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The onetime comptroller for a St. Paul country club has pleaded guilty to embezzling more than $1 million over eight years and spending the money on travel, home improvements, an array of vehicles and a large tract of land in northern Minnesota.

Julie A. Lee, 53, of Farmington, entered her plea Monday in federal court in St. Paul to wire fraud and filing a false tax return in connection with the scheme she perpetrated at the Town & Country Club from 2008 until 2016.

"The Town & Country Club has been a St. Paul institution since 1888," said U.S. Attorney Greg Brooker in a statement. "Unfortunately, Julie Lee, who was entrusted with the club's finances, chose to use her position to embezzle more than $1 million."

As comptroller, Lee had the authority to sign and issue checks on behalf of the club; she also had signing authority on its bank accounts, including a line of credit with Alliance Bank.

If the club's monthly newsletter in December 2016 is any indication, it appeared Lee's thefts were not arousing suspicion at that time.

"Julie Lee has done a fantastic job keeping the club's finances on track," Town & Country's president at the time, Daniel O'Brien, wrote. "Julie rarely gets a public thank you and I wanted to make sure our members know what an instrumental part she plays in the management of our club."

The thefts were detected when club officials "discovered potentially significant financial inconsistencies related to the club's bank loan and cash accounts," said Dulce Foster, an attorney for the club.

Lee's attorney, Deborah Ellis, said her client "is focusing on making reparations to Town & Country as best she can."

According her guilty plea and related court filings, Lee:

• Fraudulently issued herself more than 50 checks totaling $163,357 directly from the club's bank accounts.

• Stole roughly $250,000 in cash from the club and put it in her personal bank account.

• Made payments on her personal credit cards directly from the club's bank accounts totaling nearly $765,000.

Lee spent the money on personal travel, fixing up her family's house, paying her mortgage and buying 81 acres of mostly wooded land within Two Inlets State Forest northwest of Park Rapids.

She also bought a new 2013 Dodge Charger, a 2015 GMC Sierra K3500 pickup truck, a motorcycle and a 40-foot-long recreational vehicle that sleeps eight and retails for more than $70,000.

She attempted to cover the shortfall in the accounts by taking advances on the club's line of credit at Alliance Bank. As a result, the club couldn't make its quarterly payroll tax payments to the IRS. She also filed false quarterly payroll tax returns with the IRS understating the club's tax liability.

At times, Lee also filed the club's quarterly payroll tax returns late and made its quarterly payments late, resulting in the club paying more than $300,000 in interest and penalties to the IRS.

Before the plea, Lee's case was scheduled to go to trial on May 7. A date for her sentencing has yet to be set.

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482