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Emily Welker, Published March 19 2013

Lutheran bookkeeper accused of swindling Synod for $600K released without bail

MOORHEAD – The head of the Northwestern Minnesota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America says he and his flock “are relieved to be at this point,” after the synod’s former bookkeeper ap-peared in court for the first time here Tuesday.

Robert Duane Larson, 61, is accused of swindling the synod out of $600,000, much of it spent on remodeling his Wolverton home.

Larson is charged with one count of theft and four counts of check forgery in Clay County District Court, all felonies that carry a potential 20-year-sentence if convicted.

After his appearance in court Tuesday, he was booked into the Clay County Jail and then released on his own recognizance – a promise to appear at his future hearings that isn’t backed by posting bond. He is prohibited from leaving Minnesota, other than to go to Fargo’s Cass County.

The charges follow an investigation that ran more than a year based on reports that Larson was forging checks from the Moorhead-based synod to Rural Life Outreach, a charity that synod supported that helped farmers and other rural residents.

Court documents allege that Larson, who acted as bookkeeper for both the synod and the rural outreach group, would write checks from the charity to himself and his wife.

Larson’s defense attorney, Chris Karpan, said in court that the amount of discovery in the case was “beyond voluminous,” and that he would likely have to hire an accountant to go through it all before the case could move forward.

“We feel grateful for our system, for the careful work of the Moorhead police and the county prosecutors. We understand that’s why it’s taken so long,” said Bishop Larry Wohlrabe, the head of the synod. “We feel hopeful the process will help the synod heal from this.”

Wohlrabe announced in late December that insurance has paid the synod back for about $590,000 of the money Larson is accused of embezzling.

Larson and his attorney declined a request for comment.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Emily Welker at (701) 241-5541