Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Farm Bureau embezzler sent to prison

Woman stole about $35K over four-year period

Express Staff Writer

Judith Shurtz is shown here being handcuffed by Bailiff Doug Wynn following sentencing Monday in Blaine County 5th District Court for embezzling about $35,000 from the local Farm Bureau office. Shurtz was sentenced to four years and eight months in prison. Photo by Willy Cook

    A tearful Judith Shurtz was taken from Blaine County 5th District Court on Monday in handcuffs following sentencing by Judge Robert J. Elgee for embezzling almost $35,000 from the local Farm Bureau organization.
    Shurtz reached out to embrace family members before being placed in handcuffs, but court Bailiff Doug Wynn told her it was not allowed. She mouthed the words “I love you” instead as she was led away.
    Elgee sentenced Shurtz to four years and eight months in prison, with 20 months to be served before parole eligibility.
    Elgee told Shurtz, 61, almost a year ago that he intended to impose a prison sentence for the crime.
    The judge made that statement at a sentencing hearing for Shurtz on May 21, 2012. Shurtz, when then informed of the judges intent, was allowed to withdraw a guilty plea made earlier because of the “binding plea agreement” between the defense and the Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. Under terms of that agreement, Shurtz was able to withdraw her plea if sentencing was to exceed a one-year jail sentence recommended by prosecutors.
    Shurtz pleaded guilty to grand theft by embezzlement a second time in November 2012 under a harsher plea agreement with prosecutors. In that agreement, the prosecutors were recommending a four-year prison sentence.
    Shurtz had remained free on $5,000 bond since being charged with the crime in May of 2011. She previously lived in Fairfield but court records state that she most recently resided in Owyhee County.
    At Monday’s hearing, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Matt Fredback said that Shurtz had written 92 unauthorized checks to herself from 2006 through 2010 when she was employed as a secretary for the Blaine County Farm Bureau office in Bellevue.
    “She created fraudulent bank statements that looked like legitimate statements to cover up her crime,” Fredback said.
    Fredback noted that a victims’ statement from Farm Bureau stated that the thefts affected 460 local families who are Farm Bureau members. He further noted that Shurtz promised earlier to pay the money back but had not yet done so.
    “Over a year, she hasn’t come up with any money at all,” Fredback said.
    Ketchum attorney Dan Dolan, assigned as public defender, argued for probation, noting that his client had no prior criminal history and that her family was trying to help her raise the $35,000 to repay Farm Bureau.
    He further noted that women’s prison facilities operated by the Idaho Department of Correction are now overcrowded.
    “The women’s facilities are so overcrowded that 25 percent of the women prisoners are in county jails, not getting treatment, just being warehoused,” Dolan said.
    In sentencing, Elgee said the degree of punishment is directly related to the “degree of harm to the victims.”
    “This was deliberate,” the judge said. “It occurred over a period of time. It was a lot of money; it caused a lot of harm. If the prison is overcrowded, that’s something the department has to deal with.”

Terry Smith:

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