Mar 10, 2015

Former Cody woman in prison for repeatedly defrauding family, friends

Connie O’Connor stood before the judge last April and was posed a relatively straightforward question about the nearly $365,000 she’d taken from friends and family.

“What did you do with all the money?” District Court Judge Robert Skar asked.

“Bought people’s love,” O’Connor responded.

Connie O'Connor in 2014
Not the answer he was looking for, the judge pressed for specifics.

“I mean, we’re talking a total restitution of 300-some-thousand dollars,” Skar said. “Where did it go?”

There’s no definitive accounting in court records of exactly where all the money went — though some portion apparently went to new clothes, a rental car and bar tabs for O’Connor.

Much more clear, however, is where the money came from: a mix of people close to the 55-year-old former Cody resident who she misled or defrauded between 2005 and 2012.

• A couple she had worked for had loaned $190,000 to O’Connor in August 2005. O’Connor repaid them with a $205,000 check the following year, but it bounced. Despite that, the couple dug deeper into their retirement savings and loaned her another $140,000 over the next two years, which also went unpaid.
“Unquestionably we were probably naive,” the Cody couple later wrote to the judge. “But we really thought we could help her by not pressing the financial issues, and maybe we could help her change her life.”

• O’Connor wracked up $1,900 on a credit card she fraudulently opened in an ex-husband’s name in July 2011; he learned about the charges a few months later, when Capital One called to say he was in default.

• She charged upwards of $18,000 to her dementia-stricken mother’s credit card in late 2011 and early 2012.

Charging documents say O’Connor used deception to prolong the schemes.

O’Connor’s ex-husband told police he suspected she had intercepted Capital One’s mailings to him about the debt.

She reportedly lied to convince the Cody couple to loan her the $345,000; in their letter to Skar, the couple said the hardest part of their eight-year relationship with O’Connor was learning numerous things she told them about her life, her job and her plans to repay them were untrue.

O’Connor’s family said her lies included claiming to have cancer.

“Speaking for our family, she really needs to spend time in prison,. She’s never been held accountable for her actions and decisions,” said O'Connor's niece.

When Park County Sheriff’s Sgt. Chad McKinney began investigating how O’Connor was able to rent a car with her ill mother’s credit card for an extended period of time, a manager at the rental company explained they’d called the elderly woman and gotten her permission each time the rental period needed to be extended; McKinney discovered they’d actually been tricked into calling and speaking to O’Connor.

Her family told Skar there are others she has manipulated, including romantic partners.

Court records show O’Connor forged an earlier ex-husband’s name to run up some $66,000 worth of credit card debt between 1991 and 1996. That resulted in a felony conviction in Park County in 2000.

In addition, a boyfriend alleged in a civil lawsuit that O’Connor had taken him for $150,000 in 2008. The former Billings resident said he’d been tricked into thinking he was helping save O’Connor’s home from foreclosure and that he’d get a big return on the loan when O’Connor received some kind of insurance payout. O’Connor claimed the money had been actually been a gift, but a judge ordered her to pay back $145,000 in 2010.

“Speaking for our family, she really needs to spend time in prison,”  O’Connor’s niece wrote to Judge Skar last year. “She’s never been held accountable for her actions and decisions.”

In O’Connor’s defense, she and her court-appointed defense attorney, Brigita Krisjansons, argued she’d learned her lesson and changed her life after being arrested in 2012. They also noted she paid back the money illegally rung up on her mother’s credit card.

“The Connie O’Connor that stands before you today is a very different woman than what you would have seen four years ago,” Krisjansons told Judge Skar last April.

“That woman was all glitz, fancy clothes, fancy car ... someone with entitlement and money, pedicures, manicures — not someone would be out in the middle of a ranch shoveling manure,” she said, referring to work that a “contrite and remorseful” O’Connor was doing at a ranch outside Kemmerer.

O’Connor said the 110 days she spent in jail after being arrested on the new charges were “the worst days of my life.”

However, she had said similar things about the “life-changing” experience of being jailed back in 2000.

“I have found out that credit cards, money, possessions, nothing is as important as my husband, my family, my employer. They love me, they have forgiven me, they stand behind me,” O’Connor told then-Judge Gary Hartman in August 2000, as she wrapped up a 60-day jail sentence for defrauding the earlier ex-husband.

Her parents helped pay off the $66,000 she’d fraudulently charged to that man, and her mother testified to her good character.

Judge Hartman thought the jail time had made a lasting impression and — citing in part the “tremendous” support of her family — believed O’Connor would live a law-abiding life.

But some 14 years later, O’Connor was back in Park County District Court on the new felony charges.

“People took advantage of me. I mean, I don’t want to come across as the victim — I don’t — but ... but the people that owe me money, I don’t see them in court,” Connie O'Connor said.

In response to Judge Skar’s question about where the roughly $365,000 had gone, O’Connor said she spent it on others in an attempt to buy love she hadn’t received as a child.

“People took advantage of me,” O’Connor said last April. “I mean, I don’t want to come across as the victim — I don’t — but I had somebody living with me that took advantage, I’ve made loans to people and, your honor, not to be disrespectful, but the people that owe me money, I don’t see them in court.”

The judge took offense.

“Can you even think for a moment what it would be like to have all of your retirement monies, or a good portion of them, depleted on the prayer and the promise that you are going to repay over the rest of your life at 50-some years old?” Skar asked. “Do you know how you’ve affected their lives?”

“I understand that, your honor, and if I could die today I would, if that would help it,” she said.

“That’s not the issue, is it?” Skar replied, to agreement from O’Connor.

The judge rejected the probation O’Connor had requested.

“I don’t hear remorse,” Skar said. “I hear, ‘Damn it, this happened again. I’m in trouble again and I have to do everything in my power to get out of it.’”

The Park County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office had asked for no more than three to five years of prison time for O’Connor as part of a plea agreement, but Skar instead imposed four to eight years.
O’Connor recently asked Skar to reconsider and reduce her sentence.

“I don’t hear remorse. I hear, ‘Damn it, this happened again. I’m in trouble again and I have to do everything in my power to get out of it,’” Judge Robert Skar said.

The couple who loaned O’Connor the $340,000 supported having her released. They said they wanted to be paid back and O’Connor said she could pay off the debt “in a couple years” by working and selling off some property.

At a Jan. 8 hearing, O’Connor said she’d learned much from being imprisoned in Torrington.

“Thank you for allowing me to experience the hurt,” O’Connor told Skar. “I needed to feel the pain.”

She apologized for the pain and hurt she’s caused. Unlike the past, where she looked to others to pay her debts, “I want to be the one to have the job to pay back (the money),” O’Connor said. “I’m not looking for a quick fix like I used to.”

She said she’s been helping fellow inmates and hopes to write a book and become an inspirational speaker to help others avoid the mistakes she’s made.

Skar appreciated the good job O’Connor was doing at the penitentiary, but noted it was her second fraud conviction.

“I have my doubts whether you’ll be able to repay a substantial amount of that $300,000 (loan) anyways,” Skar said, leaving the prison time in place. “But I do want to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”


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