ST. PAUL -- An Orr, Minnesota, woman will serve eight months in federal prison for embezzling more than $300,000 from Fortune Bay Resort Casino in Tower.
Jennifer Lynn Boutto, 33, received the sentence Monday, Oct. 18, from Judge Eric Tostrud at a hearing in U.S. District Court in St. Paul. She also was ordered to serve a year of supervised probation following her incarceration and pay full restitution to the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa.
Boutto, a former front desk supervisor at the casino, pleaded guilty in March to a felony count of embezzlement and theft of tribal funds. Authorities said she managed to steal $315,739.87 by processing nearly 3,000 false cash refunds between January 2013 and October 2019.
According to court documents, Boutto began working as a reservationist in 2008 and was promoted over the years — eventually gaining the ability to issue cash refunds without direct ovearsight.
"Boutto's scheme to defraud was premised on this access," Assistant U.S. Attorney Jordan Sing wrote in a sentencing memorandum.
"Boutto identified customers who spent significant money at Fortune Bay and, after the customers checked out, issued a false cash refund against the invoice. Boutto concocted various reasons for the refunds and then retrieved the cash for herself from Fortune Bay's vault. The scheme worked, and Boutto's confidence in it grew over time."
The prosecutor said the average "refund" went from $28 in 2013 to $531 in 2019. Likewise, her total annual embezzlement swelled from roughly $15,000 in the first year of the scheme to more than $88,000 in the final year, which was cut short by her termination in October 2019.
While authorities did not say how the thefts first came to light, the case was investigated by the FBI with "significant assistance" from the Bois Forte Band.
Sing requested that Boutto serve 18 months in prison, followed by two years of supervision. The charge carried a maximum of five years in prison, with guidelines calling for 18-24 months of incarceration.
Public defender Shannon Elkins filed her sentencing position under seal. But other public court documents indicate she sought a probationary sentence on the basis that it would be "sufficiently severe, that a sentence based on deterrence is not necessary and that such a disposition would be consistent with comparable cases."
Boutto, according to documents, reportedly stated that she committed the thefts "out of desperation to pay medical bills and make ends meet."
But Sing disputed that explanation, saying Boutto's out-of-pocket medical expenses were, at most, $15,600 a year. And financial records reportedly showed her enjoying a "lifestyle she could not otherwise afford" — spending thousands on health and beauty services, online shopping, liquor, travel and entertainment.
"Fraud tends to root in rationalization, and Boutto is no exception," Sing wrote. "Although the government does not dispute that Boutto faced family financial difficulties, those debts were not the responsibility of the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa. Boutto's embezzlement exploited a marginalized population and added to sentiments of community mistrust."
Boutto was formally charged in December with the filing of an information — a document typically used when a defendant intends to plead guilty — and she waived her right to have an indictment considered by a grand jury before pleading guilty.
Boutto, who did not have any reported criminal history, remains free under probationary conditions pending a voluntary surrender date.