CANTON, SD -
The former book keeper of the Tea Volunteer Fire Department is going to prison for eight years. 46-year-old Denae Baustian was sentenced Monday in Lincoln County as members of the Tea Fire Department watched.
Baustian apologized in court for taking more than $170,000 from the fire department where she was the treasurer.
An audit discovered Baustian had been cooking the books for two years and embezzling the money to feed her video lottery addiction.
Before she was sentenced, Baustian said "There's no excuse for what I did, it was wrong."
She continued, "If I could change that I would, but it's too late for that."
Members of the Tea Volunteer Fire Department filed into the courtroom one by one, not necessarily to watch Baustian get sentenced, but rather to represent their community.
While Baustian embezzled the money from the fire department, members of the fire department tell us they're not the victims.
"It's not even the city of Tea. It's the taxpayers; they were the true victims because they were the ones who support us," Tea Fire Department President Dale Cook said.
The case brought a lot of negative publicity to the Tea Fire Department that's resulted in changes in how it does business.
"We've changed our whole finance situation within the department and we have quarterly external audits. We're having external parties do our tax returns. All statements and bank statements are being reviewed by the entire department, so we put a lot of measures in place to make sure this doesn't happen again," Cook said.
While Baustian goes to prison, Cook says the entire fire department is just ready to move forward.
"We still have to support the city of Tea and we are going to continue to do what we do best and that's protect our community," Cook said.
The judge is allowing Baustian to spend Christmas with her family. She'll have to report to the county jail on December 26 where she'll then be transported to Pierre to begin serving her eight-year sentence. Baustian was also ordered to pay back the $170,000. She brought $400 to court with her on Monday to make the first restitution payment.
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