Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Landscaping manager gets 9 months

Admits to stealing $24,000 from employer

Express Staff Writer

A Mexican national who admitted to stealing more than $24,000 from his employer, a Bellevue landscaping company, was sentenced Monday to nine months in jail. After that, he could be deported.

Jose E. Schobert-Gonzalez, 33, was also given a suspended seven-year prison sentence and ordered on probation for four years. He was further required to repay the money he stole and was able to do so at Monday's sentencing hearing in Blaine County 5th District Court.

Schobert-Gonzalez's jail sentence included 116 days credit for time served.

In sentencing, Judge Robert J. Elgee followed an agreement between the Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney's Office and defense attorney Andrew Parnes. As part of the agreement, Schobert-Gonzalez pleaded guilty in September to a single felony count of grand theft in exchange for dismissal of two felony counts of forgery.

Schobert-Gonzalez was arrested in July following an investigation by the Blaine County Sheriff's Office on a complaint by Mark Martens, owner of All Seasons Landscaping.

He has remained incarcerated since then. An "immigration detainer" accuses him of being in the United States illegally.

Blaine County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Matt Fredback said at Monday's sentencing hearing that Schobert-Gonzalez was involved in a "complicated and sophisticated crime" to defraud his employer. He said Schobert-Gonzalez was a manager at All Seasons, and that he added names of people no longer employed with the company to worksheets, then collected their checks and cashed them at Video Mexico in Bellevue.

In 2009 and 2010, Fredback said Schobert-Gonzalez fraudulently collected 71 checks totaling $24,290.93.

Fredback described Schobert-Gonzalez as well educated with no prior criminal history. Ostensibly, Fredback said, Schobert-Gonzalez stole the money because his family was having financial difficulties.

In a victim's statement at the hearing, Martens said the thefts caused All Seasons to overcharge customers. Because of that and publicity about the crime, he said the company has suffered loss of reputation and loss of clients.

He asked that the damage done to the company be taken into consideration in sentencing.

However, Elgee's hands were somewhat tied. What is referred to as a "Rule 11" provision was part of the plea agreement. The provision allows a defendant to withdraw a guilty plea if a judge exceeds a prosecutor's recommended sentence.

Parnes said Schobert-Gonzalez has acknowledged that what he did was wrong and has apologized to Martens. He said his client has cooperated with authorities and is allowed to work as a trustee at the Blaine County jail.

Parnes acknowledged that Schobert-Gonzalez is in the United States illegally.

"He had entered the country legally, but overstayed," Parnes said. "His family is in Mexico. He will be going back to Mexico and will not be coming back."

Martens said in an interview that All Seasons is going through a complete audit and will repay any customers that were overcharged.

"We've refunded to many customers already," he said. "We do care so much about our customers. We want them to know that once we found out this was going on that we were on it immediately to get it stopped."

Martens added that he's not completely satisfied with the sentence.

"No, I don't think it was really fair," he said. "I thought he deserved more jail time, but he did pay back the money. That speaks something for him."

Terry Smith:

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