More than two years after appealing his sentence that requires restitution to avoid a longer prison term, former Eau Claire County Treasurer Larry Lokken has lost — at least for now.
In an opinion released Tuesday, the 3rd District Court of Appeals affirmed Eau Claire County Judge Jon Theisen’s judgment convicting him of three counts of misconduct in office and five counts of theft in a business, as party to the crime, on an amount greater than $10,000, and an order denying his motion for post-conviction relief.
“Lokken has failed to show that the court’s sentences were either unreasonable or unjustifiable, and we sustain the court’s exercise of its sentencing discretion,” the 15-page opinion reads.
But the matter likely isn’t over.
“I think we’ll be asking the (state) Supreme Court to review it,” said Randall Paulson, the Milwaukee attorney representing Lokken. “I still believe there are bases for challenging the sentence.”
Longtime Eau Claire County Board Supervisor Colleen Bates, who is first vice chair of the body, said county government leaders felt Theisen’s sentencing of the 72-year-old Lokken was fair and something the community demanded.
“Everyone has the opportunity to be able to use every part of the law to be able to improve their circumstances,” Bates said of Lokken’s appeal. “That doesn’t necessarily mean they are going to get the outcome they want.”
In May 2015, Lokken and his former officer manager, Kay Onarheim, were each charged in Eau Claire County Court with 11 counts of theft in a business setting in an amount greater than $10,000 and three counts of misconduct in office.
The criminal complaint alleged Lokken and Onarheim had stolen $625,758 from the county between 2011 and 2013.
The parties subsequently reached a plea agreement, which required Lokken to plead no contest to three counts of misconduct in office and five of the theft counts. The agreement also required Lokken to stipulate to paying $625,758 in restitution.
In exchange, the state agreed to recommend that the remaining charges be dismissed, not to file additional charges against Lokken arising out of the same course of conduct, not to file any charges against Lokken’s wife, Virginia, and cap its sentence recommendation at 6½ years of initial confinement and seven years of extended supervision.
On Nov. 9, 2015, Theisen accepted Lokken’s no-contest pleas, and at his sentencing in January 2016, Theisen confirmed with Lokken and District Attorney Gary King they were stipulating to the restitution amount and sentenced Lokken to 9½ years of initial confinement and 11 years of extended supervision.
On one of the theft charges, Theisen ordered an additional five years of both prison and supervision if restitution by both Lokken and Onarheim wasn’t paid in full within 4½ years.
Lokken argued for several reasons that Theisen unlawfully sentenced him on the one theft count, and “that he is therefore entitled to resentencing on all counts before a different judge,” according to the opinion.
“Specifically, Lokken asserts the court imposed a sentence unauthorized by statute, ordered an unreasonable amount of restitution as a condition of his probation and inadequately explained how its sentence met the minimum custody standard.”
The court rejected his arguments for various reasons. For example, in its opinion, the court notes that an alternate defense presentence investigation submitted by Lokken said he had “the ability and willingness to pay restitution.”
“In Lokken’s case, his assets included his Wisconsin home, his recently purchased Florida home and retirement accounts containing significant sums,” the opinion read. “However, the court … recognized that regardless of the fact it could not order Lokken to withdraw and transfer (his pension) funds, Lokken himself remained free to access his funds in order to satisfy his restitution obligation. To that end, the court properly determined that its restitution order could serve as a means by which to influence the payment of funds not accessible any other way.”
As of early March, Lokken and Onarheim had paid almost $70,000 in court-ordered restitution, according to the state Department of Corrections, with Onarheim repaying more than $52,000.