CANTON, SD -
The former treasurer of the Tea Fire Department admits to stealing $170,000 from the volunteer organization.
Denae Baustian, 46, pleaded guilty to one count of aggravated grand theft Tuesday.
The maximum prison time she could have faced was 15 years in prison, but as part of the plea agreement, she won't face any more than 12 years in the penitentiary.
Baustian says nearly seven months ago, on December 18, 2011, she made her last unauthorized withdrawal from the Tea Volunteer Fire Department's account using a department issued ATM card.
In court, Baustian admitted to taking $170,881 over two years. She used the money to gamble on video lottery; prosecutors said she also used the money to help balance the books of her husband's business.
She didn’t want to comment after court but Dale Cook, the President of the Tea Fire Department who reported the crime at the end of December, says the volunteer organization is making changes right now to ensure it never falls victim to something like this again.
"It won't happen in the future. Once we're done as an organization making our changes, I can all but guarantee it won't happen again," Cook said.
Cook says the department has consolidated accounts and is keeping a closer eye on who is using the ATM cards and what they're using them for.
Cook says local communities continue to support the department and the fire department will continue to serve the communities as Baustian awaits sentencing and this case comes to a close.
"We're going to support the Lincoln County State's Attorney and how the proceedings take place. As an organization, we're going to continue to move forward and do what we do best and that's protect the community," Cook said.
Investigators believe Baustian presented the fire department with false financial statements every month to cover up the embezzlement.
Cook says he is hoping to share this experience with other South Dakota volunteer fire departments in the future so they can avoid the same crime.
No date has been set for Baustian's sentencing yet.
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