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Ramsay guilty of clinic theft, ordered to pay $145,000

A Perham woman who admitted Monday to stealing from an eye clinic where she used to work may avoid jail if she repays what she took, a prosecutor said.

Ruth Ann Ramsay, 51, pleaded guilty in Otter Tail County (Minn.) District Court to one count of theft.

Perham Police Chief Brian Nelson said he was pleased with the outcome of the case.

"We feel we had a solid case--strong physical evidence, forensic accounting information," said Nelson. "Cases like this aren't real subjective--you look at the numbers, X-amount is missing, and who had access to that money. Those are the two key elements of an embezzlement case."

Under a plea agreement, Ramsay would avoid jail time if she pays restitution of more than $125,000 before her sentencing Nov. 17, said Michelle Eldien, assistant Otter Tail County attorney.

As part of the agreement, she is to pay an additional $20,000 over the five years of her probation.

Ramsay admitted in court to taking money from the Perham Eye Clinic, which is part of the Minnesota EyeCare Network, Eldien said.

According to court documents, Ramsay handled the operation's financial transactions for years.

When company officials asked her about suspicious transactions at a meeting of the clinic's board in September 2007, she refused to answer questions and began cleaning out her desk, court documents said.

In arriving at a plea agreement, Eldien said officials from the eye clinic let prosecutors know they were more interested in recouping financial losses than in seeing Ramsay serve time in jail.

"My primary concern is to satisfy the loss that the business owners faced," said Nelson. But, with legal and accounting fees and other associated costs, "I doubt the (Perham Eye Clinic) owners will ever be reimbursed 100 percent for their losses," said Nelson. "They will still be taking a hit."

Interestingly, the Perham Police Department has been experiencing more so-called "white collar crime" than is typical, said Nelson.

"We've seen more in the past few months...when we haven't seen any for a number of years," said Nelson. "We've had several embezzlement investigations going on at one time." The internal theft from Dean's Country Market, which is still in the courts, is one of those cases.

Is it a reflection of the economic times?

"It could just be a coincidence, or maybe it is indicative of other factors," said Nelson.