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Former WCI accounting director faces 10 felony charges for fraud, theft from service agency

WILLMAR -- A 55-year-old Kerkhoven man made his first court appearance Thursday on 10 felony charges for allegedly stealing more than $17,000 from West Central Industries over a period of two years.

Steven Douglas Byers, the former accounting director for West Central Industries, faces five charges in Kandiyohi County District Court of financial transaction card fraud and five charges of theft by swindle. He was released on his personal recognizance and ordered to have no contact with West Central Industries. His next court appearance is scheduled for Dec. 10.

According to Charlie Oakes, the executive director of West Central Industries, Byers was terminated from his employment on Aug. 9. "He is no longer with us," Oakes said Friday. "We still provide work and jobs to over 400 adults, just like we have since 1962."

According to the complaint, on Aug. 12 Oakes contacted Willmar police and reported that Byers had opened a credit card account through West Central Industries without the knowledge of officials there. Byers had allegedly made numerous personal purchases on the card and West Central Industries had been paying the bill.

The next day, the detective met with Oakes, who said Byers did not have the authority to get a corporate credit card or sign West Central Industries checks. Oakes told authorities that Byers had admitted to him that he had charged about $9,000 in personal expenses over the past two years.

West Central Industries officials conducted an audit and found that Byers had used the card to charge $17,676.96 in personal charges. Another employee had also heard Byers' alleged confession to Oakes.

A review of the credit card statements involved showed unauthorized purchases between March 2007 and August 2009 of $17,676.96.