CUSTER COUNTY— Only two felony cases were heard in Custer County District Court on Thursday, July 2 with an arraignment and sentencing. Nathan Bliven, 40 of Lexington, was arraigned on one charge of alleged distribution of methamphetamine (class II felony) and a habitual criminal enhancement. After being read his rights, Bliven pled not guilty to the sole charge and also denied the habitual criminal status.
His case was set for trial on October 26 at 9 AM with a pretrial conference to be held on September 10. Bliven could face 11-110 years in prison if found guilty of the one charge of alleged distribution and also found to be a habitual criminal.
Mitchell Burnett, 48 of Oconto, appeared in District Court for sentencing after pleading guilty to theft by taking (class IV felony). Burnett was charged after the Victoria Township board had noticed inconsistencies in their checking account after checks were found to have been written out of order and to a business that was owned by Burnett.
Board members also confirmed that Burnett was often in control of the checkbook and would sometimes take it home to catch up on writing checks. Handwriting experts also confirmed that the signatures on the forged checks did not match the real signatures that were on previous checks. Experts also could not confirm that Burnett had forged the checks because there was not enough samples, but that there were some similarities in some of the letters.
During arguments, the state, represented by Custer County Attorney Steve Bowers, stated that during the course of the investigation, Burnett claimed that he and his son had done road grader work in 2011 and that the payments were made for that work around four years later. Bowers also stated that the two checks coincided with a default judgment in a civil lawsuit and the purchase of a personal vehicle.
Bowers asked the court to sentence Burnett to serve probation for five years, pay back $6,862 in restitution, and write a letter of apology to the constituents who voted for Burnett to serve on the board.
Burnett’s attorney, Christopher Wickham, argued that his client had no criminal history and also has a family to take care of. Wickham also stated that the restitution had been paid back in full earlier in the morning. Wickham asked that Burnett be sentenced to probation and that Burnett will follow any orders that probations feel is appropriate.
Judge Karin Noakes stated that she would follow the recommendation of probation from both parties and sentenced Burnett to serve three years of probation, pay $6,862 in restitution, and to write an apology letter to the Victoria Township.