Two Petersburg women will be going to jail for stealing money from their employers. Christy Ware and Tammi Avenson were sentenced to jail time this week in separate cases of workplace theft.
Thirty-seven-year-old Christy Ware was executive director of the Petersburg Children’s Center, a non-profit daycare organization. She was fired by the center’s board a year ago for stealing nearly $7,000. She also failed to submit payroll taxes to the IRS, adding thousands more in debt and penalties the children center is still repaying. She pleaded guilty last August to felony theft in the second degree and attempted falsification of business records. Ware appeared for an emotional sentencing in a Petersburg courtroom Monday. The center’s new director Terri Falter addressed Ware sitting 10 feet away.
“I’m sorry for what you did Christy. I don’t hate you. But it does hurt,” Falter said. “And I’m sorry that I’m crying. I just wanna be able to see you on the street to say, ‘Hi.’ The childrens center is doing well and it’s because of the staff behind you. You had an awesome team. We would’ve been there to help you. And I’m sorry you didn’t ask us for help. I know you’re not a bad person. I know you’re a good person deep down inside. And you made bad choices. I just want to see you have some remorse. That’s all I want.”
Falter said the organization has been able to repay a lot of its IRS debt with donations from the Elks and Emblem clubs and the city of Petersburg. But Falter said she wanted the center to get back the money it deserves from Ware. The two women had once worked together at the center and Ware cried and apologized.
“I hurt my friends, people who I consider friends. I shared an office for 18 months with Terri. And you know what we shared some bonding times and I hurt her really bad,” she said. “And I am so sorry for that. And the kids that I love dearly, I hurt. And what I did was wrong. And in my family we stand up and say, when we do something wrong, we teach our boys, that you own what you did.”
Ware voluntarily served 20 days in jail last year and has repaid nearly $10,000 dollars. District attorney David Brower is seeking an additional $17,000 in restitution to cover the center’s tax penalties. Ware’s attorney David Mallet is contesting that repayment and a hearing on the issue is scheduled for the end of March. Mallet also asked the judge not to impose more jail time than she’d already served.
“Again not an insignificant amount of time,” Mallet said. “It shows that recognition of shame and remorse. It was done quickly and also I think one of the most important factors I’d like to point out is that she made a very large amount of restitution at the very beginning and frankly it would have been several weeks earlier if there hadn’t been some issues about admissions of guilt.”
Ware’s attorney and the state had reached an agreement in return for a guilty plea on the two counts. As part of that agreement, seven other charges against Ware were dismissed.
Judge Bill Carey called the case troubling.
“The case just presents quite a paradox of a woman who’s well known in the community. Obviously has done a lot good things for a lot of people here. But engaged in just a horrible violation of the trust given to her by an outstanding organization, one that takes care of children,” Carey said.
Carey said he did not hear anything in the case about why Ware stole the money. He sentenced her to 60 days in jail, 30 for each count, but she’ll get credit for her time already served. She’s also required to complete 300 hours of community service. She’ll have to report to Lemon Creek Correctional Center in Juneau on January 30th.
Following the sentencing the board and staff of the childrens center issued a statement thanking the community for its support.
In the same courtroom less than an hour later, in a completely unrelated case, 49-year-old Tammi Avenson was sentenced for stealing from the local construction company Rock ‘N Road. The company’s former bookkeeper also reached an agreement with the prosecution. She pleaded guilty to the same charges as Ware, theft in the second degree and attempted falsification of business records. She was accused of stealing more than $20,000 from Rock ‘N Road. But Business owner Richard Burrell said it turned out to be more money.
“We kept looking after we turned in everything to the police. And we stopped at $65,000,” Burrell said. “We didn’t turn into the state for $65,000, but because we found it after closing time, after the time to… because we kept searching for two and a half months, three months. We stopped at that and I would say there’s probably more, I don’t know.”
Burrell said he spent a lot of money to uncover the theft and asked the judge not to impose a light sentence. Burrell’s daughter Katrina Miller said Avenson stole from the company for 22 months.
“She came in every work day and looked at everyone in the eye and didn’t have a problem doing it,” Miller said. “She lied every day. I hope that you sentence her to some jail time.”
The company contacted police when owners were told of an unpaid bill and found suspicious purchases made on the business’s debit card. Avenson told police she falsified the company’s books to hide purchases of groceries, fuel and construction materials. At the sentencing, Avenson said she was very sorry.
“I just wanna apologize to Richard and the court, for doing this. I don’t have an explanation why,” she said.
Avenson’s public defender Eric Hedland did not contest the facts of the case and said the best way for her to make amends would be to pay back as much of the money as she could.
Judge Carey compared the two cases, and noted Avenson stole more than Ware. He called it an egregious offense.
“It has had a dev… if not a devastating, a serious effect on a local business and a local business man. And it just should not have happened. And again I’m kindof left completely puzzled as to why it happened,” Carey said.
Carey sentenced Avenson to a total of six months of jail time. She’ll be on probation for three years. She’ll have to report to Lemon Creek on February 3rd. The amount of money she’ll have to pay back has yet to be decided.