Sentencing delayed in checks case

Woman backs out of deal with state, asks judge for a penalty

Posted: Thursday, November 27, 2008

The sentencing of a woman who police said stole checks for a notorious drug dealer in return for crack cocaine was delayed Wednesday when she backed out of a deal with the state over her punishment.

Heather Schimanski, 33, was moments away from accepting a deal with the state for a three-year prison sentence for skipping a court hearing when she asked that a judge instead come up with the penalty.

In addition to the charge of failing to show up to a court hearing, Schimanski pleaded guilty to felony charges of fraud, burglary and theft. Her victims included Fred Meyer, Alaska Housing and Taku Smokeries, where she used a former employee's key to break in three times while on drugs and steal thousands of dollars worth of payroll checks, court records show.

Police said she and others cashed stolen checks for Vonnie Williams, a convicted leader of an organized cocaine smuggling and dealing operation, who was sentenced to serve 30 years in prison last week. Police said Williams paid Schimanski with a small quantity of crack cocaine for stealing and cashing the checks.

In March, Schimanski agreed to serve a year and a half in prison for the fraud, burglary and theft charges before she skipped a summer court appearance. According to statements made in court by her attorney and the district attorney, Schimanski fled to Washington state, where she was recently picked up by police in Seattle.

On Wednesday, Schimanski, who is being held in the Lemon Creek Correctional Center, initially indicated that she would accept the previously agreed upon punishment and an additional three years in prison for skipping a court appearance. Prior to the hearing while sitting in court, Schimanski told her lawyer, "I just want to get sentenced, give me three years."

"I got to get this done," she added.

But during Wednesday's court hearings, she apparently had a change of heart. Superior Court Judge Patricia Collins told her the penalty range for failing to appear was between zero and five years in prison. Sentencing was rescheduled for mid-December.

Schimanski has a history of being charged with various crimes, but many of those charges were dismissed. She cried intermittently throughout Wednesday's hearing, and frequently turned to her mother, sitting behind her in court, for advice.

Collins asked Schimanski twice if she was taking medication or any other substance that would affect her judgment. She said she was not.

Schimanski, who provided police with information about her accomplices after she was arrested, was one of seven people arrested in connection with the stolen checks at Taku Smokeries.

The crime ring also stole mail from at least 30 Juneau homes as well as artwork and jewelry, police said.

All but one of the people involved were sentenced to prison time, with sentences ranging from one month to five years.

• Contact reporter Alan Suderman at 523-2268 or alan.suderman@juneauempire.com.



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