By Dan Nienaber
LE SUEUR — A Mankato business owner whose Kasota home was destroyed by fire in January has been charged with theft by swindle in Le Sueur County for a financial deal involving the landmark house.
Ruth Dutler, owner of Jerry Dutler’s Bowl, is accused of swindling her brother, Cole VanHorn of Montgomery, out of about $225,000. VanHorn reported the alleged theft to Bruce Collins, a Le Sueur County sheriff’s investigator, on Dec. 27. The house, which was next to the Chankaska Creek Ranch & Winery off Highway 22 in Kasota, burned down January 31.
The cause of the fire could not be determined because the house was destroyed by the fire, according to the criminal complaint filed in Le Sueur County District Court Thursday.
Dutler said Friday she was not aware of the felony theft by swindle charge, which summons her to appear in court on June 11. She also described the situation as a business deal that went bad, not a crime.
Her brother told Collins she approached him in early November saying she was about to lose the house to foreclosure. VanHorn said Dutler asked to borrow $224,640 to pay off the mortgage, saying she was working on a deal with the winery to sell five or six acres of land around the house for about $340,000, the complaint said. The agreement was Dutler would pay back the loan plus additional funds after the land was sold.
VanHorn also told Collins he took the money he loaned to Dutler out of a trust account that had been set up for his adult daughter after she was injured in a car crash.
“I’ve offered over and over again to pay him back the money he lent me, but obviously that’s not good enough,” Ruth Dutler said. “It wasn’t theft by swindle and it won’t be. As soon as the insurance claim is settled I will pay him back with interest.”
Dutler and VanHorn met with a Shakopee lawyer on Nov. 7 to work out the loan details. The house and property were used as collateral for the loan. When they went to pay off the mortgage, however, they were told a “certificate of redemption” would be sent to Dutler after it was issued by the bank.
On Dec. 27, before meeting with Collins to report the theft, VanHorn’s wife was checking county records about Dutler’s property and learned it was in the name of Struther VanHorn. Cole VanHorn told Collins Struther VanHorn is Ruth’s daughter and that she lives and works in Ohio.
When Cole VanHorn checked the deed for Dutler’s property at the county recorder’s office, he learned Dutler had signed the property over to her daughter on Nov. 26. The deed was created on Nov. 4, which Cole VanHorn said was the same time he and Dutler were discussing the loan.
Collins was contacted a short time after firefighters were sent to the fire at Dutler’s house in January. High winds helped the fire spread quickly, so it was almost gone by the time he arrived.
“I would respond to the location and observe Ruth Dutler’s residence was heavily involved in fire and was caving/collapsing into the basement,” Collins said in the complaint. “Over the course of the following days/weeks, efforts were made to identify a cause and origin of the fire, however due to the extensive damage/total destruction, the cause and origin could not be determined and are unknown at this time.”
Dutler said she lost five generations worth of family heirlooms in the fire along with the ashes from her late husband. Firefighters were at the scene for hours trying to beat down the blaze in freezing temperatures.
“My whole world is gone and it doesn’t have anything to do with money,” she said.