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Lake Park Mayor Aaron Wittnebel sentenced to 30-days jail

Lake Park Mayor Aaron Wittnebel will serve 30 days in the Becker County Jail and five years of supervised probation as part of his sentencing Wednesday morning.

Wittnebel was charged with financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult for mishandling finances for his sister, who has Down’s syndrome and for whom he was a guardian and conservator.

Wittnebel pled guilty to the felony offense through an Alford Plea, which means while he asserts innocence, he admits the state had sufficient evidence for a jury to find him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Becker County Judge Jay Carlson’s ruling included a stay of adjudication for Wittnebel, which means if the embattled mayor follows through with all of the conditions of his sentence, there will be no conviction on his record.

This comes despite Becker County Assistant Attorney Kevin Miller’s argument against a stay of adjudication, as Miller told the court he was “concerned over a lack of remorse or responsibility” on the part of Wittnebel.

Miller had asked for a stay of imposition, which means Wittnebel’s felony would have turned into a misdemeanor after five years if all requirements were met.

“So at the end of the day, it ends up only being the difference between having a conviction on his record or only having a misdemeanor,” said Miller, who says he’s satisfied with the sentencing, given the fact that Wittnebel paid $5,400 back to his sister’s estate.

“And in cases like this, I think that’s what’s really important — that the money is returned to his sister,” said Miller.

Wittnebel maintains that the incident is simply a case of him not keeping adequate financial records of an account that he had joined between him and his sister.

Wittnebel’s attorney, Joe Irby of Detroit Lakes, argued that because funds were coming in and going out from both Aaron Wittnebel’s work wages and his sister’s social security, it’s nearly impossible to distinguish what money was being spent on whom.

Court documents showed that Wittnebel also failed to pay for more than $6,000 of his sister’s care at the Divine House in Detroit Lakes, which he claimed was due in part to what he believed to be questionable care, and that he and his family had at times taken his sister out of the facility so they could care for her personally.

He has since been replaced as his sister’s guardian and conservator.

Before the sentence was handed down, Wittnebel did tell the court that it was a lapse on his part for not keeping proper accounting.

“It was a mistake and I apologize to anyone I hurt for that, but nothing was intentional,” said Wittnebel.

Judge Carlson stated that his sentencing took under consideration Wittnebel’s admittance of guilt under the Alford Plea, the fact there were still discrepancies in the amount of money unaccounted for and Wittnebel’s clean criminal record.

“I think Mr. Wittnebel should be allowed the opportunity to show that this was a one-time offense,” Judge Carlson said, while also making note of the important duties within a guardianship, including financial obligations.

The judge denied the defense’s request for Wittnebel to serve his jail time through home monitoring.

He has two weeks to report in for his in-house jail sentence, which will allow Wittnebel the opportunity for work release.

Following the sentencing, Wittnebel said he was happy for this all to be over and that he believed the sentencing went “as well as can be expected.”

“It’s been very negative for my life, but I’ll weather through it, and hopefully within a couple months things will be back on track,” he said.

With regards to his duties as mayor of Lake Park, Wittnebel says he is ready to push forward with his life in public office.

“To redeem myself, yes,” he said.

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