Great Falls woman charged in embezzlement case

 A Great Falls woman accused of embezzling more than $200,000 from two businesses while working as a bookkeeper appeared for arraignment on May 9 on fraud charges, according to U.S. Attorney Jesse Laslovich.

Tara Durnell, 63, pleaded not guilty to an indictment charging her with 13 counts of wire fraud and one count of mail fraud, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

If convicted of the most serious charge, Durnell faces a maximum of 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release.

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U.S. Magistrate Judge John T. Johnston presided. Durnell was released pending further proceedings, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Durnell, while working as a bookkeeper, allegedly embezzled from Kronebusch Electric, Inc., an electrical services company located in Conrad, and then from Mitchell’s Crash Repair, an auto repair shop in Great Falls, after she left KEI’s employment, according to court documents.

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From at least November 2013 to 2019, Durnell used her access to KEI’s business bank accounts and software to direct pre-signed checks to cover her personal expenses and then miscode the payments in the software to make the personal payments look like legitimate KEI business expenses, according to court documents.

Durnell embezzled more than $200,000 from KEI to pay personal credit card debt, personal car loan payments and debts of family members, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

While employed at Mitchell’s Crash Repair, Durnell allegedly embezzled approximately $15,000 by using pre-signed checks to make unauthorized payments for personal expenses, including taxes on her home and a bar she owned in Conrad, according to court documents.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey K. Starnes is prosecuting the case. The FBI, Montana Division of Criminal Investigation and Great Falls Police Department conducted the investigation, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.