Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Judge gives embezzler one last chance

Mother of four faces prison if she fouls up probation

Express Staff Writer

Lollie Rae Worthington

A Bellevue woman convicted of embezzlement and forgery will get one last chance before she's sent to prison.

"You are on very, very thin ice and I could send you to prison today," 5th District Court Judge Robert J. Elgee told 40-year-old Lollie Rae Worthington at her sentencing Monday morning in Hailey. "You're a candidate for a good stretch in the pen."

Worthington pleaded guilty earlier to single felony counts of embezzlement and forgery for stealing more than $30,000 over a five-month period from her employer, a Ketchum investment firm owned by John A. Orb and John A. Orb Jr. She was originally charged with 28 felonies, 14 for embezzlement and 14 for forgery.

Although Worthington evaded prison, she did not escape incarceration. Elgee retained jurisdiction on her case and sentenced her to a "180-day rider" at a state correctional facility for evaluation of substance abuse and habitual theft.

"If you don't successfully complete the rider, you're going to the pen," Elgee told the defendant.

The judge also ordered Worthington to pay $30,000 in restitution to the victims, placed her on 10 years probation and sentenced her to 10 years in prison. He suspended the prison sentence but told Worthington that he will reinstate it if she fails to meet the terms of her probation.

Some half-dozen of the defendant's family members attended Worthington's sentence hearing to offer her moral support, but even her mother filed an affidavit with the court that alleged that Worthington had stolen $14,000 from her parents.

"She has a long history of stealing money from people who trust her the most," Blaine County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Matt Fredback told the court. "With Ms. Worthington, there's no bounds that she won't seek to take money."

Fredback said Worthington has three prior theft convictions, two in Twin Falls for petit theft and a 1997 felony count in Blaine County for which she served prison time.

"She has had multiple chances and she continues to commit new crimes," Fredback said.

Hailey attorney Douglas Werth, who represents Worthington under his public defender contract with Blaine County, told the court that Worthington has been attending substance abuse and domestic violence counseling since her arrest last April.

"She has been doing a lot of positive things," Werth said. "She can turn her life around and we're asking you to give her that opportunity."

Werth said Worthington is a mother of four but that her parents have custody of the children.

Worthington, who has been free on $20,000 bond since her arrest in April, appeared in court nicely dressed but on crutches from a left foot injury she recently suffered.

Werth told the court that Worthington had a follow-up doctor's visit on Tuesday and Elgee gave her until noon today to report to the Blaine County Jail.

With tears in her eyes, she briefly addressed the court: "I'd like to tell the Orbs that I'm very sorry for what I did. I know that I broke their trust. Through counseling I came to the realization that I have a definite stealing problem."

Elgee had stern words for the defendant.

"We're going to find out how sincere you are Ms. Worthington," the judge said. "I want to keep a long string on you Ms. Worthington to make sure this money gets paid back.

"If I get any indication that you ever take anything that doesn't belong to you, you're going to prison."

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