Albee sentenced to prison for church theft

| November 5, 2009

SHELL LAKE – Judy L. Albee, 45, Shell Lake, was sentenced Tuesday, Oct. 27, to five years in prison for thefts from church funds, at the Washburn County Courthouse.

Albee was charged with seven counts of theft from a business setting and forgery in March, after a member of Spooner’s Faith Lutheran Church, where Albee was secretary, contacted the sheriff’s department on suspicion she was embezzling funds from the church account since 2006. According to the report, the member found 14 checks to different entities and individuals to whom the church owed money, made payable to these people, and endorsed on the back by both Albee and the payee. The report said that the checks, totaling around $13,000, were endorsed and cashed without the knowledge of or consent from any of the church’s elders, board members or the pastor. None of the payees received these checks, nor had they consented to the endorsement or cashing of these checks by Albee, the report said. There was also money stolen from the Clam River Tuesday Club.

When Albee was brought in for questioning, the report said she confessed to forging the checks, cashing and depositing them into her personal account, without the church’s consent, for her own expenses.

Albee has served prison time in the past, after being convicted in a federal court in 1993 of embezzlement and fraud from a bank she worked for.

Burnett County Circuit Judge Ken Kutz took over the case after Washburn County Judge Eugene Harrington recused himself, as he is a member of Faith Lutheran Church.

In July, Albee pled guilty to charges of theft in a business setting of more than $10,000, theft in a business setting of $5,000-$10,000 and two counts of forgery-writings. Two counts of forgery-uttering and one of fraudulent writings by a corporate officer were dismissed.

Tuesday afternoon, many church members were present at the trial to make sure Albee got a strict sentence. Some people gave victim impact statements to the court on how they felt about what she had done, telling Albee she was selfish to take money from a nonprofit organization and those who needed it.

A member of the Faith Lutheran Church congregation said that Albee had responsibilities as a child of God and had committed sins against the fabric of the congregation. The member said he felt betrayed and disappointed, and did not understand why Albee did what she had. He said she hurt her family in faith by stealing money from God’s work.

“You selfishly took for your own personal gain,” he said.

The member ended by saying he hoped Kutz ordered a fair sentence.

A member of the church’s Lutheran Women’s Missionary League spoke next. She said that the LWML board had felt Albee should be given a second chance after her first prison sentence, and that she had had chances to choose a different path in life, but she violated the church’s trust. She asked if Albee could comprehend how many people she affected by her actions, both directly and indirectly. The woman said the money was given to the church in trust, and Albee betrayed everyone’s trust, “hundreds of times.”

“How could she?” the woman asked repeatedly.

She said that many people won’t be getting what they need because of the theft, and commented that Albee had always seemed to have money, so it was assumed her job was going well. Now they know why she had all that money, the woman added.

“Judy can look a person right in the eyes and lie,” she said.

The woman called Albee manipulative, and said that her tears are insincere, as she has stolen repeatedly over the years, and never repaid anyone.

“Her repeated actions shout volumes as to her true nature,” the woman said.

God will heal the church and LWML members, the woman said, but that they have become more cynical since this happened.

“Judy, you have wasted the wonderful gifts God has given you,” she said. “Some things LWML wanted to do will never get done.”

The woman said she hoped Albee would turn her life around more positively, and that she wasn’t trying to be hurtful, but with sadness, she recommended the judge impose the maximum sentence.

A woman who had done work for the church said she and Albee shared a family member, and she had been in contact with Albee while doing the work, finding her correspondence to be beautiful. However, she said, she had trusted Albee and was “surprised at the sophistication” of her actions. People did not believe her when she told them of what had happened, the woman added.

The woman said that the forgery was a serious action, so she urged the judge to give the strictest sentence.

District Attorney J. Michael Bitney read a statement from the Clam River Tuesday Club, from which around $5,000 had been stolen by Albee. The statement asked Albee what friendship meant to her, and how she could vote at meetings on where to donate money, yet not follow through.

“What exactly were we to you?” the club asked in the statement.

An assistant chaplain from the county jail then spoke on Albee’s behalf, saying she met her while the accused was doing time in the jail while awaiting trial. The chaplain said she met with her twice a week, and visited her at home when she was released. The chaplain said she believed Albee’s time served in the jail and on work released benefited her.

“She can offer something back to the ones she has offended,” the woman said. “She is remorseful.”

The chaplain recommended counseling, to find out what drives Albee toward her actions. She said that people need to pray for Albee.

Bitney said that Albee’s history and past crimes point to a need to protect the public from her, having stolen first from a bank and later a nonprofit organization despite a year in prison.

