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Jason Johnson, Forum News Service, Published February 24 2014

Former Hermantown School Board member arrested for jewelry theft

HERMANTOWN, Minn. - A former member of the Hermantown School District Board allegedly stole over $20,000 in jewelry and cash from a friend, going so far as to replace the diamonds in two rings with a set of fake crystals before returning them to the unsuspecting victim, police said Monday.

Stephanie Hamell, who resigned her position on the board last month, is accused of taking $16,500 in jewelry and $5,000 in cash and has admitted to the theft.

Hamell, 42, could not be reached for comment by phone, and did not immediately respond to an email. She is currently out on bail.

In January 2013, a friend of Hamell asked her to hang onto some cash and jewelry for her. The jewelry was a wedding set consisting of five diamonds in two rings. Sometime last April and May, the victim, whose name was not released, began asking for the items back, said Hermantown Police Deputy Chief Shawn Padden.

“When the friend asked to get the diamonds and cash back from her, Hamell concocts a story that she can’t get into her safe. (That) she’s got to get the safe back to the manufacturer in California,” said Padden.

Sometime later, Hamell told her friend that when she got the safe back, the cash was gone, said Padden.

Eventually Hamell did return the rings, but the friend discovered the apparent deception after taking them to a jeweler in the Twin Cities after one of the stones became loose and fell from a ring, said Padden.

“At some point over the summer, the diamonds started loosening up,” Padden said. “Then, in June, the victim took the diamonds to a jeweler... and found out they’d been replaced by fake ones.”

The jeweler determined that the diamonds had been switched with Swarovski crystals, which let light refract in a rainbow spectrum giving them the appearance of genuine diamonds. Police were then notified.

Police interviewed Hamell in December and on Feb. 14 she was charged with felony theft, which carries a maximum penalty of $20,000 and/or a 10-year prison term.

“Hammel does admit to this elaborate scheme,” said Padden. “We’re trying to track it down. She said she sold the diamonds to a jewelers down in the cities area, but she can’t remember who. We’re trying to track that person down now.”

Hamell has no apparent criminal history, police said.

Hamell’s next court appearance is scheduled for March 11.