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Woman who stole from drowning victim's GoFundMe sentenced for bad checks

Retina LaValla

BAUDETTE, Minn.—A northern Minnesota woman who was convicted of stealing money from a fundraising account for three men killed in a 2015 Lake of the Woods boating accident has been sentenced to serve time in prison after being convicted for writing bad checks while on probation.

Retina Rayellen LaValla, 30, was sentenced to serve 42 months in prison last week after being found guilty of writing a bad check-- a violation of her parole from a conviction for stealing money from a GoFundMe account she set up for three victims of a October 2015 boating accident.

In three months, almost 400 people donated more than $27,000 to the page after Justin Haugtvedt, 22, Cody Ostendorf, 24, and Keith Ayers, 28, went missing in a boating accident Oct. 3, 2015, on Lake of the Woods. The bodies of Ostendorf and Haugtvedt were found a week after they went missing near Flag and Oak islands, respectively. Ayers was found dead in April 2016 near Powder Island, a small island on the Ontario side of the lake.

Investigators with the Lake of the Woods Sheriff's Department found LaValla had used some of the fundraised money to pay personal bills.

LaValla pled guilty to one count of felony theft by indifference to owners rights in the case and was initially sentenced to 90 days in jail and five years probation in October 2016.

But in June, court records show LaValla was charged with issuing dishonest checks, a misdemeanor. She was convicted of that offense on Oct. 18, court records show and received an amended sentence on her prior theft conviction.

She was also given an amended sentenced for felony driving under the influence, court records show. LaValla had received her third DUI, a felony, in 2012 and put on supervised probation for seven years. She received her longest sentence, 42 months, for the probation violation on the DUI.

LaValla has a lengthy criminal history, per court records, including four prior convictions for issuing bad checks.

She was sent to the Minnesota Women's Correctional Facility in Shakopee, Minn., last week and is scheduled to be released in August 2019 after factoring in 186 days already served in local jail, according to the department of corrections.

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