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ND woman accused of embezzling $200,000 from oil industry company

STEELE, N.D.—A Steele woman is accused of embezzling almost $200,000 from an oil field company operating out of this small North Dakota town near Bismarck, and owned by a trusted friend from high school.

Melinda Strom had her trial for felony embezzlement set just before Christmas, but it has now been delayed until Feb. 20-21 in Bismarck, according to Burleigh County Assistant State's Attorney Julie Lawyer.

It's a case that also shows the greed and crime that can sometimes occur in North Dakota's oil and gas industry where big money can come into play.

Although Strom is charged with taking $199,699 from Larry Magstadt's horizontal oil and gas drilling company, he believes it's more like $700,000.

What really upset him is that the woman whom he grew up with and had known for years sold her drive-inn on the edge of Steele and its equipment, and he doesn't know where that money went. He said she has been seen making trips to Canada and casinos before and after the charges, all while he waits for the trial or settlement in the case that started last spring.

The dollar amount also bothers him. "That $200,000 is only about a third of what she really took," Magstadt claimed. "And it seems like they don't care what I tell them. I've brought in more things to look at.

"I know of a case in Williston where a woman did the same thing, taking about $100,000, and they took her to jail right away and she was in court three to four weeks later," Magstadt said. "I just don't understand how the court system works."

Lawyer said she understands Magstadt's complaints about Strom selling her business and out spending money. There really "isn't a mechanism" to monitor some of what's done until a person is convicted, Lawyer said, although bank accounts can be frozen, which is what happened in this case.

Magstadt said Strom, who is in her early 50s, probably just went out after she sold her business and opened a new account somewhere.

Lawyer said she will "absolutely" seek restitution in the case, and that is usually handled through the probation process.

As for the larger amount that Magstadt claims Strom embezzled, Lawyer said the detective in the case only had proof from the the two banks involved and checks recovered for the $200,000. Lawyer said Strom wrote the checks to herself in the form of payroll, to her business called Beary Tweet Tasty Drive-Inn and in other ways.

Strom had been working for Magstadt for about three years.

Lawyer said accounts were examined from December 2014 through last March.

Magstadt said he was busy working with his company that he started about seven years ago. When the slowdown in the oil industry occurred, he said there was more time to examine his business. He discovered the missing funds when he brought some of his company paperwork to his certified public accountant and found that Strom had more hours on the payroll than some of his crew that were working out in the field.

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