FERGUS FALLS, Minn. - The salesman at the center of a massive multi-year scheme to overcharge police and sheriff departments has officially entered his guilty plea.
In a plea agreement with prosecutors, Gerry Worner, 70, admitted to Otter Tail County Judge Sharon Benson that there was enough evidence to convict him of one count of felony Theft by Swindle.
“He pled guilty,“ said County Attorney Michelle Eldien, the prosecutor handling the case.
Worner is the former fleet manager at Nelson Auto Center of Fergus Falls, which held the contract to sell specially-equipped Ford police SUVs to agencies statewide.
Last year, a KARE 11 investigation revealed how law enforcement agencies had been overcharged on features like spotlights and heated mirrors, items that were supposed to be included in the base price of the master state contract.
In the wake of KARE 11’s investigation, Worner was charged with five felony counts of Theft by Swindle. As part of the plea agreement, four of those original counts were dropped.
An audit conducted by the Minnesota Department of Administration found the overcharges had been going on for years. They involved 3,225 police vehicles sold to more than 200 agencies.
The State determined the overcharges totaled $803,309.
Worner left the courthouse through a side door, avoiding interviews. He remains free while a pre-sentence investigation is done. His formal sentencing is scheduled for July 19.
If Judge Benson approves the plea deal, prosecutor Eldien says Worner will be sentenced to five years on probation, a month in the county jail, and a fine. Worner already has repaid $325,000 in commissions he made on the overcharges.
“Certainly restitution here is the goal for the state, to make sure all the victims are compensated,” said Eldien.
Nelson Auto’s owners say they didn’t know about the double billing. But the dealership is sending refund checks to police departments statewide.