Ellsworth embezzlement sentence is a mixed bag
By Jason Schulte
ELLSWORTH — Payback vs. punishment.
Sterny pled guilty in May to two counts of theft greater than $10,000 and one count of fraudulent writings by an officer. The 50-year-old Ellsworth woman was charged last year with 29 felonies after being accused of stealing more than $170,000 from Ellsworth Ford over a two-year period.
Would Judge Joseph Boles hand down a sentence that would allow Sterny a chance to pay back some of the debt or would Sterny be sent away to prison, reducing the chance of payback?
Boles, in his words, went with a little of both, as he sentenced Sterny to seven years’ probation, with one year jail as a condition, which began after Monday’s hearing. Another condition is making at least $15,000 in restitution payments yearly.
“I believe this sentence recognizes the seriousness of the crime and the needs of the victim,” Boles said. “It also gives the best chance at restitution.”
Boles also granted Sterny work release privileges, with the mandate of “get out and go to work.”
Ellsworth Ford owners went to Ellsworth police in June 2013 after they discovered in March a check written from the business’s checking account with Sterny’s name on the top to a credit union. Upon inquiring, they found out the check, written for $3,917.33, went to Sterny’s credit card account.
The owners explained to police Sterny was Ellsworth Ford’s office manager and had worked for them since the mid-1990s, when they owned Baldwin Ford as well.
The owners met with Sterny soon after their discovery and asked how much was taken. They said Sterny told her it was a large amount, but not sure exactly. Also, at the end of March, the owners were notified by one of the financial institutions Sterny used they thought it was odd to be seeing an individual’s card being paid by a business check.
Sterny explained to Ellsworth police how it was done. She said it was by lowering the value of used cars to set up a fake payoff. Police asked how she knew which vehicles to choose so a check would come to her. She said she would just pick one having a recent trade that came in.
The process was so complex a Ford credit auditor and the business’ owners went over the dealership’s financial statements and couldn’t figure out how Sterny did it until she told them. The owners told police they had to send financial statements to Ford every month and Sterny had the numbers balanced every month, so they didn’t question it.
Why she did it was best summarized in an email she wrote to police before the interview: “I’m not a person who goes to the casino and just feeds the machines nor do I do drugs of any type. It is a case where I would pay down a credit card and then get cash advances on those cards to meet my monthly expenses and everyday expenses. Yes, we were living past our means.”
Pierce County Assistant District Attorney Rory O’Sullivan started Monday’s hearing by calling the pre-sentence investigation that recommended three years’ probation and 30 days jail “ludicrous.”
“It magnificently understates the gravity of the offense,” he stated. “For all intense purposes, this is a slap on the wrist … . This was entirely a crime of opportunity, she couldn’t help herself. The owners treated her like a daughter.
“We need to show this kind of behavior won’t be tolerated,” he said, as he called for two years confinement and three years extended supervision.
A representative from Ellsworth Ford also spoke during Monday’s hearing and said the owners want Sterny held accountable and think 30 days jail was not appropriate.
Sterny’s attorney Phil Helgeson argued Sterny felt remorseful. He also said, based on studies that put Sterny in the low risk to reoffend, sending her to prison would greatly enhance her chances to reoffend upon her release.
Before handing down his sentence, Boles had some harsh words for Sterny.
“How could you do this to your family?” he said, noting they are victims in this as well. “How could you expose yourself to prison, shame? … No good productive member of society does this.
“The only way to start making amends is paying down the debt, because words ring hollow.”