05/28/2024
bloomington crime

Heather Lenke, the former president of the committee that organized Richfield’s Fourth of July parade, is facing charges for allegedly stealing over $27,000 from the nonprofit organization. This incident has had a significant impact on the annual celebration, which had to be canceled this year due to a lack of funds. Let’s take a closer look at what happened and the efforts to rebuild this cherished event.

Heather Lenke, a resident of Richfield, is currently facing two counts of theft charges in Hennepin County District Court, following an investigation that began in November. The alleged theft was discovered when another committee member noticed that there was just over $1 left in the committee’s bank account. Despite collecting donations, the committee hadn’t hosted a parade since 2019. It was found that withdrawals had been made from the committee’s account to Lenke’s personal account, including a single transfer of $20,111. Lenke admitted to taking the money and apologized, returning $861 but leaving over $26,000 unpaid.

This incident has left the Richfield Fourth of July Event Committee in a tough spot. The event has faced several challenges in recent years, including cancellations due to COVID-19 in 2020 and 2021 and a scaled-down celebration in 2022. This year, the event had to be canceled because of the alleged theft. The Fourth of July events in Richfield rely entirely on donations and volunteers, receiving no financial support from the city. So, when the money was stolen, there were no backup funds.

Tina Baker, the committee’s current head, expressed the committee’s determination to rebuild. She mentioned that they are essentially starting from scratch, needing both donations and volunteers to revive the event. At the recent PennFest street festival in Richfield, Baker and other committee members set up a table to seek support from the community. People are cautiously optimistic about the event’s comeback, and they want to know more about the missing funds.

Baker thanked the Richfield police and city officials for their help with the investigation and assured that no current committee members were believed to be involved in the theft. The committee has also put in place new controls to safeguard their funds.

Despite the challenges, the committee remains committed to bringing back the Fourth of July celebration in 2024, including fireworks, a parade, and a street dance. Baker, who joined the committee to help save the festival years ago, now aims to continue the tradition, especially for her mother, who is in remission from cancer and loves the holiday.