By Megan Hopps
Christine Diebel, owner of Thomas Reese Olive Oil in Champlin, is awaiting a jury trial in Anoka County for two felony charges involving motor vehicle theft.
If convicted, Diebel could face up to five years in prison. Her pre-trial court date is Thursday, Sept. 28, and the trial will begin Monday, Oct. 23.
According to the criminal complaint, Diebel reported her 2003 Nissan 350Z as stolen to the Minneapolis Police Department in June 2008. She also reported that the insurance on the vehicle had been suspended, the complaint reads. Diebel was then given payment from the insurance company due to the vehicle’s total loss, according to the complaint.
In November 2008, Diebel’s stolen vehicle was recovered in an underground garage and impounded. That same day, Diebel allegedly retrieved it from the impound lot by signing a document verifying that she was legally authorized to take possession of the vehicle.
In 2013 the insurance provider obtained information that the vehicle may have been recovered so the company contacted Diebel several times with intent to retrieve the vehicle but Diebel did not respond, according to the complaint. While Diebel had no rights to the vehicle, she remained in possession of it until her husband contacted the insurance company and revealed that the vehicle was being held in his garage.
In 2016, the insurance provider was able to obtain the vehicle and noted it had plates that were taken off another vehicle owned by Diebel in North Dakota, the complaint read. In a statement, Diebel acknowledged retrieving the vehicle from the impound lot although she had no rights of ownership. She also admitted she concealed the vehicle through several residence changes by keeping it in her garage and not driving it except when it was being moved, the complaint reads.
The 2003 Nissan 350Z was worth upwards of $25,000 at the time it was reported stolen in 2008.
Court records also indicate that an unrelated financial transaction card fraud case has been reopened in Scott County.
Diebel closed the bistro unexpectedly in December and re-opened in the same location — at the corner of Highway 169 and Hayden Lake Road — this past spring. At the time the bistro closed, the business’ approximate 15 employees reported unpaid wages, and all gift cards that were sold were assumed void of their value. Additionally, the city had purchased several gift cards to give to the city’s volunteers and learned that the bistro’s sewer and water access charges were not paid for several months.
Diebel re-applied for a liquor license for the business and the city council first reviewed the application in May. At that time, Diebel paid the outstanding sewer and water fees in the amount of $6,018 according to Champlin City Attorney Scott Lepak.
“The city authorized the Champlin Police Department to perform both a criminal background check and a financial check on the applicant,” Lepak said. “The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension revealed no criminal convictions in the state and the financial investigation returned no disqualifying instances.”
According to the police department, felony charges would be enough to disqualify a business’ liquor license, but Minnesota law prohibits records of arrest not followed by a valid conviction to be used in any application for a license. And, since the charges are still pending, this case can not be used as a valid disqualification of Diebel’s license.
Diebel’s attorney confirmed that she did pay all of the employees the wages she owed them and issued gift-backs in exchange for the gift cards that were not honored. He added that Diebel has “exclusive control” of the business and the website and is responsible for all debt and liabilities so there “won’t be issues going forward.”
The council approved the liquor license for Thomas Reese Olive Oil by a 3-2 vote. Councilors Nate Truesdell and Ryan Sabas voted to deny Diebel’s liquor license application citing state statute that requires business owners to be of good character and moral repute.