A Cloquet woman who collected fees for waste disposal in Carlton County for nearly 30 years is accused of stealing money while on the job — an amount that could total “as much as seven figures,” the county attorney said.

A Cloquet woman who collected fees for waste disposal in Carlton County  for nearly 30 years is accused of stealing money while on the job — an amount that could total “as much as seven figures,” the county attorney said.

Joanne Marie Wappes, 63, was charged Friday morning in Sixth District Court with theft of public funds and theft by swindle. Judge Robert Macaulay set bail at the amount requested by Carlton County Attorney Thom Pertler — $50,000 bond/$5,000 cash — and ordered a pretrial release study for Wappes, who has no prior criminal record.

“There was money all over the house,” Pertler said in arguing for a larger bail amount. “And maybe some that (investigators) didn’t find. So I’d say there is a definite flight risk.”

According to the criminal complaint, Wappes has deposited more than $30,000 into bank accounts this year, but has earned only $17,500. For 2012, Wappes allegedly deposited about $45,000 into various bank accounts but earned only about $28,000. As far back as 2007, deposits exceeded the defendant’s gross income by $63,000.

Wappes, who is on paid administrative leave from her job now, had worked in the waste disposal job since 1984.

According to the complaint — which was written before Wappes’ house was searched — the Carlton County Sheriff’s Office learned July 10 that Wappes allegedly was stealing money in the course of her work charging and collecting fees at the gate of the transfer station, which collects solid waste, recycling and hazardous materials. After receiving the report of suspicious behavior, the defendant’s supervisor and law enforcement retrieved video surveillance footage of the office from a recently installed camera. While investigators reviewed the footage, the complaint alleges, they observed suspicious behavior that involved Wappes manipulating the cash register and handing out false receipts to customers.

According to the complaint, investigators discovered that Wappes allegedly would give some customers a false receipt for a transaction and keep the cash for herself. Those transactions were left off the official receipts submitted at the end of the day.

That resulted in a seemingly accurate bookkeeping, even though the actual number of cash-paying customers who used the transfer facility was greatly in excess of the number of transactions recorded on the “legitimate” cash register tape.

Investigators reviewed various days of surveillance video and “on any given day, at any given hour, the defendant could be observed manipulating the cash register using the method described to steal public funds from Carlton County,” the complaint stated.

After gaining search warrants, investigators identified numerous bank accounts belonging to Wappes and obtained information regarding her wages. The complaint said investigators confirmed that Wappes was depositing “great sums” of money into various accounts and certificates of deposit that greatly exceeded the wages she had earned from her Carlton County job — her sole source of income.

The largest bank account, the complaint stated, contained more than $925,000. Although the other bank accounts have substantially less money, investigators were unable to verify any source of income other than Wappes’ job at the transfer station.

The criminal complaint also alleges investigators conducted sting operations in which they went to the transfer station and used marked bills in large denominations to pay for their loads. Upon examining the bank bag at the end of the day, the bills used by investigators were not accounted for, the complaint says, nor were they deposited into the bank account used by the transfer station.

Carlton County Sheriff Kelly Lake said the investigation by her department — assisted by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and the Minnesota revenue officials — is still active.

“We have volumes of information to go through,” Lake said, explaining that following the paper trail of bank records and other records will take time, especially considering that Wappes had worked at the transfer station since 1984. “We will take our time and make sure we can recoup as much money as we can for the county and its citizens.

“We take this very seriously as a county,” she said. “We are doing our due diligence in investigating this matter.”

The Carlton County transfer station is on Minnesota Highway 210 west of Interstate 35; it remains open for business as usual.