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Emily Welker, Published March 11 2014

Lake Park mayor agrees to plead guilty to charges he stole from sister who has Down's syndrome

LAKE PARK, Minn. – The mayor of Lake Park has agreed to plead guilty to stealing thousands of dollars from his sister, a Down’s syndrome patient in an assisted-living facility.

According to court documents, Aaron Wittnebel on Monday entered an Alford plea of guilty in Becker County District Court to one count of financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult, a felony.

With Alford pleas, defendants typically do not admit guilt, but acknowledge a jury could reasonably convict them based on the evidence.

Court documents filed with the case say Wittnebel was appointed his sister’s guardian and was in charge of her finances.

Workers at Divine House in Detroit Lakes notified Becker County Human Services in August 2012 that Wittnebel was more than $6,000 behind in payments for his sister’s care.

At a hearing on a petition to replace him as her conservator, Wittnebel admitted he had combined his finances with that of his sister, and had not made regular payments to Divine House.

At the time, Wittnebel allegedly said he had about $100 left in the account.

According to a plea petition filed with the court, Becker County prosecutors plan to ask for a stayed jail sentence for Wittnebel. They also plan to ask that he make restitution of $5,400.

Wittnebel’s attorney, Joe Irby, declined comment until after his client’s sentencing, which is set for April 23.

City officials did not return phone calls seeking comment.

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