Former 4-H coach sentenced to jail in student thefts
A former 4-H shotgun coach in Craig pleaded guilty Monday to stealing money from the kids she was supposed to mentor.
Janey DeAnne Blackwell, 41, was arrested Saturday, Sept. 28 on a charge of felony theft of $2,000 or more but less than $5,000, which is a Class 6 felony in the state of Colorado.
On Monday, in exchange for Blackwell’s plea of guilty, prosecutors lowered her charge to a Class 1 misdemeanor theft $750-$1,999. Blackwell must also write an apology letter to parents of the 4-H group, must do at least 50 hours of community service, and must spend no more than 50 days in the Moffat County Jail.
According to an arrest affidavit drafted by Craig Police Department Officer Will Roland, a Colorado State University extension agent who oversees all of Moffat County’s many 4-H shooting sports disciplines for kids, contacted police in July. The extension agent told investigators that Blackwell, who took over the shotgun coaching position along with a family member in May 2018, had made more than a dozen withdrawals from June 2018 to July 2019 out of the 4-H shotgun account into Blackwell’s personal account at a bank in Craig.
The CSU extension agent became suspicious when Blackwell did not allow anyone else the required access to the account.
“4-H requires another signer be on the account, and also requires that a student treasurer be assigned to the account and monitor the account’s expenses,” the affidavit said. “Janey and (a family member) have refused to allow an assistant coach or student treasurer access to the 4-H account.”
The affidavit lists at least 17 different transfers out of the 4-H account and into Blackwell’s, many of them for hundreds of dollars. One of the transfers in August 2018 was for $1,000 for a total of $3,965 that was transferred to Blackwell’s account, according to the affidavit.
Before she was sentenced, Judge Sandra Gardner brought two 4-H parents to the stand — Korina Browning and Stephanie Alstrom.
“I just wanted the court to know upon confronting DeAnne about these allegations… she lied straight to my face,” Browning told the court Monday. “She continued to attend the 4-H meetings after she was forced from the position…There was no remorse.”
Alstrom said there were other possible thefts involving Blackwell, including a bake sale wherein there was “only a small portion that made it into the account.”
“This isn’t an accurate portrayal of how much money she’s stolen,” Alstrom alleged.
Alstrom said she too tried to get her friend to tell the truth early on.
“We gave her multiple opportunities,” Alstrom said of Blackwell. “I considered her a close friend. I confronted her and she always lied…. It’s very sad that she stole not only from my kids and other kids, but from her own children as well.”
Prosecutors requested Blackwell be sentenced to at least 15 days in the Moffat County Jail upon her guilty plea and sentencing.
But Blackwell’s defense said she was remorseful, had paid the money back in full, had suffered enough community backlash, had no criminal history to speak of, and was recently evicted from her home, so Blackwell’s defense requested no jail time.
“My client has suffered greatly beyond anything a court can do to her,” said Blackwell’s defense attorney.
Blackwell addressed Gardner’s court Monday. In an emotional apology, Blackwell said she is indeed remorseful.
“I made a bad judgement and error and I’m aware of that,” Blackwell said. “I caused distrust among parents and leaders in the 4-H community. I was not intending to cause that mistrust. I want to accept responsibility for my actions. That’s what I’ve been trying to do since day one. I’m very remorseful.”
Blackwell said she hopes the Craig and Moffat County communities can forgive her and help insulate her children from her mistakes.
“I am begging the community and the 4-H to at some point be able to forgive me,” Blackwell said. “Then I’m hoping that I might be able to forgive myself. I would like for my family, especially my kids who are still part of the 4-H group… not [be] looked down upon because of my actions.
“…I stand before you humbly ashamed of everything I’ve done,” she added
Judge Gardner said she believed Blackwell.
“I do find your apology to be sincere,” Judge Gardner said.
But Judge Gardner wasn’t going to let Blackwell leave with no jail time. Gardner sentenced Blackwell to two years of supervised probation, and 15 days in the Moffat County Jail. Blackwell must also pay a $500 fine, any restitution brought forth in the next 91 days, 50 hours of community service, and must take a moral reclamation therapy course.
“Because leaders are not born — they are grown and they learn from the mistakes of the adult leaders, the message has to go out to the community that there are consequences for this,” said Judge Gardner.
Gardner encouraged the community to forgive Blackwell and move on.
“You have made amends and the community should move on,” Judge Gardner said. “There will be no vigilantism … the community needs to accept this and move on.”
Blackwell is expected to begin her time in the Moffat County Jail some time in early December.