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BARABOO - The former executive director of the Wisconsin Holstein Association has been charged with allegedly embezzling more than $15,000 from the organization.

Larry Nelson, 38, of Fitchburg, made his initial appearance in Sauk County Circuit Court on Oct. 10, where he was charged with one felony count of theft in a business setting over $10,000. If convicted, Nelson faces up to 10 years imprisonment or fines up to $25,000.

According to the criminal complaint, during an internal audit by staff members in early 2017, they discovered irregularities in charges to the organization’s credit card. Upon further investigation, WHA staff and the executive committee identified hundreds of unauthorized charges on the organization’s credit card for Nelson’s personal use.

Because receipts from the charges were missing, WHA staff requested detailed statements from the issuer of the credit card and discovered that Nelson had made transactions at sports bars, hotel stays, night clubs, as well as non-business trips to Milwaukee, Chicago and Canada, according to the complaint.

WHA officials told investigators that Nelson had also written several checks out to himself from the organization’s checking account, the complaint said.

WHA officials alerted the Baraboo Police Department after consulting with its legal counsel and Board of Directors. During questioning, Nelson told investigators that he may have inadvertently used the organization’s credit card as it was very similar to his own. However, he was unable to produce his personal credit card for comparison, alleging that his financial advisor told him to destroy his cards, according to the complaint.

In a statement on the organization’s website, WHA Board of Directors thanked the WHA staff for discovering the irregularities in the financial records and applauded them for their cooperation in the investigation.

“The board would also like membership to know that new procedures and protocols have been implemented for the finances to prevent further problems from occurring. WHA will be working with the legal system to legal system to claim restitution of the misused funds and our legal counsel will be facilitating that process. The WHA board would also like membership to know that the financial health of the organization is strong and the majority of funds within the organization are safely invested and were never put at risk.”

Nelson stepped down from his role as executive director in November 2016 after he left to seek employment at another firm. However, he served the organization in a part-time capacity until he was fired in April 2017 after his role in the thefts was discovered.

Nelson joined the non-profit organization in 2011 as the Member Services Manager and was promoted to the top leadership position a year later 2012. As executive director, Nelson was responsible for overseeing all facets of the WHA including operational needs, membership and employee relations.

Prior to his employment with the WHA, he served as a marketing manager for the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Nelson is free on a $15,000 signature bond and has been ordered to have no contact with the WHA and not to leave the state, except for a business trip to Ohio later this month. He is due back in court on Oct. 20 for a pre-trial conference.

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