Steamboat Springs Denise Martinez was sentenced Monday to four years in prison for embezzling more than $40,000 from a Steamboat Springs High School activity fund.
Martinez, 38, apologized for the crime and said she's willing to pay back the money she stole from the school between 1997 and 1999.
"It's hard to find the words, but I'm sorry. I know I let the community down," Martinez said in court. "I know I did wrong and I'm working to find out why. I was not raised that way. If you'd asked me 10 years ago if I could have done this, I would have said no."
Assistant District Attorney Kerry St. James said he knows why Martinez embezzled the funds greed.
"She's one of those people who looked at money that wasn't being tended to, no one was looking over her shoulder, and said 'I'd like that money,' and 'I'd like more of it,'" St. James said.
Martinez's lawyer, Bill Schurman, said she plans to repay the money by living with her parents in Texas and continuing to work. Schurman said she planned to sell a timeshare condominium in Mexico worth $4,000 to apply toward restitution.
However, St. James said he doubted her sincerity.
"She told the probation department she spent an hour or two a day covering her thefts," St. James said. "She victimized not only school officials but students."
Steamboat Springs School Superintendent Cyndy Simms said the students were deeply affected by the theft.
"The judge did the right thing," Simms said. "The hurt came at the students' end when our high school students learned that she had been doing this. They were hurt by the example she didn't set. We expect people to be honorable and she wasn't."
The school's insurance company has reimbursed the school for $43,563 minus the $2,500 deductible which Simms said Martinez has agreed to pay. As a condition of her parole, Martinez must then make restitution to the insurance company.
The school's finance director, Dale Mellor, said accounting controls are being implemented to reduce the chance of another embezzlement.
"Any controls we put in place aren't going to ensure it won't happen again, but hopefully we can cut down on the likelihood," Mellor said.
Principal Dave Schmid said he couldn't comment on whether anyone reported Martinez to school officials in the time before she was arrested in December of 1999.
Martinez remained calm when District Judge Richard Doucette handed down the four-year prison sentence instead of following the probation department's recommendation of 90 days in the county jail.
Doucette said white-collar embezzlement has been a problem in the 14th Judicial District, which includes Routt, Moffat and Grand counties. The judge said he hopes Martinez's harsh sentence will encourage other residents not to commit similar crimes.
"This court wants the shock value that there is a price to pay. Every time you took a nickel from these kids, or anyone else, your conscience should have bothered you," Doucette said.
Schurman has four months to file a motion asking Doucette to reconsider the sentence.
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