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Local lawmakers back restitution bill after Eau Claire County embezzlement case

Eau Claire Co. (WQOW) — Local lawmakers are backing new legislation in response to a former Eau Claire County treasurer and deputy treasurer, who were convicted of stealing more than $625,000 from taxpayers.

Monday, Representative Warren Petryk (R – Eleva) and Senator Kathy Bernier (R – Chippewa Falls), among others, announced their support for legislation that would allow a judge to order restitution be paid from a person’s Wisconsin Retirement System (WRS) account.

Former Eau Claire County Treasurer, Larry Lokken, and Deputy Treasurer, Kay Onarheim are serving prison sentences for embezzling more than $1 million from the county. They were ordered to pay $681,847 in restitution. However, under current state law, none of that can come from a person’s state pension.

“Every state employee that’s in the WRS System owns that retirement portion, but the judge then can say ‘you were a public employee, you’re held to a higher standard’, as all of us should be,” said Rep. Petryk. “Anyone that’s in the public trust should be held to that standard.”

For this legislation to be enacted, the crime would have to be a felony, involve both theft and misconduct in a public office, and the crime resulted in a loss to the employer. Onarheim and Lokken’s embezzlement fits the description. While Petryk said the legislation would not be retro-active, he believes it will further protect taxpayer dollars.

Samantha Wensel

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