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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

County drops charge against former Tower Clerk-Treasurer

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TOWER­— Nearly two years to the day after Linda Keith admitted she intentionally destroyed a city laptop computer, the St. Louis County Attorneys Office has dismissed the criminal complaint against the former Tower City Clerk-Treasurer.

The felony charge for the destruction of public property had hung over Keith’s head for more than a year and a half, but her refusal to plead in the case prompted the county to dismiss the charge just days before a jury trial in the case was set to begin.

The case stemmed from statements made by Keith shortly after she was suspended as clerk-treasurer in June of 2019. City officials had demanded that she return a city laptop that she had in her possession, but Keith never returned the device. Instead, she told a Breitung police officer that the computer had failed, so her son shot the computer and she later drove over the device with her pickup before burning the remains to ash in a fire.

The case had languished in a court system that had struggled to keep up with its caseload as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. During the year and a half since she was charged, the case had gone to three different prosecutors. The most recent, Chris Florey, an assistant county attorney, received the case about a month ago following the departure of Karl Sundquist, who left the county for private practice.

Florey acknowledged that cases become harder to prosecute as time goes by and he said he questioned whether the prosecution had sufficient evidence to demonstrate the value of the computer, which was a critical element in the case. The felony charge that Keith faced required prosecutors to prove the computer was worth at least $1,000. That likely would have proven difficult given that the computer was several years old and that prosecutors had no remains of the computer to counter Keith’s claim that it had stopped working and was beyond repair.

“I didn’t think we had a reasonable likelihood of success at trial,” said Florey.

Keith’s dismissal was the beginning of the end of a city administration that had fumbled numerous issues, including grant mismanagement that could still cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars, as well as a lack of financial transparency that allowed Keith to drain most city reserve accounts without public knowledge as she sought to juggle payments for a city administration that had engaged in almost unchecked spending and poor project management. Many of those issues have since been addressed by the current city administration.

Given the time that’s gone by, city officials had little reaction to the decision to drop the charge against Keith. “We have moved on from the activities regarding former Tower Clerk-Treasurer Keith and the city has, and is, moving forward with very positive results,” said Mayor Orlyn Kringstad.

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