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Ramsey County employee fired amid criminal investigation for use of county credit card

Updated: February 26, 2020 10:20 PM

A former employee with Ramsey County's tax-forfeited land program is under criminal investigation, accused of using his county-issued credit card to line his own pockets, according to public records reviewed by 5 INVESTIGATES.

Ramsey County fired lead real estate management specialist Paul Scharf, 41, in December, citing an internal investigation– four months after Scharf was first arrested by agents with the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA). He has not yet been charged, but the BCA says the case is still "active and ongoing."

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In a warrant application filed this month, investigators detailed how they say Scharf bought items from several Menard's hardware stores, returned the merchandise for store credit, and later arranged for those credits to be sold on the popular online marketplace, eBay.

According to the warrant, BCA agents were first alerted to the suspected fraud by investigators with Menard, Inc. Those investigators tracked the sale of nearly $60,000 in Menard's credit checks back to three different eBay sellers who later admitted buying them from Scharf.

Part of Scharf's job with Ramsey County included a leading role in the county's 4R program which focuses on renovating abandoned properties and re-selling them. Ramsey County's online public database shows Scharf received an annual salary of $73,493 in 2018.

Blogger Wolfie Browender interviewed Scharf and his supervisor about the program in 2014.

"He was very passionate, very personable. I was impressed by him," Browender said.

About Scharf's alleged fraud, Browender said he was "shocked."

"It's distressing. We have enough shortages of money in St. Paul, in the city, the school district, and Ramsey County to have somebody improperly using funds, illegally using funds, potentially," Browender said. 

Scharf did not answer the door at his home in St. Paul when 5 INVESTIGATES attempted to contact him on Tuesday.

The webpage for Ramsey County's 4R program lists three properties under its "current projects," but some neighbors of those vacant houses say they've seen little work done in months or even years.

Teresa Schulte described Scharf as "pleasant," but said the 4R house across the street from her has been abandoned for three years and she's only seen crews do work on the roof and mow the lawn in the summer.

Now she says she's wondering when the renovation will be finished and who will do it.

"I don't know now if they have someone who can step up to that," Schulte said. "If not getting to these properties in a timely manner was part of what was going on [with Scharf] then maybe we'll see an improvement."

Ramsey County declined an interview request, but said the properties that are currently part of the 4R program have been "structurally stabilized." A spokesman for the county told 5 INVESTIGATES departments review and approve all P-card transactions on a monthly basis.

Menard's, Inc. e-mailed the following statement to KSTP:

"Our security team noticed a potential fraudulent situation in our Twin Cities area stores and investigated. Our team found that while Menards had not been stolen from, it appeared that Ramsey County was not as fortunate. Ramsey County was alerted and they took it from there."

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Credits

Eric Rasmussen

Copyright 2020 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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