Local woman gets jail for stealing from teens
EAGLE — Prosecutors insisted Wednesday that Holly Sandoval should go to jail for embezzling thousands of dollars from local high school students.
“The People are adamant about a term of incarceration,” said Heidi McCollum, the assistant district attorney handling the case.
Judge Paul Dunkelman agreed, sentencing Sandoval to a year in jail and four years probation, ordering that she write a letter of apology to the 205 victims, and ordering her to pay back the money she stole from Eagle Valley High School’s Project Graduation fund.
Sandoval, 48, was the treasurer for Eagle Valley High School’s Project Graduation program, which is designed to create safe and sober opportunities for high school seniors during their graduations.
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Sandoval’s thefts occurred during the 2012-2013 school year. The Project Graduation committee’s accountant found the discrepancies when she was preparing the organization’s 2014 tax return.
Started embezzling almost immediately
Just days after getting control of the Project Graduation bank account in Dec. 2012, Sandoval forged a check to herself for $720, McCollum said.
When she was done, Sandoval had taken more than $7,000, one-third of the total budget, according to Wednesday’s court testimony. The money was supposed to go to gifts for the seniors, and from the seniors to the school.
Businesses are now hesitant to donate and parents are reluctant to volunteer for the program, McCollum said.
“I was the treasurer and I should have taken that job more seriously,” Sandoval said during Wednesday’s sentencing hearing. “I am truly sorry to anyone and everyone I have hurt along the way.”
Sandoval’s attorney, Terry O’Connor, along with her family members argued passionately for probation so she could continue to help care for her special needs daughter. O’Connor said she had already repaid the money.
McCollum was having none of that.
“It’s not justice for the youth of this community to go out into the world and see you can steal from a charity set up for kids, and you get a slap on the wrist,” she told Dunkelman. “This is not just a crime of theft, it’s a crime of constant deceit.”
‘Pattern of deceit’
McCollum said Sandoval’s “pattern of deceit” reaches back more than a decade.
McCollum said Sandoval embezzled from two banks where she was employed, beginning in 2005. She was sentenced to probation in one of those cases.
Dave Young, of Sandoval’s former employer R&H Mechanical, said Sandoval embezzled between $24,000 and $30,000 when she worked there. However, the statute of limitations has expired and no charges were filed.
The state paid Sandoval more than $5,800 in unemployment benefits to which she was not entitled, McCollum said. Sandoval was ordered to repay the money.
“The taxpayers have not had any of this money repaid,” McCollum said.
Sandoval was also not truthful in a bankruptcy application, McCollum said.
“She received the benefits of having her debts discharged, even though she was not truthful,” McCollum said.
At least 205 victims
Dunkelman said he was “struck” by the number of victims in this case.
“The true victims are the 133 seniors from Eagle Valley High School who graduated in 2014,” McCollum said.
McCollum presented an Eagle Valley yearbook to the court and read into the record the 133 names of that year’s Eagle Valley seniors. She then read the names of the 72 local businesses that had contributed money and merchandise to Project Graduation that year.
“It takes a village to raise a kid. In that village, we all have our responsibilities. The People’s responsibility is to obtain justice,” McCollum said to Dunkelman. “Your Honor can see how far reaching her behavior has been.”
“I strongly believe this is the appropriate sentence,” Dunkelman said. “I believe that keeping you in the community serves its purposes. You violated this community, you’ll get out of jail and you’ll live in this community. You have lost the trust of the community and it’s unlikely you’ll ever get that back.”
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and firstname.lastname@example.org.