A Millstadt woman was sentenced Thursday to nearly two years in federal prison for her role in the misappropriation of funds exchanged last year as part of the City of Columbia’s purchase of Legion Park from Columbia American Legion Post 581.
Karen Strasser Steinke, 65, of Millstadt, was sentenced at the federal courthouse in East St. Louis to 21 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release for her February conviction on charges of wire fraud and the structuring of financial transactions to avoid reporting requirements.
Steinke was an officer, owner and operator of Metro East Title Company, which had offices in Columbia and Belleville. Operating as a title insurance agent, she received money on behalf of others, which included escrow, settlement and closing funds. Last July, Steinke served as title agent for a property purchased in St. Clair County. As part of the transaction, the 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, these funds were misused by Steinke.
Then on Aug. 7, 2013, Metro East 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 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, those funds were also misused by Steinke.
There was evidence Steinke embezzled the funds to support a gambling habit, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Illinois Stephen R. Wigginton stated in a news release. Steinke structured the deposit of cash into bank accounts to replenish part of the money she had taken to attempt to avoid detection.