Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Woman again admits to embezzlement

Defendant earlier withdrew guilty plea in Farm Bureau theft case

A former Fairfield woman has admitted for a second time that she stole more than $35,000 over a four-year period from the Blaine County Farm Bureau Office in Bellevue where she was previously employed as a secretary.

Judith G. Shurtz, 60, who now lives in Owyhee County, entered her guilty plea to a felony charge of grand theft by embezzlement on Monday in Blaine County 5th District Court.

Shurtz, who remains free on $5,000 bond, also pleaded guilty to the charge in March. However, she withdrew her guilty plea in May when Judge Robert Elgee informed her at an earlier sentencing hearing that he was going to put her in prison for at least two years.

Shurtz was allowed to withdraw her earlier guilty plea because of an earlier “binding plea agreement” between Ketchum attorney Dan Dolan, assigned as public defender, and the Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. Under the earlier agreement, prosecutors agreed to recommend that Shurtz spend up to a year in the county jail and be placed on probation. The binding plea agreement allowed Shurtz to withdraw her guilty plea because Elgee said in court then that he was not going to follow the prosecutor’s recommendation.

“I think anything less than two years in prison is just patting someone on the back and saying crime pays,” Elgee said then.

Because of Elgee’s earlier pronouncement, prosecutors have now entered into a new plea agreement with Shurtz that offers harsher terms than offered before. Deputy Matt Fredback said in court Monday that his office is now recommending a sentence for Shurtz of up to eight years in prison, with four years to be served before parole eligibility.

Dolan told the judge that the defense is free to argue for a lesser sentence.

Sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 25.

Shurtz’s guilty plea averted a jury trial that was scheduled to begin Tuesday.

Shurtz was charged with the crime in 2011 following a year-long investigation by the Blaine County Sheriff’s Office. Detective Mark Dalton stated in a probable-cause affidavit that Shurtz embezzled $35,288.21 from the Farm Bureau by writing checks to herself without permission from 2006 through 2010. Dalton stated that Shurtz hid the thefts by falsifying Farm Bureau records and bank statements.

In court Monday, Dolan acknowledged that Shurtz wrote “somewhere between 50 and 100 checks” to herself during the four-year period.

“That’s the way I did it,” Shurtz said. “I wrote checks without permission to myself.”

Terry Smith:

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