Jul 22, 2016

Cody woman gets jail time and probation for embezzling $20,000

When Amanda Luther was terminated as a Cody business manager in early 2015, her employers thought they had a couple different reasons for parting ways; among other things, they felt Luther was doing a poor job with sloppy bookkeeping and finances were tight.

However, the owners of Juniper: Bar+Market+Bistro would soon learn the problems were directly related: Luther had covertly embezzled around $20,000 from the establishment over the prior two years.

Amanda Luther
On Monday, the 28-year-old reported to the Park County Detention Center to finish serving a 30-day jail sentence. Luther will also spend the next three years on supervised probation as part of a unique plea agreement that spanned both District and Circuit Courts.

She pleaded guilty to both felony (more than $1,000) and misdemeanor ($1,000 or less) counts of theft, though under a deferred prosecution agreement, she’ll avoid a felony conviction as long as she successfully completes the probation.

District Court Judge Steven Cranfill said he was largely accepting the deferral because Juniper’s owners — Michele and Ruffin Prevost — were in agreement. The judge noted he’s sent people to prison for embezzling.

“I do take it very, very seriously, a breach of that kind of trust,” Cranfill said in May. He told Luther a felony conviction “is something that follows you for the rest of your life and the opportunity to avoid it is significant, and I hope you appreciate that.”

Luther, of Cody, said she was grateful for the opportunity to be a productive member of the community and to set things straight.

“I admit to the guilt in this matter and obviously would like for the victims in this case to be able to move along,” Luther said. She added that she wanted to show “that I am obviously very sorry in this matter and it never should have happened.”

Luther was terminated from Juniper on Feb. 3, 2015, and received one month’s pay as severance, charging documents say.

Cody Police Detective Jason Stafford compiled this list of checks that were issued to Luther, but listed in QuickBooks as having been used for legitimate purchases for Juniper. Juniper's owner later found additional fraudulent transactions.
A couple weeks later, however, an accountant hired to reconcile Juniper’s bank statements found two suspicious checks. Both had been entered into the accounting software as payments to a beverage distributor, but the checks had actually been made out and paid to Luther, said a charging affidavit written by Cody Police Detective Jason Stafford.

The Prevosts ended up discovering dozens of fraudulent transactions between late December 2013 and mid-January 2015. That included a couple instances where Luther had duplicated her payroll check (to pay herself twice) and others where she made it appear as though checks were going toward utility bills, taxes, supplies and even the Park County Animal Shelter, Stafford wrote. In actuality, the detective found Luther was depositing the checks into her bank account or cashing them.

“She covered her tracks in hiding what she stole from us,” Ruffin Prevost said.

The Prevosts initially believed around $17,851.88 had been stolen, but discovered a couple thousand dollars more after the case was filed. For example, they learned Luther had forgiven her personal $437.25 bar tab — which made the basis for a separate misdemeanor theft charge in Circuit Court.

Luther was charged and arrested in March 2015. She served four days in jail before posting bond.

Negotiations between Park County Prosecuting Attorney Bryan Skoric and Luther’s defense attorney — Nick Beduhn of Cody — culminated in a deal that was finalized last month.

It included Luther paying back $17,851.88 in May and agreeing to repay the more recently discovered $2,568.33 — plus $435 in court fees — over the coming year.

The prosecution and defense had agreed to let Luther serve her final 26 days of jail time in two separate stints, to accommodate her current work schedule. However, at the second phase of Luther’s sentencing, on June 15 in Circuit Court, Ruffin Prevost asked Judge Bruce Waters to instead require Luther to serve all 26 days at once.

“She lied to us for three years while she was stealing from us and has done pretty much everything to minimize the consequences of her actions from then until now,” Prevost told the judge.

As an example, he took issue with the fact that Luther asked for court permission to leave the country and visit Europe after posting bond in the case. (The request was denied by Judge Cranfill.)

Judge Waters sided with Prevost and declined to let Luther break up her jail time.

“The fact is, if somebody embezzled $20,000 from me, I wouldn’t be very happy about it,” Waters said.

Luther’s supervised probation requires that she obey the law and have no contact with the Prevosts, among other conditions.

~By CJ Baker

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