Bookkeeper gets 6 months in jail

Judge rejects plea deal in Vancouver business embezzlement case

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

Published:

 

A former bookkeeper for a building trade magazine was sentenced Friday to six months in jail for embezzling more than $500,000 from the former Vancouver business.

Patricia L. Long, 61, of Vancouver pleaded guilty Friday to first-degree theft and second-degree identity theft as part of a deal in which the prosecutor recommended a sentence of 60 days' work crew and $75,000 restitution. Deputy Prosecutor Scott Ikata also agreed to drop nine other counts of identity theft.

But Clark County Superior Court Judge Daniel Stahnke rejected the deal and sentenced Long to the maximum sentence under standard guidelines, which is six months in jail. She also will be required to pay $75,000 in restitution after her release.

"The plea may be reasonable," Stahnke said. "However, I do not believe the (sentencing) recommendation by the prosecutor is reasonable."

BuilderNews had to close in December 2011 after 15 years of operation, due, in part, to the thefts. Nine employees lost their jobs.

Publisher Denise Curry-Rothwell said Friday that she lost her home and her retirement savings as a consequence of the thefts.

"She still has her home and her retirement," Curry-Rothwell said. "I'm grateful that the judge recognized the damage she caused me, my employees and the community."

She said she was outraged when she learned of the plea bargain Long had been offered.

"She was a pro," Curry-Rothwell told the judge. "She's done it before to two other companies before me and to another company after me (but) before she was arrested."

"Your Honor," she continued, "what is the message to our community and to people like her? … Please, I ask for no leniency."

Ikata said the plea bargain seemed reasonable given that much of the evidence against Long wouldn't have been admissible in court. He said the Prosecuting Attorney's Office wanted "criminal accountability," including for Long to be convicted of felonies.

Long's attorney, Barry Brandenburg, countered that many of the accusations against Long likely wouldn't have been proven during trial. He also suggested that there may have been other reasons for the magazine's demise, including market changes in print media. He said some employees told him there was a lack of consistent management at the company.

"I am terribly sorry for my actions," Long said before she was sentenced. "I was stressed out. My husband had a stroke. We had medical bills, and I am just very, very sorry."

Long had no previous criminal history. However, Stahnke said, the sophistication of the thefts warranted the high sentence.

The thefts occurred over a five-year period. Curry-Rothwell said among other things, Long padded her time card, gave herself a $15,000 raise without authorization, used company resources to pay for her husband's health benefits, and stole money through online banking accounts, which belonged to the company and the publisher.

Curry-Rothwell said she plans to file a civil suit against Long when Long is released from jail.