Friday, January 13, 2012

Felony theft cases reduced to misdemeanors

Two men get jail sentences for petit theft


By TERRY SMITH
Express Staff Writer

Two felony grand theft cases were resolved this week in Blaine County 5th District Court as the charge in each case was reduced to a misdemeanor and both defendants were given short jail sentences by Judge Robert J. Elgee.

In 5th District Court on Monday, the judge also gave Michael T. Bernam and Shawn Paulson withheld judgments, a court provision that allows the criminal convictions to be removed from their records if they successfully complete probation.

Both Bernam and Paulson were represented by Hailey attorney Christopher Simms. Neither man was ever arrested when charged with the crimes. Instead, each was issued a felony summons.

Michael T. Bernam

Bernam, 23, of Hailey, was sentenced to two days in jail, placed on probation for 18 months and ordered to pay $137.50 in court costs after pleading guilty to petit theft, a misdemeanor. He was further ordered to pay restitution of $1,379 to Big Wood 4 Cinema in Hailey.

A former night manager at Big Wood 4, Bernam was originally charged with felony grand theft in August for allegedly failing to deposit a day's receipts of $1,379 into a company bank account in December 2010.

Simms told the court that his client was not admitting to stealing the money, but could offer no explanation as to what happened to it. Simms further suggested that rather than theft, the lost funds might be attributable to an accounting error.

Elgee acknowledged that the "facts in the case lend themselves to some ambiguity," but advised the defendant that by pleading guilty he was going to be treated as if he were guilty.

Shawn Paulson

Paulson, 26, of Portland, Ore., was also originally charged with felony grand theft but pleaded guilty to misdemeanor petit theft for taking a snowmobile trailer, valued at $2,000, without the owner's permission.

Paulson was sentenced to 14 days in jail, placed on probation for 18 months and ordered to pay a fine and court costs totaling $637.50.

The case against Paulson arose in May 2010 when Buttercup Road resident James Mizer reported to the Blaine County Sheriff's Office that his snowmobile trailer was missing. A few days later, Mizer spotted the trailer parked near an apartment complex on River Street in Hailey and notified police.

At sentencing, Blaine County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Matt Fredback said Paulson, who was staying at the complex, offered conflicting explanations when questioned by police.

"When he was confronted by the cops, the first thing he said was he bought the trailer from a Mexican guy at a gas station in Bellevue," Fredback said. "Later, he said 'I borrowed it and was going to return it.'

"He had the money to buy or rent one himself," Fredback said. "Instead he saw the trailer he needed and just took it. It's straight-up plain criminal thinking. Mr. Paulson is somebody who thought he could help himself to somebody else's property."

Simms argued, as he did at an earlier preliminary hearing, that his client intended to return the trailer.

"This is not a case of simply stealing," Simms said.

Terry Smith: tsmith@mtexpress.com




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