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SF Therapist On Trial For Embezzlement

December 6, 2012, 6:03 PM by Ben Dunsmoor
Updated: December 6, 2012, 10:52 PM

SF Therapist On Trial For Embezzlement
Tammy Lias


A former Sioux Falls therapist is on trial for taking tens of thousands of dollars from the clinic where she worked.

Tammy Lias is facing one count of grand theft for using the bank account of the Family Institute of the Midwest to pay for personal items like a $1,200 electric bill and dues to the Arabian Horse Association.

Lias's defense attorneys say the purchases were approved and are simply bookkeeping errors.

The founder and executive director of the Family Institute of the Midwest discovered that there was missing money three years ago when the bank called her and said the organization's account was overdrawn by $3,000.

J. Carol Carlsen is its executive director and was on the witness stand all day Thursday.  She said after the bank called her about the overdrawn account, she started digging into the finances with her husband, Chris Carlsen.

Carlsen testified that they found that Lias had linked her personal credit card to the clinic's bank account and they discovered that Lias had written out $13,000 worth of personal checks from the FIM bank account in November of 2009 alone. One was for the dues for the Arabian Horse Association, and another for a $1,200 past due personal electric bill.

Lias's attorneys argued in court that Carlsen gave her permission to write those checks and there was a culture of using the business account for personal purchases at Family Institute of the Midwest.

They also argue that there was never a full audit of the finances and that it’s still unknown to this day how much money Lias is being accused of taking. In his opening statements, attorney Scott Hoy says that Carlsen's husband, Chris, was heavily involved in digging through the bank account and figuring out where the missing money went.  Hoy added that Chris Carlsen himself has been in trouble with the law before and was convicted of federal bank fraud in the past.

Chris Carlsen contacted KELOLAND News Thursday evening and said that he was not convicted of bank fraud but instead pleaded guilty in federal court for making false statements. KELOLAND News reported on the plea in 2003.

However, prosecutors produced a string of emails Thursday in which Lias allegedly confessed to taking money. One excerpt of those emails to Carol Carlsen from Lias read, "I find absolutely no excuse for my behavior."

Lias's attorneys argued that those emails contained a threatening tone from Carlsen and that she tried to bait Lias into a confession.

The trial is scheduled to wrap up Friday.

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