Juanita DeRose, 41, was sentenced Thursday to five years in prison, with three and a half suspended, for stealing $126,292 from her employer, the Alaska Council of School Administrators in Juneau.
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DeRose was alleged to have stolen the money over a six-month period last year. In what Juneau Superior Court Judge Patricia Collins called a "sophisticated plan," DeRose wrote dozens of checks to herself and others, concealing the operation from her employer.
Originally charged with theft, scheming to defraud and falsifying records, DeRose, a mother of two, pleaded guilty to felony theft. The other charges were dropped and she then testified against her accomplice and ex-husband Robert Smith. They stole the money to feed a shared drug addiction, District Attorney Doug Gardner said.
Juneau Superior Court Judge Patricia Collins placed DeRose on 10 years of probation to facilitate her repayment of the stolen money. She and Smith must repay the association the entire amount that was stolen.
Collins gave DeRose a sentence in the higher range allowable in a Class B felony because, she said, the office manager had embezzled a six-figure amount shortly after the state fired her for similar theft.
Last year, DeRose stole $13,995 from the state to pay for hotels, food and travel expenses, but the state did not pursue charges, Collins said. DeRose agreed in court to repay that money too.
Starting last fall, DeRose wrote checks to herself, ex-husband and boyfriend from the association's account. Gardner said DeRose initially evaded scrutiny by falsifying business records.
"She made it difficult for an accountant to figure out," Gardner said.
In one example, DeRose wrote a check to Smith for $3,375, but the fake invoice the association saw showed the check had paid student registration fees at Alaska Pacific University.
Only the bank saw the real invoice, Gardner said.
An investigation revealed that $73,940 went to DeRose, $45,999 went to Smith and $6,352 was given to DeRose's boyfriend, who was not charged in the crime.
"I want to apologize," DeRose said. "I am sorry."
"We could have been bankrupted by this incident," said Mary Francis, executive director of the administrators' association.
DeRose said her share of the stolen money was gone.
In September, Smith pleaded guilty to aiding in theft. He is to be sentenced in January.
Collins will recommend to the Department of Corrections that DeRose serve her time in a halfway house so that she can continue to work to pay back the money and take care of her children.
Gardner said that decision rests with the Department of Corrections.
DeRose has 10 years to pay the money back. Additional terms of DeRose's probation require that she always tell future employers about her embezzlement and not have access to company accounts without her parole officer's knowledge.
The District Attorney's Office calls cases such as DeRose's embezzlement scheme "bookkeeper cases."
Gardner said workplace embezzlement happens too often and hurts the trusting environment that makes Juneau a great place to live. Local nonprofits and small "mom and pop" businesses have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in recent years, he said.
"The public needs education," Gardner said. "The word needs to be out. If you steal from your employers, you come to court."
Contact Greg Skinner at 523-2258 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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