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October 18, 2019

7/25/2019 7:28:00 AM
Berrays' business theft case dismissed without prejudice
Abigail Bostwick
of the Lakeland Times

A proposed order to dismiss the Vilas County Circuit Court felony business theft charges against two Woodruff residents has been filed by the district attorney and approved by a judge.

Bennett "Ben" Berray, 52, and Christina Berray, 46, were each facing one count of felony theft of more than $10,000 for alleged embezzlement of more than $162,000 from an Arbor Vitae security business they formerly worked for.

The Berrays are currently in divorce proceedings, according to court documents.

Before substitute Judge Patrick O'Melia, both Berrays entered not guilty pleas at arraignment last year, waiving their rights to a preliminary hearing. Lawyer Gary Cirilli, Rhinelander, represented Christina Berray while Steve Lucareli represented Ben Berray.

Earlier this month, Vilas County district attorney Martha Milanowski filed a proposed court order to dismiss each of the separate cases without prejudice, indicating, "the matter has been resolved through civil litigation."

On July 10, Judge O'Melia approved the order of dismissal without prejudice, according to online court records.

According to the criminal complaints, Ben was employed with Realtek Electronics Group, Inc., owned at the time by "a close friend, as a potential business partner and intended ... part owner of the company ..." where he was authorized to open a business account at an area bank. Ben had agreed to a non-compete following a sale of Northern WI Security and Sound, Inc. to a third party company, records state.

At Realtek, Ben assisted the alleged victim to open a business bank account and had check writing authority. He was later removed due to violation of the non-compete clause, revoking check writing privileges, court records indicate.

Christina was then added and given check writing authority because an agreement was reached between the three - with Christina as "bookkeeper" working at minimum wage, records state.

"Christina Berray wrote checks for her on her husband's benefit without authorization and embezzled and syphoned funds out of the business account for her and Bennett Berray's personal gain and benefit at the detriment of Realtek ...." the federal court document reads.

The owner discovered the unauthorized charges, which allegedly included personal expenses regarding payment of a personal tractor of the Berrays, checks to family members, pool maintenance and upkeep at their residence, property and other personal items including, possibly, vehicles from a local dealer, federal documents state.

It included more than $8,500 in cash withdrawals. Expenditures totaled more than $162,700 from 2016-17 with about 620 unapproved debit/credit withdrawals and purchases, it was noted.

Conviction could have led to up to 10 years in prison and/or a fine of up to $25,000 for each defendant.

Based on federal court records, a bankruptcy case - filed in August 2018 - is ongoing regarding both Ben Berray and Christina Berray, who co-filed Chapter 7.

Another federal court case challenges determination of dischargeablity of the Berrays to the alleged victim, who objects to their discharge.

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