By Chris Collins
Carol Dianne Srack will serve a year in jail for stealing from the Baker School District and the Baker Rural Fire District.
Judge Greg Baxter sentenced the 55-year-old Baker Valley woman Thursday in Baker County Circuit Court.
"I'm sorry for what I did," Srack said in a tearful apology before she was sentenced.
District Attorney Matt Shirtcliff asked for the year-long sentence based on Srack's violation of the public trust in her roles as an accounts payable specialist for the school district and the fire district's secretary/treasurer.
Srack pleaded guilty Monday to two counts of first-degree theft, Class C felonies, and two counts of official misconduct, Class A misdemeanors. All other charges were dismissed in a plea agreement.
Under state sentencing guidelines, Baxter could have sentenced Srack to 10 days in jail on each of the felony counts. Sentencing on the misdemeanor counts was left to his discretion.
District Attorney Matt Shirtcliff asked the judge not to impose the 10-day sentences and instead to exercise that discretion to sentence Srack to serve up to a year in the county jail.
John Rohner, former chairman of the Baker Rural Fire District Board, Fire Chief Howard Payton and Assistant Chief Dan Weitz told Baxter about the impact of Srack's actions on the fire department and its patrons. Doug Dalton, the Baker School District's chief financial officer, spoke about how Srack's thefts had affected the school district.
The three firefighters emphasized the need to maintain the trust of the people they serve.
Rohner said Srack was a member of the board when directors became suspicious of charges to the fire district's gas credit cards. The Sheriff's Department was notified of the suspicious activity, and new cards were ordered, he said.
"The Sheriff's Office saw useage and loss from the new cards also," Rohner said.
Weitz said the district has lost a couple of volunteers because of Srack's crimes, but for the most part they have banded together.
"The furthest thing from our mind was that one of our own was stealing from the department," he said.
Payton, who has been fire chief for a number of years, said the department has run problem-free for most of his 26 years as a volunteer.
"The patrons have been violated by this person," he said.
Srack's son, Joshua Lee Srack, 28, a former captain with the rural fire district, spent 10 days in jail in May for a first-degree theft conviction after admitting he used the fire district's credit card to charge more than $14,000 in gasoline for his personal use.
Regarding Carol Srack's crimes against the school district, Dalton said the thefts have caused public concern about the district's fiscal operations.
"The message the public needs to know is that we operate with a high degree of integrity," he said. "We have controls in place to detect this kind of activity and when we detected it, we acted quickly."
Dalton said the district also was concerned about the example Srack's actions set for students. All district employees work together to produce students who they hope will graduate to become responsible citizens.
"Her actions were contrary to that, and that's just not OK," Dalton said.
As part of the hearing, Baxter told Srack that he looked at her son's court file in considering her case and noticed that some of her crimes were committed even after her son had been arrested on charges of first-degree theft and fraudulent use of a credit card in his role with the fire district.
Baxter said that over the years he's seen a good share of cases of women between the ages of 40 and 60 with no prior criminal record (such as Srack) who have used their position as a bookkeeper to embezzle money from different groups and agencies.
"I always have to balance things," Baxter said. "Your dollar amounts are not huge, but the effect has been great because we have first off the school district and we have the fire district. You were in a unique position ... of having access to funds."
Baxter said Srack's continued thefts after her son's arrest told him more about her crimes.
"For you to have done that after your son was charged ... it's extremely concerning to the court," Baxter said. "Your case is not the same as every other case I've dealt with."
Baxter called a brief recess before returning to the courtroom to pronounce sentencing.
Upon returning, the judge told Srack that he tries to give people the benefit of the doubt for extenuating circumstances that might have contributed to their actions. Srack's attorney Gary Kiyuna of Nyssa explained that his client's husband was undergoing cancer treatments and has heart problems as well.
"That's not a justification, but it was a hardship - personally and family wise," Kiyuna said. "She was in a pinch and bad judgments were made."
Baxter told Srack that he was sorry about her husband's illness, but he continued to focus on the crimes she committed even after she knew the fire district board, of which she was a member, detected problems with the gas cards and after her son's arrest.
"That says a lot in regards to your mindset from this court's point of view," Baxter said.
Baxter sentenced Srack to a year in jail on the charge of official misconduct related to the school district thefts, but he said that did not indicate that he thought that crime was more egregious.
"The two crimes go hand in hand," he said, adding that he looked at all four charges to determine sentencing.
Her sentence also included:
andbull; Two years' formal probation for the first-degree theft from the school district and restitution of $597.12.
After her actions were detected by the district, Srack paid for thefts of goods from DandB, Bi-Mart and Albertsons committed between Dec. 20, 2011, and Jan. 19, 2012, totaling $1,011.79, Shirtcliff said today. That included $464.46 in groceries from Albertsons, 10 $50 gift cards from Bi-Mart and clothing valued at $1,011.79 from D and B.
She also was fined $200 and ordered to pay $100 toward her attorney fees and ordered to complete a criminal thinking errors class.
andbull; Two years' formal probation for the first-degree theft from the fire district and restitution of $3,534.51, in addition to another $200 fine and $100 toward attorney fees.
andbull; Six-month jail term suspended on the official misconduct charge related to her role with the fire district; and placed on 18 months' bench probation.
Srack was ordered to write letters of apology to the school district and the fire district and will be prohibited from having contact with either agency or its personnel. She is prohibited from working or volunteering for any fire district or school district while on probation and she must disclose her convictions before working in any job that would require her to handle money.
Payton said after the sentencing that the fire district was pleased.
"I think the judge did the right thing," he said. "We're glad it's behind us. I think he was fair."
Payton continued to express surprise that Carol and Joshua Srack, who appeared to have been dedicated to the fire district, violated the trust that directors had placed in them.
"We were very surprised that those type of people would do this type of thing," he said.