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Friday, December 29, 2006                                                                                       View Comments

Pastor charged with stealing

A Lutheran minister who also served as the treasurer for the Fisher Chamber of Commerce for five years now faces charges of embezzling nearly $14,000 from the organization.

Polk County Attorney Greg Widseth issued a press release Thursday stating that his office has filed a criminal complaint in Polk County District Court against Rev. Michael Kevin Eminger, 47, formerly of Fisher and now reportedly living in his home state of Wisconsin. Eminger faces four counts of theft by swindle and four counts of felony theft, with possible penalties of 5 to 10 years in prison and fines of $10,000 to $20,000. Eminger is not currently in custody and is scheduled to make his first court appearance Jan.19.

According to the criminal complaint, Sue Meyer, president of the Fisher Chamber of Commerce, informed the Polk County Sheriff's Office in early October that the former treasurer had stolen more than $13,000 from Chamber's checking account. This came to light when the Chamber received an overdraft notice from the bank, which prompted a review of the checking account over the last five years.

The review revealed numerous checks Eminger issued from the account, primarily written to himself, for unexplainable expenses totaling $13,923.12. With an annual budget of around $4,000, that amounts to nearly all the Chamber's funds accumulated during the three-and-a-half-year period Eminger allegedly pilfered public funds.

Meyer told Deputy Randy Sondrol that when board members confronted Eminger about the missing funds the day before, he made no excuses and apologized for putting them in such a position.

However, at that time he only admitted to taking $4,000 to $5,000 from the account. Meyer presented Sondrol with a detailed list of unaccounted for, unexplained, or questionable expenses paid out of the Chamber account, which he used when questioning Eminger later in the month. Eminger then admitted using about $10,000 in embezzled funds to pay his personal expenses, but claimed the rest covered legitimate Chamber expenses.

Until his resignation about a month ago due to the alleged embezzlement, Eminger had served as pastor for Trinity Lutheran Church in Fisher and St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Euclid, both Missouri Synod factions, for nearly a decade, since the spring of 1997. He also filled in at other area churches as needed, including Our Savior's Lutheran in Crookston, where he served as interim pastor several years ago.

Meyer, also a member of Trinity Lutheran in Fisher, pointed out that there is no reason to suspect that Eminger took funds from his congregations and that he did not have access to church funds.

A spokesperson for the Minnesota North District of the Lutheran Church Missouri explained that Eminger is on restricted status with the LCMS and is currently not allowed to take a call to another congregation pending the outcome of the criminal case. While on restricted status, Eminger is also not supported financially by the LCMS and must find his own work outside the ministry.