Feb. 6—City of Austin Human Resources Director named in suit, denies wrong-doing
An Austin man slated for sentencing later this month in a case in which he was accused of making over $600,000 worth of unauthorized charges from Reichel Foods in Rochester has now been named in a suit by the company seeking damages.
Thomas James Wiechmann, former chief financial officer, is one of six named in the suit, which also includes his wife and City of Austin Human Resources Director Tricia Wiechmann and their sons Bradley and Daniel Wiechmann, all of Austin.
The suit also names Loretta Lynn and Tanner Joe Young, of St. Charles. Loretta Young once served as a Reichel Foods’ controller from September 2002 to July of 2021 when she quit. Loretta was charged last year with aiding and abetting.
Thomas pleaded guilty to theft by swindle on Nov. 16, 2022, over a year after being charged with four felony counts of felony theft by swindle. He will be sentenced on Tuesday, Feb. 14.
According to court documents in that case, Wiechmann allegedly made over $600,000 in unauthorized charges on his corporate credit card and obtained other financial benefits to which he was not entitled.
According to court documents, the suit claims the two conspired in unauthorized use of funds from Riechel along with millions of credit card reward points. In particular, it charges that Young and Thomas, Reichel’s two most senior financial employees at the time, worked separately and together to steal from the company.
“They utilized myriad sophisticated methods to accomplish this theft, including misusing the company credit cards, submitting false expense reimbursement requests, usurping Reichel Foods’ sole authority to use its company credit card rewards points, and even falsely reducing a company’s revenue to hide an improper transfer,” the suit alleges.
Stowaway Storage, LLC, of Rochester is also named as a plaintiff and is supposedly connected through a loan scheme devised by Thomas to help Young. Craig Reichel is listed in the suit as being chief executive officer of Reichel and president of Stowaway.
Going back to 2013, the suit alleges that Thomas negotiated two checks for a total of $20,000 from Stowaway without consent to be used as loans. Thomas then falsely claimed in company financial records that the loans had been repaid when in fact Young never paid back the money.
The suit claims that Thomas lowered the recorded amount of income to make the $20,000 disappear from records.
Along with Thomas being accused in the lawsuit of unlawfully using reward points from company credit cards for his own benefits, the suit also alleges Tricia Wiechmann was not only aware of but actively took advantage of using rewards.
According to the lawsuit, Thomas and Tricia are accused on at least one occasion of using Reichel credit card rewards to purchase items. Tricia then allegedly falsely claimed to the City of Austin that she had purchased the items with personal funds.
“Tricia submitted to the City of Austin an employee expense reimbursement request and the City of Austin, believing that Tricia had spent her own money on behalf of the City of Austin, ‘repaid’ her money that had been spent by Reichel Foods, not by the Wiechmann family,” the suit reads.
However, attorney John P. Boyle, of Moss & Barnett law firm out of Minneapolis issued a statement on behalf of Tricia, and vigorously denied the allegations saying they are just that.
“A civil complaint recently filed in Olmsted County District Court contains allegations against Patricia Wiechmann, a long-time employee of the City of Austin. The allegations in the complaint are simply that — allegations. They are not facts, nor should they be taken as proven facts.”
“Ms. Wiechmann vigorously denies the claims asserted against her in the complaint. Furthermore, she takes offense to any suggestion in the complaint that she has been anything less than a devoted city employee who has carried out her duties honestly, ethically, and with integrity .”
“The court system exists so that allegations must be proven true before they are to be taken as fact. We are confident that, at the end of the day, the claims against Ms. Wiechmann will be exposed as not being grounded in provable fact. “
City Administrator Craig Clark also issued a statement on Friday, Feb. 3 that reads:
“The City is aware of the commencement of a civil action naming a city employee as a defendant — the city is reviewing the situation and cannot offer further comment pursuant to the Minnesota Data Practices Act.”
Neither Tricia Wiechmann, nor Bradley and Daniel have been charged with any crimes in the case.
In another part of the lawsuit, Thomas allegedly used funds from Reichel, without Craig Reichel’s knowledge or authorization, to pay for charity auction items in Austin, which he and his family kept for their own benefit without reimbursing Reichel.
It’s also claimed that Thomas used Reichel credit cards — as well as taking reimbursements — “to entertain individuals working for Hormel Foods, a customer of Reichel Foods.”
However, Hormel has a policy against accepting gifts in the amounts Thomas was allegedly providing. Employees of Hormel, who worked on projects with Reichel, stated that Thomas did not entertain them.
In total, Thomas and Young are accused of misusing 16 million American Express Membership Rewards points by the lawsuit.
“Tom and Lori conspired with each other to use Reichel Foods credit cards issued to them for company purchases so as to maximize the number of credit card rewards points to which they had access,” the suit reads. “Tom and Lori, at times, working with Brad, divided up which bills would be paid with each person’s assigned credit card. Upon information and belief, Tom began allowing Lori to take points for herself so that she would not expose his misconduct.”
Reichel is seeking damages in excess of $50,000 against all defendants, double damages for civil theft and other claims, the payment of attorney fees, costs and disbursements as well as other reliefs the court deems necessary.