2 women get jail in separate cases of theft from nonprofits

EVERETT — Two women with different excuses for stealing from nonprofits, including local parent teacher associations, were sentenced Wednesday to some time in jail.

In the morning, Superior Court Judge Richard Okrent ordered Krista Samuelson to pay back the $9,100 she embezzled in 2015 from the PTA at Shoultes Elementary School in Marysville. He also instructed the group’s former treasurer to write an apology letter to the association.

“To breach a trust as you did is reprehensible,” Okrent said.

The judge sentenced Samuelson, 36, to a month in jail. He agreed to give her a month to arrange childcare before reporting to the county lock-up.

Samuelson faced up to 90 days behind bars under the law. She didn’t have a criminal history and cooperated with law enforcement. The defendant pleaded guilty earlier this year to first-degree theft, a felony.

Snohomish County deputy prosecutor Teresa Cox said on balance a 30-day sentence was fair. Cox pointed out that Samuelson already was benefiting from not being charged with additional crimes, including multiple counts of forgery.

“It’s her first criminal conviction but the nature of the crime had a tremendous impact on the community,” Cox said.

The PTA had to cancel events after the thefts, the former president wrote in a letter to Okrent.

“A fun, easy going, simple volunteer position at our kids’ school all of a sudden became a very stressful and unpaid job,” the woman wrote. “We had to come up with a new budget and it has been a challenge to move forward.”

The group has had to rebuild the community’s trust, she said.

“We have chosen not to hold a grudge for what she has done but we do want her to be held accountable. We simply want the money returned to the children of Shoultes Elementary.”

Defense attorney Caroline Mann explained that her client is a single mother of three children. Samuelson had told police she was unemployed and used the money to make ends meet. Her actions were an aberration for her, Mann said. Her client is working again and slowly pulling her life back together.

“When I did this, I had every intent to pay it back,” Samuelson said Wednesday.

During a seven-month span Samuelson wrote 21 checks to herself without authorization. The PTA checks required two signatures from two executive members. Samuelson forged a board member’s signature on 19 of the unauthorized checks. That woman told police she likely signed two blank checks not knowing how they were being used, according to court documents.

Samuelson told the judge she lost good friends over her actions. “I was part of the community. I screwed it up,”she said.

Wednesday afternoon, Jeannine Hall apologized for stealing from Park Place Middle School PTA and the Stillaguamish Valley Horsemen Club. She bilked money from both nonprofits while serving as treasurer.

Superior Court Judge Bruce Weiss ordered Hall to pay back the nearly $33,000 she siphoned from the groups’ bank accounts.

Hall, 45, pleaded guilty earlier this year to two counts of first-degree theft. Lawyers recommended a first-time offender waiver for Hall, who didn’t have any prior criminal history. They agreed to ask the judge to sentence Hall to community service hours instead of jail. She faced between two and six months in jail.

Weiss turned down the request, saying he couldn’t in good conscience allow Hall to skate without some time behind bars. The judge sentenced her to two months in jail with 30 days converted to community service hours. Weiss also ordered her to pay back $4,000 within the next two months.

“The amount of money you took from the organizations is substantial and excessive,” he said.

The judge seemed most irked that Hall took from kids in Monroe. He pointed out that the defendant didn’t even mention the children when she apologized.

“You stole the students’ money,” he said. “I can’t give back to the children the activities you took away from them.”

In a letter to Weiss, the association wrote that “the embezzlement of this money virtually crippled the PTSA for the 2015-16 school year. This money was earned by the students and they were deprived of all the support and activities it would have provided.”

Those included Chromebook computers for the school, family game nights, field trips and scholarships for Monroe High School graduates who attended the middle school.

The group’s bank account had been changed to a sole signer account. An audit turned up unaccounted ATM withdrawals totaling more than $13,000. Many of those occurred at the Tulalip Casino.

Hall also embezzled $19,000 from the horsemen’s club between 2013 and 2016. A good chunk of that money also was spent at the casino.

Police discovered that Hall had changed the PIN codes at the bank without the consent of the organization’s board of directors. That allowed her to be the only person who had access to the bank account.

Defense attorney Phil Sayles told the judge Wednesday that he doesn’t believe his client has a gambling problem. She had hardships in her life and tried to escape from them at the casino, he said. She’s been a good wife and mother, he added.

Hall said it was difficult not to immediately apologize for her actions. She was advised to wait while the criminal cases were pending. She also said she was sorry that her behavior had caused conflicts among her friends. Some have forgiven her, while others have not.

“I didn’t mean to hurt anybody,” she said.

Weiss said he’s not convinced that Hall isn’t battling a gambling addiction. He encouraged her to seek help if she is. The judge also chastised her for not bringing the $4,000 Wednesday.

“That says something to me,” Weiss said.

Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; hefley@heraldnet.com.

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