Payback or prison for GJ woman

Payback or prison for GJ woman

With a job earning $8 an hour, it will take a Grand Junction woman decades to pay off the more than $600,000 she embezzled over a six-year period from a local engineering firm.

Amber Butler, 35, was sentenced Wednesday to six years in community corrections and ordered to make full restitution. She must pay back at least $15,000 in restitution to Lindauer & Dunn Inc., 802 Rood Ave., each year during the sentence, Mesa County District Judge Valerie Robison said.

Robison said Butler is expected to pay back the full amount, $638,716, that she stole from Leland Lindauer and Jeff Dunn from 2002 to 2008, while she worked there preparing payroll and purchasing office supplies. A violation of the community-corrections sentence will have Butler serving a 12-year prison sentence.

Butler told Robison in court Wednesday she has been working a part-time job for $8 an hour but can get full-time hours.

Butler worked in the lowest paying position for Lindauer & Dunn, but, like other
employees, received Christmas bonuses of $2,000 to $3,000. Apparently she felt like she deserved more money, even though the company had to fire another employee and cut others’ pay while she was stealing, Leland Lindauer said in court Wednesday.

“Why are you so special that you think the world owes you because we were so successful?” Lindauer said in a scathing address to his former employee.

Siphoning off the company’s funds lowered the value of the company’s stock and caused Lindauer to shelve plans for retirement by selling his share of the company, he said.

Butler, who wrote checks to herself and linked several personal spending accounts to the company, often had items purchased with stolen funds delivered to the office. She once purchased an $8,000 diamond ring with company funds, showing off the gem to co-workers. Butler also spent thousands of dollars on elective surgeries, baby clothes and trips to Wal-Mart, Target and Sam’s Club, where she purchased food, video games, cigarettes and other household items.

Lindauer and Dunn initially noticed being short about $11,000. An ensuing six-month investigation by Grand Junction Police Department officer Jeremiah Boies soon showed the stolen amounts swelling into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, ballooning into one of the biggest embezzlement cases ever in Mesa County District Court, according to Deputy District Attorney Jeremy Savage.

Butler used a QuickBooks account to create checks she made payable to herself. She also forged checks, purchased personal items on the company’s credit cards and regularly cashed blank checks signed by the owners for office items.

While choking up, Amber Butler told Robison she was sorry for her actions and intended to repay the funds.

Butler, who was described by friends and family as a happy-go-lucky person who never missed anyone’s birthday, had another side to her, which included low self-esteem, her friend Angela Miller said in court.

“In my opinion, money and material things were her drug of choice,” Miller said.

Butler’s husband, Craig Butler, pleaded guilty recently to a felony charge of theft for using money his wife embezzled to float his own construction company. Craig Butler will be sentenced on that charge Tuesday and will have to pay $11,000 on that date. According to his plea agreement, Craig Butler will be sentenced to probation, but he may have to serve up to 90 days in jail.

Craig Butler said in court Wednesday their car, truck and a boat have been repossessed, and the couple has posted items on eBay, pawned items at pawn shops and held garage sales to try to pay back restitution.

“It’s not like we’re living the high life right now,” he said. “It’s not like we’re hiding money.”

Robison questioned whether Amber Butler was repentant about stealing the funds, partly because she hadn’t yet paid the company back any money after being arrested in September. Also, Robison learned that Amber Butler had indicated it might have been the fault of Lindauer & Dunn for losing so much money because it took them years to catch on.

Victims from Lindauer & Dunn who appeared in court Wednesday said they wanted Butler to receive the maximum penalty allowed by her plea agreement: 12 years in prison. They appeared upset with her community corrections sentence.

“Crime pays,” Lindauer said angrily before leaving the courtroom.


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