas County Jail after being arrested by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension following a year-long investigation into alleged financial crimes.

Wyffels, 57, was taken into custody without incident on Friday, April 8, 2022 at his Alexandria home, according to a release from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. He was charged by complaint with felony theft by swindle.

Wyffels is accused of purchasing $65,724 worth of items that are missing from the police department, according to the complaint. The BCA investigated Wyffels’ credit card transactions from Dec. 16, 2014 to July 7, 2020. Wyffels served as chief from Oct. 31, 2006 and retired on Sept. 30, 2020, earning a final salary of $124,197.

READ MORE ABOUT HIS CAREER HERE

Wyffels was released on Monday, April 11, after a bail hearing was held in Douglas County District Court. Wyffels, who is being represented by Robert Thorwaldsen, an attorney from Detroit Lakes, posted an unconditional cash bail or surety bond in the amount of $25,000, according to court documents.

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His release conditions include the following: remain law-abiding, make all future court appearances, report any change of address to the Douglas County court administrator, keep in contact with his attorney and not leave the state of Minnesota.

His next court appearance, an omnibus hearing, has been scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday, June 8, 2022. Two Douglas County District Court judges, Timothy Churchwell and Michelle Clark, have recused themselves from the case.

The Stearns County Attorney’s Office is prosecuting the case for the Douglas County Attorney’s Office.

Here’s what happened

According to the criminal complaint, the BCA found a significant number of purchases Wyffels made using his city-issued credit card. Anything he purchased with the card was required to be documented and turned into the city staff, including accidental or unauthorized purchases. BCA investigators said they couldn’t find any reimbursements made by Wyffels while he was chief.

READ THE FULL CRIMINAL COMPLAINT HERE

During the investigation, the BCA spoke with a police department employee whose duties included purchasing supplies and other office-related needs for the department. The purchases were made using the employee’s city issued credit card. In accordance with the city’s processes at that time, the employee was supposed to enter the receipts from the credit card and once approved by Wyffels, they would be forwarded to the city’s finance department.The employee told BCA investigators that Wyffels didn’t follow that process. Instead, Wyffels entered the receipts from his city-issued credit card purchases and forwarded them on his own, according to the complaint.

By entering the purchases himself and forwarding them on to the finance department, Wyffels was indicating to staff that the purchases were legitimate and within the city’s parameters for credit card use, the employee told investigators. The employee also said that the city had charge accounts at several local businesses where tax-exempt purchases could be made.

BCA investigators confirmed with new Police Chief Scott Kent that many of the credit card items were either not at the police department or were not legitimate purchases, according to the complaint.

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This included computers and related equipment, snow shovels, stamps, external hard drives, tow ropes, light bulbs, computer software, a Star Tribune subscription, cell phones, cell phone services, smoke detector, lawn care tools, ethernet cables, headphones, door handles, HDMI cables, dimmer switches, a marine battery, folding tables, a label maker, wi-fi equipment, sprinkler equipment, chemical spray, an automotive battery, hoses and nozzles, a laminator, rodent control products, a container of acetone, chemical gloves, charging cords, an Apple iPad, mops, a chair mat, power outlets, a spotting scope and a “significant number” of fuel purchases that exceeded the maximum gallons than Wyffels’ squad car could hold.

Many of these items, the BCA said, were the type usually delegated to the city’s IT department, administrative staff or maintenance staff. The BCA said that Wyffels wasn’t directed by those departments to make the purchases, and none of the items were located.

The complaint states that Wyffels’ financial records showed that a spotting scope was sold through ebay.com on March 9, 2020 for $3,710 after being advertised as new. The proceeds were transferred to Wyffels’ PayPal account and connected to his email account. Investigators said the proceeds from the sale were withdrawn from the PayPal account to Wyffels’ Wells Fargo bank account.

Binder of receipts provided by current chief

Here’s how the investigation began, according to court records:

On December 15, 2020, the BCA met with Kent. He told an agent that some purchases made by Wyffels, who retired two and a half months earlier, couldn’t be found.

Kent provided the BCA with a three-ring binder containing copies of receipts from the purchases.

Later, on March 10, 2021, Kent met with the BCA agent again and said he and other police personnel had checked everywhere within the department, twice, and were unable to find any of the purchased items.

Kent highlighted two unusual fuel purchases of $54.89 and $51 from the Holiday Stationstore that were made using Wyffels’ city-issued credit card.

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Other suspicious purchases, Kent told the BCA, occurred on Wyffels’ credit card on Christmas Eve in 2018 and again in 2019 and included printer ink, a dimming smart light bulb, four packs of AAA and AA batteries. Also on Dec. 26, 2019, four 24-packs of AA batteries and a pack of four 9-volt batteries were purchased.

Kent said the purchases were unusual as Wyffels was not normally responsible for purchasing office supplies.

The BCA contacted former Mayor Sara Carlson and she said that a city credit card was issued to Wyffels with the understanding that it was for city business only.

Al Edenloff is the editor of the twice-weekly Echo Press. He started his journalism career when he was in 10th grade, writing football and basketball stories for the Parkers Prairie Independent.
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