Guilty plea in case of missing Columbia funds

A Millstadt woman entered a guilty plea Friday in federal court to charges stemming from the disappearance of more than $400,000 in fundsĀ intended for the Columbia American Legion from the city of Columbia to complete the city’s acquisition of the Legion’s parks in August.

Karen Strasser Steinke, 65, of Millstadt, entered a plea of guilty in federal district court to wire fraud in a scheme to defraud clients of Metro East Title, and structuring of financial transactions to avoid currency transaction reporting requirements, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Illinois Stephen R. Wigginton, announced Friday. The offenses carry a sentence of up to 25 years in prison, three years of supervised release, a fine of up to $500,000 and mandatory restitution. Sentencing has been scheduled for May 2.

Court proceedings revealed that Steinke was owner and operator of Metro East Title Company. Operating as a title insurance agent, she received money on behalf of others, which included escrow, settlement and closing funds. Steinke was required to hold these funds as a fiduciary in a fiduciary trust account. On or about July 16, 2013, a couple purchased property in St. Clair County, and Metro East served as settlement agent for the transaction. As part of the transaction, proceeds paid were to be used to satisfy a mortgage against the real property for $76,864.98 held by Wells Fargo Home Mortgage. A total of $84,109.57 of purchase funds were deposited into Metro East’s escrow account. However, the funds were misused by Steinke.

On Aug. 7, 2013, Metro East Title served as a settlement and escrow agent pursuant to an escrow disbursement agreement in connection with a park purchase between the Columbia American Legion and City of Columbia. The City of Columbia deposited $407,960.04 into the escrow account of Metro East, which was to serve as the source for the ultimate escrow and settlement disbursals. However, the fiduciary funds were misused by Steinke.

The investigation was conducted by the Internal Revenue Service with the assistance of the Columbia Police Department.

Read more in next week’s newspaper.

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Corey Saathoff

Corey is the editor of the Republic-Times. He has worked at the newspaper since 2004, and currently resides in Columbia. He is also the principal singer-songwriter and plays guitar in St. Louis area country-rock band The Trophy Mules.
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