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Accountant accused of swindling $235,000 from Duluth chamber

Jesse David Frye

DULUTH — An accountant is accused of running a "criminal enterprise" that stole more than $235,000 from the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce and potentially many additional clients.

Jesse David Frye, 39, appeared Tuesday, Jan. 7, in state district court on a felony charge of theft by swindle. He is identified in court documents as the principal at Eagle Accounting.

According to a criminal complaint, the theft was discovered in July during an outside audit of the chamber's financial record. Chamber officials said they contacted the Duluth Police Department to investigate after a review of 2018 finances "identified discrepancies in the bookkeeping and payroll records completed by the chamber’s bookkeeping and payroll contract service provider."

The review allegedly found that Frye had been withdrawing unauthorized funds and depositing them into his own accounts, often disguised with the label "payroll." The alleged theft ran from 2017 until the summer of 2019, according to the complaint.

"When confronted, (Frye) first offered implausible and incorrect excuses for the missing funds," the complaint states. "Eventually, defendant, via letter, acknowledged the thefts by offering a repayment schedule without 'outside action.'"

Chamber president David Ross attended Tuesday's hearing but declined comment pending resolution of the case. Officials said in a brief statement that they are cooperating with police and prosecutors and will seek restitution for the losses.

"Annual financial auditing is a longstanding safeguard implemented by the chamber," the statement said. "This auditing promptly exposed these discrepancies."

Officials added that the chamber remains financially stable, member information was not compromised and Frye's access was revoked immediately after the discrepancies were discovered.

Frye initially was charged by summons on Dec. 23. However, prosecutors requested an arrest warrant on Dec. 30 when an investigation allegedly revealed that he was "continuing to steal large sums from additional victims."

Frye was taken into custody when he appeared at a divorce hearing Monday. He was in shackles and an orange jail jumpsuit at his Tuesday arraignment.

Sixth Judicial District Judge Eric Hylden set bail at $5,000 with conditions or $50,000 without. The conditional bail includes requirements that he surrender his passport and cease the practice of accounting.

"I don't want him to be handling the finances of anyone else," St. Louis County prosecutor Jon Holets told the court, indicating that authorities have evidence of thefts continuing as recently as Dec. 27.

Defense attorney Mikkel Long agreed that Frye would not be handling client accounts if released. He added that his client is a lifelong resident of the area who lacks any criminal history and voluntarily surrendered on the arrest warrant.

It was unclear how many additional clients Frye had and authorities have not disclosed details of additional suspected thefts, which remain under investigation.

Frye is scheduled to be back in court on Feb. 11.