WADENA (WCCO) — A Wadena man facing a fight with cancer is now dealing with an unexpected setback – but not from his doctors.

The benefit money raised for his medical expenses was stolen, allegedly by someone helping out at his community benefit.

The sign outside the Wadena Elks Lodge promoted the benefit by a caring community. Local resident Steve Hoyhtya, a loving father and grandpa, is fighting lung, kidney and brain cancer.

His stepdaughter, Cari Burton, says a couple hundred people packed the Elks Lodge on the evening of Jan. 9 for Steve’s benefit.

They made a free will offering at the door to feast on hot turkey sandwiches and baked beans and help raise money for Steve’s mounting medical expenses.

“Over $5,000 (was raised) for sure,” Burton said.

Hoyhtya, 58 was overwhelmed by the community support.

“He was very grateful, very thankful for the support the community had given him,” Burton said.

Then, the unthinkable happened when a local man posing as a helper stole the bag containing all the cash and checks from a vehicle in the parking lot.

With a grimace, Burton said, “I can’t fathom why he would do that. This is somebody who can no longer work due to his medical conditions, and to do that is just unbelievable.”

Looking at a computer screen of security camera images, Elks Lodge manager Mitzi Arndt points to a man standing at the pull-tab booth and said “there he is right there.”

The bar’s security cameras caught the suspicious man in the act. Capturing images of him near the vehicle where the cash was taken and later re-entering the bar where he purchased pull tabs with some of the stolen cash.

Arndt then points to the men’s restroom and explains, “the toilet wouldn’t flush so we opened it up and there was a bunch of checks laying in there.”

Checks written by supporters for auction items were stashed in the water tank of a toilet in the men’s restroom.

“I think it’s a pretty low and dirty thing to do that to somebody that needs help,” Arndt said.

A night for charity has sadly turned into one of crime.

There has not been an arrest. Wadena police have questioned the man but have yet to recover all the cash.

“I just don’t understand how you can do that to somebody,” Burton said.

Folks in Wadena are trying to make up for the loss. If you’d like to support Steve, here is the address for donations:

Steve Hoyhtya Benefit
First National Bank
25 Bryant Avenue SW
Wadena, MN 56482

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