Woman pleads in Sears theft case, but store owner pleads for justice

Posted: Friday, February 18, 2011

A Juneau woman plead guilty to a reduced charge of theft in the second degree in a plea and sentence bargain in Juneau Superior Court on Thursday resulting in an impassioned speech by the victim of the theft before Judge Patricia Collins.

Under a plea agreement between defense attorney David Seid and State’s attorney Amy Williams, defendant Christine Wallace, 23, pleaded guilty to attempting to obtain merchandise totaling $2,515 from the Juneau Sears store between August and December of 2010. The original charge was Theft in the Second, a class C felony.

“Miss Wallace this is a big reduction from a class C felony to a class A misdemeanor,” Judge Collins said. “The reduced charge carries a sentence of anywhere from zero to a year in jail or zero to a $10,000 fine…”

The proposed deal accepted by Collins called for 12 months in jail with nine suspended and three years probation on condition of completing a residential treatment program for up to 90 days or longer.

Seid asked that the conditions of release be modified so the defendant could travel to California and Williams agreed if the travel was for treatment purposes only.

Local Sears store owner Rena Sims spoke before the court, saying she was in shock.

Sims stated that Wallace worked at the restaurant and her husband, Jacob Whittington, was the Sears assistant manager.

A second charge in the indictment is against Whittington and a warrant has been issued for his arrest.

“It was straight up theft while we were on a family vacation and we would not have been able to catch the theft if not for the corporate office catching it afterwards.”

Sims stated video cameras showed Wallace and Whittington coming into the store, taking merchandise, laughing and joking, and ringing up gift cards. The $500 credit gift cards were sold online at a reduced price and merchandise was taken to a local pawnshop.

“And here we are, I have over $14,000, not $2,000 worth of stuff missing,” an impassioned Sims said. “And $7,500 worth in credit cards, not to mention the $4,700 in televisions and VCRs.”

Sims and her husband have raised more than 200 foster children, and Sims said some have stolen.

“But we make our kids go back and admit it and give restitution,” Sims said. “I feel like I am being cheated. As a Sears owner I have to pay the remaining balance. I have a family of 13. She gets to walk on reduced charges, 10 days in jail, three months in California sunshine city, while the rest of us are still back here. We get nothing, not an apology, not an I’m sorry, nothing. I want you to hear from my heart how this has affected our family. This wasn’t just a one time compulsive theft, this was days of theft from our family.”

Sims stated she would like to see the felony charge stay and allow the treatment program to continue.

“It’s an insult,” Sims said. “We didn’t get one phone call telling us about this plea. My husband is here, we celebrated their birthdays, and we gave them money… I just asked you not reduce this to attempted theft.”

According to court documents, when the thefts were discovered Sims gave the Juneau Police Department store videos of Wallace and Whittington committing the thefts. The JPD served a search warrant for Whittington’s residence and contacted the couple were there.

Whittington and Wallace admitted to using the gift cards to purchase Sears items and then pawning them at a local pawn shop. Whittington also said he gave gift cards to two other people, and it was confirmed at Checkmate Pawn that they also pawned items.

Judge Collins told Sims that there are three branches of government and it is the district attorney’s office that decides how to try cases not the court, and that a decision had been made to reduce Wallace’s charge.

“The question for me in terms of the proposal that has been made today is whether I will accept the bargain proposed and I will decide that at the sentencing phase,” Collins said. “You have a right to be heard at that date as well.”

Collins set a sentencing date for March 17.

“I can’t modify the state’s petition to reduce the charge,” Collins told counsel. “But I will advise that I am really concerned about what I just heard from Miss Sims.”

Seid stated that his client admitted to her part of the crime but the person really responsible is still on the run and had left Wallace.

Sears District Sales Manager John Sauer, who over sees Alaska, Washington, Idaho and Oregon franchises, flew in from Seattle for the hearing.

“Because it is a franchise they are responsible for the loss,” said Sauer “We back them as much as they can but they are a privately owned company. We will do everything we can do to help them but they are a separate business with our product and backing. Any kind of lawsuit is between the owner. We are here to support them.”

Sauer stated a normal franchise would buy their own inventory, but in this case the inventory was sent to Sims who has to pay for it from sales.

“I can be prosecuted if I can’t cover this,” Sims said, “And I don’t look good in yellow.”

• Contact Klas Stolpe at 523-2263 or klas.stolpe@juneauempire.com.

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