Mechanic goes to prison for thefts that sunk business
Robert Leisten was addicted to his professional racing truck, his attorney said.
So much so, prosecutors said he embezzled $130,000 from work over the course of two years, sunk a business along with the way and cost six people their jobs.
In rejecting a prosecutor’s call for a possible probation or community corrections sentence, Mesa County District Judge Brian Flynn instead Friday sentenced Leisten to serve six years in state prison. Flynn said a community-based sentence would “unduly depreciate” the seriousness of Leisten’s crimes and prospects are dim for Leisten actually paying $130,000 in restitution to his victims.
“I’ve been paying back my student loan for 20 years and I make more money,” Flynn said in passing sentence.
Leisten, 44, now an Aurora resident, pleaded guilty earlier this year to a single count of felony theft, while prosecutors dismissed 30 other charges in the case.
Leisten was a mechanic employed by Ute Canyon Installations, LLC, a former subsidiary of now-defunct Harbert Lumber. Leisten serviced a fleet of vehicles for Harbert Lumber.
“Robert comes across as a likeable, honest person,” said Richard Goodman, senior vice president of Western Building Solutions, formerly Harbert’s parent company. “And that’s what made his crimes so hard to believe.”
Leisten was laid off from his job in March 2009, a casualty of the economic downturn. Leisten left as irregularities began to be detected on Harbert’s books, Assistant District Attorney Rich Tuttle told the judge.
An investigation showed that Leisten submitted false invoices for vehicle parts totalling $130,000 starting in December 2009, which he used to outfit his professional racing truck. Other untold parts were sold to friends or strangers online, Tuttle said.
Goodman said they believe Leisten defrauded the company to the tune of another $35,000 but couldn’t prove it with records.
“He’s using this money for a frivolous hobby,” Tuttle told the judge.
The thefts continued after Leisten was laid off. While living in Aurora, Leisten through October 2009 successfully ordered parts while falsely representing they were for Harbert Lumber, Tuttle said.
Harbert Lumber had no operations in Aurora.
“The parts get shipped to Leisten in Aurora and the parts companies start asking Harbert why they’re not getting paid,” Tuttle said.
Ute Canyon Installations shuttered in 2009 under the weight of losses by Leisten’s theft, Tuttle told the judge. Six people were left jobless.
“One of those individual’s wives had cancer and is dying,” Julie Brown, a former Ute Canyon employee, told the judge. “This affected real people.”
While company officials said the April 2011 closure of Harbert Lumber — Ute Canyon’s parent company and a Grand Junction fixture on North Avenue since 1937 — wasn’t directly attributed to Leisten’s crimes others noted the timing of the recession.
“This theft is adding insult to injury,” Tuttle said. “At a time they could least afford to be ripped off, they were ripped off.”
Owner Gordon Harbert, Harbert’s Lumber’s former owner, said Leisten’s likeable manner and claimed Christian values were among reasons he was hired.
“You used religious affiliation to gain people’s trust,” Flynn said. “You’re the epitome of a con man.”