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Theft charges face ex-head of nonprofit

The former head of an Alexandria, Minn.-based non-profit has been charged with theft by false representation. Sheila Marie Barsness, Brandon, Minn., resigned in December from her job as executive director of the WesMin Resource Conservation and D...

The former head of an Alexandria, Minn.-based non-profit has been charged with theft by false representation.

Sheila Marie Barsness, Brandon, Minn., resigned in December from her job as executive director of the WesMin Resource Conservation and Development Council.

The agency supports conservation projects in 14 Minnesota counties, including Clay, Becker, Wilkin and Otter Tail.

According to court documents:

- Barsness led the owner of a Douglas County organic farm to believe grant funds were available to pay for vegetables provided to a food shelf, when in fact no money was available.

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As a result, the farm was out tens of thousands of dollars.

- Barsness persuaded Natalie Heckert, Alexandria, Minn., to develop a statewide fitness program by promising she would be reimbursed by grant money that never existed.

- Barsness told the agency's board she received a scholarship that would pay for her salary, thereby securing an unwarranted raise in pay and benefits. The false representation cost the agency more than $2,500.

Barsness made between $30,000 and $35,000 a year as the agency's head, according to a WesMin board member.

WesMin and the state of Minnesota recently signed an agreement under which the agency promised a good-faith effort to reimburse individuals who are out money.

Judgments total about $57,000.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555

I'm a reporter and a photographer and sometimes I create videos to go with my stories.

I graduated from Minnesota State University Moorhead and in my time with The Forum I have covered a number of beats, from cops and courts to business and education.

I've also written about UFOs, ghosts, dinosaur bones and the planet Pluto.

You may reach me by phone at 701-241-5555, or by email at dolson@forumcomm.com
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