Wabasha, MN (KROC-AM News) - The apparent victim of a so-called "romance scam" has admitted to a felony theft charge for stealing millions of dollars from her employer to meet the demands of a man she had met online.

61-year-old Sharon Ann Schmalzriedt of Wabasha today entered a guilty plea to the charge in exchange for the dismissal of a felony count of financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult involving another victim. She was charged in both cases last September following an investigation that was launched in February of last year after her now bankrupt employer noticed some inconsistencies in the company's books.

Handcuffs on a pile of US dollar banknotes- symbolic image of a bribe, laundering of money or corruption. Selective focus.
Getty Images/iStockphoto

According to the criminal complaint, Schmalzriedt was employed as the bookkeeper for the unnamed business based in Lewiston. The thefts alleged in the complaint began in October 2019 and continued through last March when she was fired.

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Court records indicate the owner hired a Chief Financial Officer from an outside firm after noticing multiple large transfers to organizations that were not associated with the business and had the same bank account numbers. The complaint says an agent from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension then joined the investigation and determined the company's losses stemming from the thefts totaled more than $3.7 million.

Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension photo
Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension photo

It was also alleged that Schmalzriedt stole more than $17,000 from a vulnerable adult in her care. The charges stated that the stolen funds had been set aside to pay the victims nursing home bills.

The court documents say the Wabasha woman told investigators that she had started an online relationship with a man she knew as Erik Lockwood. She stated that he told her he needed money to access $7 million he was owed for work he performed in Dubai and that he would pay her back.

Scam Computer Keys Showing Swindles And Fraud

The court records also say Schmalzriedt admitted sending the scammer money from her employer after she had given him all of her own money. The evidence in the case included a review of the woman's cell phone that shows that she was aware she was stealing from her employer and that her actions drove the company to bankruptcy.

Schmalzriedt is scheduled to be sentenced in June. Her plea agreement includes a recommendation for a stayed prison sentence and probation.

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