Yavapai County Superior Court Judge Ralph Hess sentenced Christine Jane Howieson to two-and-a-half years in the Arizona Department of Corrections at the Camp Verde Judicial Facility on March 18.
Howieson, 45, was accused of taking more than $100,000 from her employer, Mountain Stucco, in Cottonwood, from September 1995 through July 2007.
In a plea agreement before Hess on Feb. 19, Howieson pleaded guilty to one count of theft, three counts of forgery and one count of taking the identity of another.
The two-and-a-half years is the mandatory mitigated sentence for Class 3 felony theft.
Howieson received four years probation on the remaining counts.
Hess found the fact that Howieson has family responsibilities and no prior record to be mitigating factors.
“You appear to be a very good person who clearly has done some very bad acts,” Hess told the defendant. “I don’t find a genuineness in your remorse. You don’t seem to be getting it and you will need some counseling.”
“With regard to the other charges, I believe probation is appropriate because it is the best means for repair to be accomplished and to begin the means to make restitution,” Hess said. “It [the sentence] allows you to be brought back [to society] to begin restitution.”
Restitution was set in the amount of $100,000, however, the court retains jurisdiction to raise that amount up to $500,000 upon further investigation.
“I came here today to tell Christine [Howieson] what I think of her but I’ve decided not to do that,” Mountain Stucco owner Robert Cunningham told the court before sentencing. “She knows who she is and what she did.”
In a voice choking with emotion, Cunningham told the court Howieson had been a trusted long-term employee and he had helped her deal with personal problems in the past.
“All she had to do was ask for my help but she chose a different avenue,” Cunningham said. “She lied, schemed and used my money to pay off her debts without me knowing it. This is a small business. We work closely together to run it. What kind of person can do that to another person? I have a hard time with that. This is a sad day for me.”
“He and his wife attempted to help you, maybe over and above what they needed to do and you repaid them with betrayal,” Hess told the defendant.
Hess asked the defendant if she had anything to say before sentencing.
“Just that I’m sorry. There is nothing else to say,” Howieson said.
Cunningham’s wife, Cynthia, said she wanted to thank Detective Monica Kuhlt, of the Cottonwood Police Department, for breaking the case.
“Chris [Howieson] has a hard time admitting her guilt,” Cynthia Cunningham said. “It’s sad that she isn’t forthright but Monica [Kuhlt] got an admission of guilt from her.”
“It’s been a long time coming, but we’re satisfied with the way things went down,” Cunningham said.
Cunningham said the experience wasn’t all bad for Mountain Stucco.
“It could have divided us but instead it brought us closer together,” she said. “Business people and the community rallied behind us and gave us a lot of hope. Our creditors worked with us too to get through this.”