Former Court of Appeals Judge Roland Amundson pleaded guilty to five felony counts of theft by swindle Monday. But he told the judge he didn't know why he took the money. The Hennepin County attorney's office filed the charges six weeks ago based on reports that Amundson stole more than $300,000 from a vulnerable adult's trust fund. The case has drawn widespread attention because of Amundson's once prestigious role as an appellate court judge in Minnesota's legal system.
Roland Amundson stood at the defendant's table looking worn, drawn and as though he had aged 10 years. He spoke softly with an uncharacteristic stutter as he told the court he was solely responsible for stealing at least $313,000 from a trust fund he managed for a deceased friend's mentally disabled daughter. Amundson explained that he began intermingling money from the trust with his own in 1995 when his secretary at the time mistakenly mixed up several bills.
Hennepin County Judge Richard Hopper asked, "Why did you do this?"
Amundson replied, "I've been under psychiatric care for quite awhile and the psychiatrists say this was an act of self-destruction."
"I want to know why you believe you did this," said Hopper.
"I honestly don't know; I didn't need the money," replied Amundson.
After the hearing, Amundson was booked and released on his own recognizance.
Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar said she was pleased that Amundson took responsibility for his actions but her office is considering asking for a longer sentence than the 3 1/2 years suggested under sentencing guidelines.
"We're looking at the fact that this is a vulnerable adult, that this was criminal conduct over along period of time, and also that this was a significant economic crime. So we're also exploring the possibility of requesting an upward departure," Klobuchar said.
Amundson's attorney, Ron Meshbesher, said his client is filled with remorse.
"He makes no excuses for it. And that's why the psychiatrists have spent weeks trying to find out why he did it and their conclusion was it was a self-destructive act," Meshbesher said. "It's hard to get into people's minds, people do some strange things. He's had a wonderful career, he's given a lot to the community and this is completely uncharacteristic of him."
Meshbesher says his client has been under psychiatric care for years and has been twice hospitalized with severe depression in the past four months. Several weeks ago, Meshbesher offered an explanation, not a legal defense for Amundson's behavior. He said Amundson went into a tailspin after his mother died and began acting erratically. But Amundson told the court that stealing from the trust fund in 1995, about two years before his mother's death.
"He was stealing money two years before the statute of limitations period - back to 1995, which is only six weeks after he took control of the trust," said Klobuchar.
Meshbesher said that in addition to the severe depression, doctors have also diagnosed Amundson with another brain-related problem: small strokes which have caused Amundson's recent stuttering. Meshbesher stopped short of offering the strokes as explanations but did say his client is undergoing neurological tests.
"The psychiatrist thinks it's important; I'm not a doctor. They're the ones who asked for the neurological work-up - not me. It's pretty obvious that if a guy's got something wrong in his head, you want to know about it," he says.
Judge Hopper accepted Amundson's plea of guilty. The judge ordered a pre-sentence investigation and scheduled sentencing for May 22.More from MPR