Well this one has been about a year in the making, starting in October of 2015 when Justin Haugtvedt, 22, Cody Ostendorf, 24, and Keith Ayers, 28 went missing after their boat capsized in Minnesota.
Two days after the men went missing, then 28-year-old Retina LaValla of Baudette, MN set up a GoFundMe campaign called “Support for Our Boys Family!” which would go on to raise over $27,000.
Investigators started looking at LaValla in January of this year after the mother of one of the missing boaters reported to Lake of the Woods authorities that GoFundMe funds hadn’t been delivered as promised. A closer look into her personal bank account revealed several unexplained cash withdrawals that didn’t coincide with LaValla’s claims that checks had been issued to the boaters’ families, and she eventually came clean to cops that she used some of the funds for bills. “[T]he families ended up getting paid, it wasn’t a big deal,” she said to authorities, referring to an emergency loan from her dad that covered the shortfall.
LaValla was arrested in February, and first appeared in court in March. She initially declined the opportunity to bail herself out as she didn’t want to face the ire of the small community in which she lived.
Facing two counts of theft which carry a maximum sentence of ten years in prison each, LaValla made a guilty plea in September. This after her lawyer unsuccessfully argued that “the charges should be dismissed because she did not purposefully raise the money with the intention of stealing it.”
Yesterday, the saga of Retina LaValla and her betrayal of her close-knit Minnesota community came to an anti-climactic close, with a judge sentencing her to time served of two months and five years probation. She is also required to write letters of apology to the families of the three missing boaters; the bodies of all three men were eventually recovered.
Keith Ayers’ mother wrote in a letter read by the prosecutor at sentencing: “To prey on the vulnerability of our families and community is the action of a predator. I do not believe any apology would be of truth it would only be words to excuse her behavior with hope to lessen the punishment of her actions.”
LaValla declined the opportunity to address the court.