Stillwater Lumberjack Days promoter Dave Eckberg was sentenced to serve one year of probation with 240 hours of community service Friday morning in Washington County District Court.
Judge Susan Miles also fined Eckberg $1,000 and ordered restitution to be paid in full.
All victims in the case have been paid back.
In February, Eckberg pleaded guilty to one count of aggravated theft by check for more than $35,000 in relation to nonpayment of vendors and business partners during the 2011 Lumberjack Days festival.
“This was a painstaking prosecution and investigation,” Washington County Attorney Pete Orput said in a statement. “The Washington County Sheriff’s Office issued multiple search warrants and reviewed multitudes of records to bring this matter to a successful prosecution. With this result, the victims of this offense have at long last been made financially whole. We appreciate their steadfast support throughout this long process.”
Eckberg’s guilty plea of aggregated theft by check covers all outstanding, unpaid checks from Lumberjack Days 2011, as alleged in the criminal complaint detailed below. Restitution is generally set by the judge during sentencing. Nine counts of theft by check were dismissed in the deal.
“It’s been a terrible experience, I’m sorry it happened,” Eckberg reportedly said before his felony sentencing in Washington County District Court. “It was a life-changing impact for many people and I apologize.”
According to the Star Tribune, “Rick Hodsdon, argued in court that the County Attorney’s office had received information in recent months that Eckberg had tried to revive Lumberjack Days and advise organizers of Stillwater Log Jam, the new summer festival.”
When The Locals were asked about this, Board Member Erin McQuay said: “No member from the group The Locals has ever been contacted by, or attempted to, contact Dave Eckberg for any reason in the past or present.”
“I personally have never met him or spoken to him in any way,” she said. “His past with the event has nothing to do with us or our event.”
Hodsdon reportedly asked Miles to impose as part of the sentence that Eckberg stay away from organizing or advising any community events during his probation.
Miles declined that request.
Eckberg, 62, the longtime promotor of Lumberjack Days, faced 10 felony counts of theft and issuing bad checks to vendors, distributors and production crews relating to the Lumberjack Days Festival.
According to a criminal complaint, Eckberg wrote checks to companies that provided services or products for the 2011 Lumberjack Days, and then told them not to cash the checks because there were insufficient funds in his account.
Detectives say Eckberg owes distributors and business partners more than $54,000.
The complaint states that when the checks were written there were insufficient funds in the accounts to cover the checks.
Eckberg requested the recipients to hold the checks pending sufficient funds being place into the accounts. In the meantime, records showed, Eckberg deposited and then transferred in excess of $40,000 from the Lumberjack Festival and St. Croix Events accounts into his and his wife’s personal accounts.
This sum was sufficient to cover the outstanding debt, but Eckberg continued to tell the victims there were insufficient funds in the account and to hold the checks, the complaint states.
“This unexpected plea is very satisfying,” Washington County Attorney Pete Orput said. “This brings the victims that much closer to finally being made financially whole after this entire ordeal. Hopefully, their justice will be forthcoming at the sentencing.”
Eckberg’s attorney, Eric Thole, told the Pioneer Press thought went into the decision to enter a guilty plea.
“Going into this, we had two goals: The first goal was to make the checks good and the second goal was to win,” Thole told the Pioneer Press. “For us to be successful he’s got to keep paying legal fees and he’d rather just make the checks good.”
Eckberg reportedly intends to pay off his debts before sentencing. It is unclear if that has happened.
The groups who have brought felony allegations against Eckberg include: Icabod Productions, who provided staging and lighting services; Needham Distributing Co. and Hohenstein’s Distributing, and the Stillwater Blue Line Boosters.
Thole, tried to get the criminal case dismissed last year, arguing that Eckberg had “extended credit” agreements with businesses he owed money to, and that the checks he issued to beer distributors were “symbolic only” of his intention to pay off his debts.
Washington County District Judge Susan Miles denied that motion.
According to Miles’ order, Eckberg issued a worthless check to Needham Distributing Co. for $22,680 and another to Hohensteins Inc. for $2,179.25. Eckberg is also charged with issuing a worthless check to Icabod Productions for $20,000, and Stillwater Blue Line Boosters for $10,000.
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