By Linda Scherer
WINSTED, MN Winsted Police Chief Mike Henrich was named Officer of the Year by the McLeod County Police and Peace Officers Association (MCPPOA) at its annual banquet last Monday evening in Hutchinson.
With his new title, he received an officer-of-the-year trophy and a framed certificate.
Henrich was chosen officer of the year for his investigative work on the Winsted Farmers Elevator case, which he said was nothing like any work he had ever done before. He also said it was the most interesting case he has ever done.
He just wishes the case was over. It has been almost a year since the Minnesota Department of Agriculture revoked the Winsted Farmers Elevator’s grain buyer’s license.
The investigation into the elevator’s estimated $160,000 worth of missing grain, which began May 2011, was recently turned over to McLeod County Attorney Mike Junge to review for further investigation or possible charges, according to Henrich.
“I would say that most of the legwork is already done, but it’s a lot to sort through, even for his office,” Henrich said, “because it involves so many different banks and so many different areas where the money trails went.”
When Junge was contacted Tuesday, he said he was unable to comment on the Winsted Farmers Elevator case at this time, and would not make any further comments unless there were charges filed.
Junge also would not give an estimated timeline on when the case might possibly end, because if it were to go to trial, the investigation could be ongoing.
There are a total of 18 farmers, living in Wright, Carver, and McLeod counties, who were victims of theft by swindle that occurred when their grain was either sold without permission or they did not receive payment for the grain they did sell, according to court documents.
In December, the Minnesota Department of Commerce stepped in, taking all of the financial records confiscated during three search warrants performed on Winsted Farmers Elevator’s major shareholder, Sunil Sapatnekar’s businesses and household, and 10 more warrants on area banks.
“They (the Minnesota Department of Commerce) went through all of the bank records and they formalized a chart to show where this money went when it left the elevator,” Henrich said. “You have to have forensic accountants to be able to do that. They (department of commerce) saved the city more than $10,000.”
Sapatnekar was arrested on felony theft charges related to the Winsted Farmers Elevator July 27, 2011, but released the next day.
According to Henrich, Sapatnekar was released because of the amount of information that needs to be processed before a formal complaint can be issued.
Henrich said of his recent honor, he was humbled, and he noted that there are others that have done more.
Because of the amount of his time that was dedicated to the grain elevator investigation, Henrich said, it meant others had to step forward to help. His officers had to work extra hours to cover for him when he was called out of town, and some of them even ended up working an extra shift for him, sometimes on very short notice.
In addition, the McLeod County Sheriff’s Office filled in as backup whenever needed.
Henrich also gave Carver County detective Pat Barry credit for walking him through 99 percent of the investigation.
Henrich has been part of the Winsted Police Department for 32 years, and Winsted Police Chief since 1985.
He has been a member of the MCPPOA organization since it was founded April 2003.
Membership is open to all McLeod County law enforcement personnel (sheriff’s deputy, police officer, dispatcher, corrections officer or state or federal officer) or any other law enforcement personnel who live in McLeod County even if their jobs are in another county.
This is the second time the officer of the year award has come to Winsted. The first time was in 2006, when Glenn Stromm, a Winsted officer at the time, received it, according to Henrich.
The MCPPOA was organized to encourage better cooperation, better officers, and to provide better law enforcement services to the community
Scholarships are offered through the organization to those who are going to school for law enforcement.
Winsted officer Justin Heldt received a scholarship from the organization while he was going to school, and Tim Dahl of Winsted, who is also attending school for law enforcement, has received a scholarship from the MCPPOA.