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Published May 30, 2012, 11:58 AM

Former ND bank officer pleads guilty to fraud

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A former bank executive sobbed in court Wednesday as she pleaded guilty to stealing almost $800,000 from five clients over seven years, insisting that she and her husband did not personally benefit from the thefts.

By: DALE WETZEL, Associated Press

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A former bank executive sobbed in court Wednesday as she pleaded guilty to stealing almost $800,000 from five clients over seven years, insisting that she and her husband did not personally benefit from the thefts.

Betty Kolling, 67, a former trust officer at Bank of the West in Dickinson, looted one account of $582,800 and stole $131,591 from another client, Betty Reichert, according to information in a plea agreement that Kolling did not dispute. The thefts took place from 2001 through 2008, court records say.

Kolling also sold Reichert's potentially lucrative rights to income from oil exploration and production in four western North Dakota counties to herself and her husband, Wally Kolling, for $1,764, court records say.

Nick Chase, an assistant U.S. attorney, said the Kollings received between $30,000 and $50,000 in royalties and other monetary benefits from the mineral rights. Reichert was penniless and receiving Medicaid benefits when she died in October 2008.

Betty Kolling pleaded guilty Wednesday to a single felony crime of conspiring to commit bank fraud. Her husband pleaded guilty May 9 to the same charge.

The Kollings are to be sentenced Aug. 13. Betty Kolling faces between 41 and 51 months in prison and a fine of up to $1 million, according to federal sentencing guidelines.

U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland has the authority to impose a harsher or more lenient sentence, but he said Wednesday that Betty Kolling's penalty is likely to fall within the guidelines. Hovland ordered a presentence investigation.

Kolling's plea agreement says she must pay $790,893 in restitution to her victims, as well as the money collected from Reichert's mineral rights.

Under questioning from Hovland during an hourlong sentencing hearing, Kolling said she began stealing to help her sister, who was caring for her ailing mother at the time.

Kolling's sister lives in Richardton, a southwestern North Dakota community about 25 miles east of Dickinson. Court records say most of the money was funneled to Kolling's sister and nephew.

"How did you get started with this scheme to defraud?" Hovland asked Kolling. "It was to help out my family," Kolling responded, going on to deny that the thefts were to benefit her or her husband. She made $89,000 a year in her former bank job.

Hovland replied: "And how much help does one family need?"

When referring to one $6,518 diversion from Reichert's trust account, Betty Kolling said she spent $300 on glasses and $500 on clothes for Reichert.

Another diversion of $11,005 was a $10,000 gift from Reichert and payment to Wally Kolling for work he did on Reichert's home, Betty Kolling said. Asked by Hovland if her husband knew of the bank fraud, she replied: "He had no knowledge of that. Ever."

Betty Kolling and her attorney, Irv Nodland, of Bismarck, declined to comment after the hearing.

Kolling's sister and nephew have not been charged with any crime. U.S. Attorney Tim Purdon, who watched the sentencing hearing, declined comment afterward about authorities were investigating anyone else in the fraud.

Kolling began working at what was then known as the First National Bank of Dickinson in 1975. Its successor, Community First National Bank, was acquired by Bank of the West in December 2004.

Kolling was a bank trust officer from September 1987 until she retired in July 2006, court documents say. After her retirement, she worked part time at the bank until July 2008.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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