Bookkeeper avoids prison for embezzling

Lord vows to make restitution, sentenced to probation

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— Flanked by friends and family, a contrite former bookkeeper apologized Wednesday for embezzling money from the Moffat County School District during a sentencing hearing in Moffat County District Court.

"I'm very sorry this happened," a tearful Susie Lord told Judge Shelley Ann Hill. "I accept full responsibility. : I want to move forward and take care of it."

Lord, a longtime school district employee and former bookkeeper at Moffat County High School, accepted a plea agreement in July. In exchange for prosecutors dismissing two felony charges - theft in a series between $500 and $15,000 and forgery of a government document - Lord pleaded guilty to embezzlement of public property, a felony.

As part of the agreement, prosecutors agreed to forgo seeking a prison sentence against Lord, who has no previous felony convictions.

Hill sentenced Lord to 10 years supervised probation, 90 days in county jail and to pay $65,702 in restitution, fees and assessments. Most of the money Lord has to pay back, $59,176, is restitution for money embezzled from the district throughout a four-year period, from August 2002 to August 2006.

Kamisha Siminoe, dean of students at Craig Middle School, spoke to the judge on Lord's behalf. She said her and Lord have been friends since the early 1990s and that she is confident Lord regrets her actions.

"That's been my strong belief since the very beginning - she does have a huge amount of remorse," Siminoe told the judge.

"I have faith that repaying this is the utmost priority in her life."

Hill agreed to allow Lord to serve 80 days of the 90-day county jail sentence on work release so she wouldn't lose her job and could make progress toward paying back the stolen money.

Lord's attorney, Kris Ham-mond of Steamboat Springs, said Lord has a good paying job driving a truck between Craig and Steamboat Springs. Sentencing her to jail time could jeopardize that job, and thus hinder her ability to repay the School District, Hammond said.

Chief deputy district attorney Brett Barkey didn't oppose the work-release request.

"The main issue for us is helping the School District get reimbursed," he said. "The intention all along is to get the money paid back."

He said the district attorney office's intention, combined with Lord's lack of a criminal record, outweighed seeking a prison sentence. And, he said, a felony conviction, which Lord now has, is no slap on the wrist.

"I don't want to understate the seriousness of having the felony conviction," he said. "It has a very significant impact."

School District finance director Mark Rydberg said the School District isn't opposed to the sentence Lord received.

"Our primary focus from the start was retrieving the stolen money," he said. "We are pleased with the 10 years supervised probation, so if (payments aren't made), there is a strong recourse.

"Her being in prison doesn't help us get our money back."

Lord's embezzlement, which Rydberg said hasn't hindered operations or school finances, caused district officials to re-examine procedures and implement safeguards to prevent future employee frauds.

Judge Hill agreed to a stipulation to consider reducing Lord's 10 years of supervised probation once full restitution is made.

She also admonished Lord, whom the judge said "comes to this court as a good person," for having the respect of friends and employers only to commit crimes she knew to be wrong.

"For whatever reason, you chose to throw (that respect) away," the judge said.

• Joshua Roberts can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 210, or jroberts@craigdailypress.com.

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