Bitney said Albee was very intelligent, a past high school valedictorian who went on to some college and had a family that was a pillar of the community. However, though reports said she stole because she’d become delinquent on her home mortgage payments, Bitney said her theft began in 2006, before there was the threat of foreclosure, so he believed narcissism drove her to steal.

Bitney recommended Kutz order eight years of imprisonment – four in confinement and four in extended supervision – for the count of theft of over $10,000. For the second count of theft, he recommended two years of confinement, two of extended supervision, consecutive to the first sentence. For the forgery counts, he recommended withholding sentence, instead placing Albee on three years of probation consecutive to the other two counts, with restitution to be determined. He also recommended no earned-release eligibility.

Albee’s attorney, Laura Sutton, then told the judge that Albee had been a member of Faith Lutheran Church for her entire life, and did not spend the entire time being deceitful. She said Albee donated lots of her time to the church while working with it, and turned to them for support when her immediate family was gone, surrounding herself with good people.

“She was a hard worker,” Sutton said.

Sutton said that some people were never contacted when the presentence investigation was being done, so it focused mostly on the negative facts. Sutton said Albee does have supporters out there.

Without emotions, Sutton said, the court has Albee stealing from her employer and a voluntary organization, but since it is a property crime and not physical, victims can be made whole again when they receive the entire amount back. Stealing is an addiction like any other that is difficult to overcome, Sutton said, and there are community resources that can help Albee.

Sutton recommended instead a year in the county jail and a year of probation following that. She suggested counseling and a mental health evaluation, as well, as she felt Albee had the ability for rehabilitation. Prison is a long-term solution that doesn’t focus on the issues at hand, Sutton said, so it would be best to keep Albee in jail and have her sentence withheld, so she can have a job for restitution payments.

Albee was given her chance to speak, and she said, “I sit before you very ashamed and embarrassed.”

She said that the church and the Clam River Tuesday Club were two of her greatest passions, and that she had done a lot of soul-searching since being released from jail as to why she did what she did, while also seeking employment. She admitted that she had spiraled out of control financially and made some wrong choices, sinning against God and being selfish.

“I don’t know what made me do this,” she said.

Albee said that she wanted to overcome her issues, and that from her experience, incarceration punishes for crimes, but does not cure people. She said she needed counseling.

Albee admitted it is always hard for her to ask for help and to say no. She said that she always had the intention of paying back what she took. When she got out of jail, she said, she held rummage and bake sales to start raising restitution, and had $100 she would be applying toward it so far.

“I feel absolutely awful for what I’ve done,” she said.

Albee said she regretted betraying the church’s trust and was very sorry, and thanked those who supported her.

Kutz asked Albee where the money she took had gone. Albee replied that it went toward unexpected expenses she had – major surgery she had no health-care insurance for, car and home repairs, and because she’d had a second job that saw a reduction in hours.

Kutz said that there were many similarities in the previous crime she was convicted of and this one, and wanted to know why, since the church was her family, she didn’t ask them for help. Albee said that this is a question she needed to answer for herself, as she knows her actions were wrong but committed them anyway, and she didn’t think of the consequences, just survival.

Kutz asked if it was easier to steal.

“Yeah, for some reason, it was,” Albee replied, amid whispers in the audience of the affirmative.

Kutz said Albee’s offense was a nonviolent property crime, with no physical injury but injury to the church’s trust and to the community who took a chance on her.

“You stole from family … friends and neighbors,” he said, adding that he doubted it could get any more serious than that.

Kutz ordered six years in a state prison to the $10,000 theft count, with three in confinement and three in extended supervision. For one count of forgery, he ordered four years in prison – two in confinement and two in extended supervision – consecutive to the first count. On the second forgery count and the other count of theft, he withheld sentencing and placed Albee on three years of probation, consecutive to her prison sentence, with restitution to be determined in 90 days. He also said she was to have no contact with her victims and to perform 100 hours of community service in this county, for each year of extended supervision. She was also ordered to undergo a psychological evaluation. She will get 107 days of credit for her time in the county jail.

Kutz said it seemed Albee’s betrayal was the highest concern in this matter, higher than the restitution concern. He said lots of premeditation was indicated, but that Albee left a wide paper trail from the beginning, making it easier to catch her, and has obviously accepted responsibility for her actions. He said she did seem very remorseful, but that she has committed a similar crime years ago. All of this he said he took into account for the sentence.

Albee was remanded to the sheriff’s department at the end of the sentencing.

 

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