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‘She hurt children’

Dental coalition continues to pick up the pieces after embezzlement

Paul Shockley

The telephone was disconnected on Debi Garoutte’s first day on the job at the Northwest Colorado Dental Coalition.

Someone didn’t pay the bills.

Later that same spring day, Garoutte and others uncovered funny book keeping on the part of Robin McKenzie, the non-profit agency’s former executive director: roughly $15,000 worth of bills over nine months had been neglected and some eight months worth of unpaid payroll taxes for the organization

had piled up.

McKenzie, 36, pleaded guilty July 1 to stealing more than $38,000 from the group, which provides dental care to uninsured, financially qualifying families. McKenzie also admitted to embezzling from Moffat County Partners, which matches at-risk youth with adult mentors.

On Monday, McKenzie was sentenced to eight years probation, during which the Subway employee, who will be working in Phoenix, must pay $48,218 in restitution to her victims or face possible jail time.

“For all the grief she put us through, she can work two or three jobs,” said Garoutte, who worked several months without pay after being named director of the coalition in March.

“She hurt children.”

And, if not for Craig and Moffat County residents’ generosity, the area’s lone low-cost option for children needing dental work might have gone under.

About $18,000 was raised in a one-week, fund-raising drive earlier this year.

Yet the group’s “Miles for Smiles” program suffered in the wake of McKenzie, Garoutt said.

The coalition’s four-year-old program, which sends dentists and specialists around the Moffat, Routt

and Rio Blanco counties, completed 327 patient visits this year, roughly 25 percent of those eligible for the care across the area, Garoutt

said.

This year’s 10-week drive ended just last week.

“There are no local dentists accepting Medicaid, and these children have to drive to Glenwood or Denver, if they can find transportation,” Garoutt said.

Children with advanced tooth problems or abscesses have few urgent care options, she noted.

“Try calling a dentist here and see if you can get in today,” she said.

The next “Miles for Smiles” effort is scheduled to run from April 1 through June 5 next year.

By which time, Garoutt and Moffat County Partners expect to be seeing restitution from McKenzie. Partners’ Tara Jenrich declined to comment for this story.

“I wasn’t happy at first and thought she definitely should be punished more,” Garoutt said of the District Attorney’s decision not to pursue state prison time for McKenzie.

“But the fact is that she has to be accountable, or she’ll go back to jail.”

A restitution payment schedule negotiated between McKenzie and her probation officer still needs to be drawn up, said Kristopher Hammond, McKenzie’s court-appointed attorney from Steamboat Springs.

McKenzie has the eight-year probation period to make all payments. Failure to do so, or missing a month’s installment, would land her back before a 14th Judicial District

Court judge.

“They’ll set up reasonable payments and the objective is not to set her up for an impossible task,” Hammond said.

One she won’t likely pull off with her current situation in Phoenix, he conceded.

“She’s got to get a better job or get two jobs,” the attorney said.

McKenzie, after posting bond April 30, was allowed to travel to Arizona specifically to look for work.

But few employers were interested when told of Monday’s pending court hearing, Hammond said.

He said that could be different after Monday.

“Now she doesn’t have the potential of a big jail term hanging over her head,” Hammond said.

Still, if found in violation of probation terms, Hammond said his former client faces four to 12 years in state prison.

Paul Shockley can be reached at 824-7031 or at pshockley@craigdailypress.com.


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