OLIVET, S.D. (KELO) — She handled the City of Tripp’s finances for 15 years. But people in Tripp felt betrayed when Jennifer Friederich admitted to stealing more than half a million dollars from the townspeople. How the theft went on for so long and the mystery over missing records was the subject of our KELOLAND News Investigation, “Troubles in Tripp.”
It’s the most activity Olivet’s new courthouse has seen since it opened.
40 people filed into the courtroom to hear from Jennifer Friederich, after she plead guilty to embezzlement, forgery and destroying public records.
Angela Kennecke: Jennifer would you like to say anything to the people of Tripp? (No response)
Several people from Tripp signed a letter to the court, detailing the damage they thought Friederich did with her crimes. However no one from the City was willing to testify.
Friederich’s sister did take the stand saying she was needed to care for her elderly parents and her two sons.
Friederich’s defense attorney, Mike Butler asked Hutchinson County Judge Pat Smith for house arrest or electronic monitoring.
The Hutchinson County State’s Attorney compared embezzlement to addiction and like most cases he sees, Friederich didn’t stop until she was caught.
Friederich was inconsistent when questioned about when she started stealing money, and the City doesn’t have any financial records for her first seven years in office.
Angela Kennecke: They don’t know what happened between 2003 and 2011. You’re the long-time finance officer. How can that be possible?
Wilmer Herr: They say she destroyed some records, I don’t know.
Wilmer Herr was Tripp’s finance officer for 33 years. Friederich took over when he retired.
Herr: You take the oath of office to do your job. I don’t know how it happened or what made her do it.
Angela Kennecke: I sense you were proud of the fact that you were Tripp’s finance officer and you took good care of the money. It must seem like a tainting of the office.
Herr: Well when this came out, it really hurt. I really felt bad that it happened.
Friederich didn’t give a lot of insight into why she took more than half a million dollars since 2012. She told the judge:
“There’s nothing I can do to undo what I have done to Tripp, my family and friends. What I have done doesn’t completely define who I am as a whole. I was raised by good parents I worked hard and did good things for the community throughout my life. That’s what makes it so hard to explain why I did what I did. I don’t know why I did it. I didn’t know how to stop and one cover up led to another. I just blocked it all out. I betrayed and broke the trust of my community and for that I’m deeply sorry.”Jennifer Friederich’s statement in court.
Her parents took out a loan and paid the City back $517,000. In the end the judge sentenced Friederich to three years in prison. She could be out in a year.
Angela Kennecke: You asked for no prison time. Do you have anything to say about the judge’s sentence?
Defense Attorney Mike Butler: I thought the judge was very considerate and I would not second guess his sentence. I appreciate the opportunity to be heard.
Angela Kennecke: Do you think there was enough punishment?
Renee Marsh: I don’t know. Probably not. I just think it’s a sad situation for everyone. There’s a lot of betrayal. That’s really sad and our town struggles.
Tripp is Marsh’s hometown.
Friederich has been ordered to start serving her sentence at the end of the week.