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Husband joins wife in being sentenced for stealing from church

HUDSON, Wis. — The husband of a former St. Paul school administrator who played a role in stealing money from their church joined his wife in being sentenced Monday.

Michael LaVenture, 47, of Roberts, Wis., pleaded no contest to three misdemeanor theft charges under a deal that will let him work to pay back New Centerville United Methodist Church.

However, he'll spend one month in jail with work release each of the next three years.

"It really comes down to, 'How do they get their money?' And he has to be out there working," said St. Croix County assistant district attorney Erica Ellenwood.

Church members, she added, "understand that him being in jail is counterproductive to their goal."

Kara Amundson-LaVenture, a former assistant principal at Highland Park High School in St. Paul, was sentenced in October to two years in prison after pleading guilty to felony theft. She was the church's volunteer treasurer when she stole at least $203,000 over about 10 years.

She was expected to participate in Monday's hearing by videoconference to support her husband's plea agreement, but her attorney, Lars Loberg, said she would not testify and risk additional charges for herself.

LaVenture's attorney, Jeremiah Harrelson, said LaVenture's wife deceived him about her crimes. Still, LaVenture feels that as part of her family, he "bears some responsibility" for what she did, Harrelson said.

With the no-contest plea, Harrelson said, LaVenture acknowledges prosecutors have a strong case.

"He wouldn't stand a chance of winning at trial," he said.

LaVenture initially was charged with five counts of felony theft. The plea agreement called for no jail time, but St. Croix County Judge Scott Needham said three months behind bars was a more appropriate punishment.

Needham observed that both defendants had careers that paid well but that they stole from a small church to support a lavish lifestyle.

"It was simple greed," he said.

Through sobs, LaVenture said Monday he wants to "make it right.

"I'm sorry for what happened between my wife and the church. It's sad. I feel bad for what happened. I just want to get it over with and start paying the bills back," he said.

However, Harrelson said LaVenture would be resigning his job as a mortgage planner at Flagstar Bank after Monday's hearing because federal law now bars him from working at financial institutions.

"What training and experience he has to date is now worthless," he said.

If he fails to satisfy the terms of his three-year probationary term, LaVenture could spend two additional years behind bars and prosecutors could refile one of the felony theft charges.

The amount of restitution he owes will be determined later this month.

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