High school embezzler pleads guilty

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— More than 30 students from Steamboat Springs High School filled the Routt County District Courtroom on Monday to hear a former bookkeeper plead guilty to stealing more than $40,000 from a school activity fund.

Denise Martinez, 38, was arrested in December after the school's fiscal officer, Dave Mellor, provided police with more than two dozen checks forged with high school principal Dave Schmid's signature.

Police say Martinez embezzled $45,695 from the school over a period beginning in 1997. Martinez, however, contested that figure, claiming it is $4,700 too high.

If school district documentation backs up the higher number, Martinez will have to pay that amount back to the high school as restitution.

The students, ranging from freshmen to seniors, sat through more than an hour of other court proceedings to hear Martinez's case.

"If it's true, then I want her to see the faces she stole it from," senior Mike Daschle said.

The activity fund Martinez admitted to stealing from pays for prom and graduation, senior Joe Chapman said.

"It's important she sees who she took the money from and who she affected," Chapman said. "We want her to know this isn't going away."

Martinez did not face the students or speak to them.

Martinez is scheduled to be sentenced June 22. She faces up to 12 years in prison for the theft, but so have several other local embezzlers who didn't receive prison sentences.


Crime doesn't pay -- for long
While the presumptive range for sentences in embezzlement cases allows for punishments including years in prision and thousands of dollars in restitution, recent history has indicated that people convicted of embezzlement in local courts often recieve less severe sentences:

l Last November, Trudy Sandrin pleaded guilty to embezzling $15,000 from Alltech Glass owner Mark Dernay. Dernay said the amount was closer to $25,000.

Sandrin was sentenced to four years supervised probation and was ordered to make monthly payments to Dernay. The four-year probation period may be terminated if she pays the entire amount back to Dernay by November 2001.

Dernay said he's not happy with Sandrin's punishment.

"I'm wiped out, but she walks clean if she meets all the conditions of her probation agreement," Dernay said. "I don't think a slap on the hand is appropriate."

Sandrin worked as Dernay's office manager from February 1997 to May 1998, writing checks to herself on the company's account.

According to court documents, Sandrin told police she could have overpaid herself as much as $4,000. She said she was planning to work without pay to make up what she had taken from her employer.

l As a travel agent in 1998, Karen Patterson forged checks from clients for a trip and kept $20,000.

In October 1999, she was sentenced to 90 days in jail and four years supervised probation for the felony theft charge, and she was ordered to pay back the $20,000.

District Judge Joel Thompson ordered Patterson to work out a payment plan with the court's collections service. Thompson also made a personal judgment against Patterson so that Choice Travel and its insurance company can use other means to collect the restitution.

l Diane Girty embezzled $140,000 from Re/Max Steamboat in 1998 and was sentenced to eight years in prison. After 49 days in jail, Judge Richard Doucette resentenced her to serve that time in a community corrections program. She was ordered to repay the $140,000.

The Correctional Alternatives Placement Services, or CAPS, program allows Girty to work while living in a group home.



-- To reach Michelle Bales call 871-4208 or e-mail mbales@amigo.net

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