A Clifton woman who embezzled thousands of dollars from her daughter's Girl Scout troop earlier this year pleaded guilty earlier this fall and is in the process of paying her court-ordered restitution.
Jennifer L. Hooten, 32, was arrested in May after other leaders trying to withdraw money from the troop bank account found that instead of the some-$2,400 in cookie sale profits they expected, the account was $500 overdrawn.
Hooten was the only person with access to the troop's money for some time, according to earlier reports.
When first confronted by police, Hooten admitted she took several hundred dollars for personal use. Later she said she didn't actually know how much she took. According to arresting documents, Hooten sent a co-leader a check for $1,000 a few days after her police interview, and told officers she had planned to return the money before it was discovered.
Hooten pleaded guilty to a single count of felony theft on Sept. 13 before Mesa County District Judge Richard Gurley as part of a deferred judgment, which means her case will be dismissed if she meets certain conditions in the next two years.
As part of her plea, Hooten was ordered to pay $1,400 in restitution to Girl Scouts of America, as well as several hundred dollars in court costs. She was also ordered to complete 48 hours of useful public service, according to the Mesa County Court Clerk's Office.
Grand Junction resident Kiele Ochoa, whose daughter used to be in the same troop that Hooten was leading, said the entire saga has been hard to understand.
"When I first found out about it I was completely shocked and mind blown that someone could do something like that, especially to little kids," Ochoa said.
The troop included Daisies, Brownies and Juniors, scout levels in which members range in age from about 5 to about 12. After the theft, Ochoa said the larger Girl Scouts of America organization did pay to send the girls to a camp over the summer. But Ochoa pulled her own 6-year-old daughter out of the troop, "mainly because of this," she said, adding that she doesn't think she is the only one.
"This experience for a lot of moms, it ruined their Girl Scout experience," she said.
Ochoa said she and her fiancé ultimately decided not to tell her daughter about the theft.
"I really didn't feel like it did her any good, I guess," she said. "It didn't really benefit her. She got rewarded anyway for her hard work (selling cookies)."
When reached Monday by phone, Hooten told a Daily Sentinel reporter she could talk to her lawyer, Matt Hardin of Grand Junction.
Hardin did not return a call for comment.