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Oakdale business owner convicted of fraud gets probation
Stephanie Lasch arrested at airport in April on plane bound for China
A former Oakdale business owner arrested on felony identity theft charges while trying to flee the country in April will not face any additional jail time. Stephanie Rae Lasch, 35, of East Bethel was sentenced in Anoka County Court earlier this month to 10 years’ probation. She owned BARE The Spa & Soap Bar Company, formerly located at 1077 Helmo Ave., just east of 10th Street and Interstate 694. She also owned Stonewater Massage and Skin in Lino Lakes. Both stores closed this past winter.
Lasch was arrested the morning of April 10 at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport just minutes before a plane she and her husband Shawn Lasch had boarded departed for Beijing. She was charged with felony identity theft involving eight or more victims the following day. Had she been convicted on those charges, Lasch could have served a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and/or a $100,000 fine.
Instead, Lasch struck a plea deal with prosecutors on May 29 that freed her from serving any more jail time--a deal the court chose to honor during sentencing on July 7.
The deal required Lasch to plead guilty to one count of financial transaction card fraud, and in exchange, be given up to 10 years probation in lieu of further jail time.
The court also ordered her to serve 100 hours of community work service and pay restitution for the credit card fraud.
According to the criminal complaint, investigators had already identified over 80 people in April who said they were charged for services they did not receive at Stonewater.
Lino Lakes Police Investigator Chad Schirmers said prosecutors allege Lasch had defrauded Stonewater customers of over $7,000. Investigators reportedly found numerous fraudulent charges to customers’ accounts when they examined financial records on Stonewater’s computer system, mostly in the amount of $64.28--the price of an hour-long massage, including tax.
Prosecutors also claim Lasch sold over $41,000 in gift cards that were not honored after both Stonewater and BARE The Spa & Soap Bar Company closed. The gift cards were supposed to be good for products and services at both businesses.
Lasch has been ordered by the court to pay restitution for the erroneous credit card charges, but customers who purchased gift cards could face an uphill battle getting their money back. Since her businesses have closed, there is no money left to recover.
“An intensive pursuit may be a fruitless measure due to her financial situation,” Schirmers said.
He said people looking to be reimbursed for money spent on unredeemed gift cards would likely have to have the matter settled in small claims court.
No criminal charges in Oakdale
In Oakdale, community affairs officer Michelle Stark says, so far, no criminal charges have been filed against Lasch and her now closed Oakdale business. In fact, the city’s police department has no record of any sales at BARE, said police investigator Wayne Hager.
Hager said since Lasch did not have a license to practice massage therapy in the city, all she should have been doing at BARE was selling soaps, lotions and other items that don’t require a massage therapy license.
However, women like Kim Prayfrock of Maplewood did receive massages and other services and purchased gift cards good for future services that were not honored.
Prayfrock bought a $100 gift card good for a $250 package on her first visit to BARE in December 2013. After several attempts were made to a schedule an appointment for another massage proved unsuccessful, Prayfrock drove to the business on Helmo Ave. and discovered the whole store had been cleared out. She never heard from Lasch again.
Prayfrock filled out a fraud form with her credit card company and was eventually reimbursed for the $100 taken from her account.
Too light a sentence?
While some applauded the Lino Lakes Police Department for their hard work on the case, many complained on the city’s Facebook page that the sentence the county gave her was too lenient, especially since she has been investigated for other fraudulent activity in the past--though never convicted on charges.
“This woman keeps getting off with slaps on the wrists for fraud of various kinds,” one woman wrote.
Lasch was reportedly arrested twice in Mankato in 2010 for felony charges of identity theft, but was later released. Others from as far away as California contend that Lasch charged them for massage consulting services and products that she never delivered. Several of her former employees say they are owed hundreds in wages.
“We understand the frustration with the plea agreement in this case. Our role is to investigate and present information. There have been occasions in the past where the outcome of a case was due to sub-par work by this police department, but this is not one of those cases,” the Lino Lakes Police Department responded on its Facebook page.
Schirmers said his department is aware of fraud allegations related to Lasch’s consulting services, but was quick to point out that those crimes took place outside of Lino Lakes and therefore out of the department’s jurisdiction. If other police departments chose to pursue their own cases against Lasch, Schirmers said his department would share any information gathered through its investigation.
Joshua Nielsen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 651-748-7824.