Impersonator sentenced

Steamboat woman gets 3 years in Community Corrections

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A Steamboat Springs woman who pleaded guilty to criminal impersonation and forgery in December was sentenced to three years in the Community Corrections program in Craig and will have to pay back the money she took from the woman she impersonated.

Sara Sue Foland seems to be a person of "high intelligence with no conscience," 14th Judicial District Judge Michael O'Hara said during her sentencing hearing Friday. It's people with those same characteristics who have started world wars, he added.

O'Hara said that he thought Foland's actions, which also allegedly included forging state documents to get a job as a physician's assistant and then prescribing powerful, addictive drugs without legitimate certification to do so, called for a prison sentence, but that he also thought she should have a chance to succeed.

Assistant District Attorney Kerry St. James called Foland a "top-shelf con artist," and said a doctor's evaluation determined she was an "extremely intelligent sociopath."

Foland's attorney, Larry Combs, argued that Foland was remorseful for her actions and did not have a criminal history.

Foland, 48, allegedly impersonated her former girlfriend, withdrawing more than $30,000 from the woman's Steamboat bank account and charging more than $14,000 on credit cards illegally obtained in the woman's name.

Foland also allegedly forged documents to get a job as a physician's assistant in a local doctor's office, and in that job, without legitimate state credentials, assisted in surgeries and office procedures and wrote numerous prescriptions for medications, including powerful painkillers such as Percocet, OxyContin and Valium.

She was arrested Sept. 11, 2004, in Missoula, Mont., after she tried to buy a $140,000 motor home using an assumed name herself and using the woman's name to get credit for the purchase.

In a different state, she also has a separate civil judgment against her for more than $1 million, O'Hara said.

O'Hara compared Foland's working as a physician's assistant without proper training to a person standing on Lincoln Avenue and firing a gun.

"That's what you did, every time you met with a patient. ... You were firing a gun, because you could have killed them," he said.

In the 14th Judicial District Court on Friday, the woman who Foland impersonated described Foland as a woman who is very intelligent and accomplished, and who, before 2000, was kind, generous and unselfish.

In that year, the victim said, Foland's behaviors drastically changed, and the pair ended their relationship in 2001. In 2004, Foland made visits to her ex-partner's home, taking personal items so she could assume the woman's identity and take funds from her in a premeditated way, the victim said.

"I don't sense that there's a lot of remorse," the victim said. "Here's a person who had so many gifts, but yet decided to take another path."

Combs argued that two felony charges on Foland's record would be enough of a punishment, saying that Foland did feel remorse and would be responsible enough to follow probation.

He pointed out that Foland saw hundreds of patients during the four months she worked as a physician's assistant for Dr. Michael Sisk at Orthopedics of Steamboat Springs and never made a mistake.

"There was never a problem. She made no mistakes. No one was ever harmed," Combs said.

Foland then spoke, crying as she did.

"No words are adequate to articulate the great remorse and the total grief for what I've done," she said. "By my actions, I have lost my family, my friends, my home and my career."

Foland said she hoped those hurt could regain peace and trust.

St. James warned O'Hara not to take Foland's apology at face value.

"Ms. Foland has told you she erred, as if she made a boo-boo," St. James said. "These are premeditated, highly sophisticated schemes. This isn't an error.

"She is capable of doing this again at her desire and has the ability" to create another false identity, he said.

St. James asked that Foland receive a sentence of three years at the Department of Corrections. He said he thought even that would be too lenient but said that was the highest available for her charges, which are considered less serious Class 5 and Class 6 felonies.

O'Hara said that Foland's in-court apology was the first time he heard her express any remorse, and that he hoped it was sincere.

Foland will have to pay almost $7,000 to the woman she impersonated for attorney fees, withdrawals through an ATM card and counseling. The woman has been paid back by the bank and credit card company for the rest of the funds that Foland allegedly took.

She was sentenced to three years in the Community Corrections program for the forgery of a commercial investment against the woman she impersonated, and a concurrent 18 months in the same program for the criminal impersonation, related to pretending to be a physician's assistant.

-- To reach Susan Cunningham, call 871-4203 or e-mail sbacon@steamboatpilot.com

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