Boogie’s thief has jail term reduced | AspenTimes.com

Boogie’s thief has jail term reduced

Naomi Havlen
Aspen Times Staff Writer

A woman serving 24 years in prison for embezzling nearly $2 million from Boogie’s had her sentence reduced to 12 years Tuesday in Pitkin County District Court.

Lynda Mae Fratis, a bookkeeper at Boogie’s between 1992 and 1997, was sentenced to the lengthy prison sentence in March 1999. After serving three years and four months, Judge J.E. DeVilbiss reduced her sentence, saying Fratis should be able to spend some time with her children before they are fully grown.

Fratis’ parents sat on one side of the courtroom behind their daughter, while Boogie’s owner Leonard Weinglass sat on the other. Fratis showed little emotion when DeVilbiss lowered her sentence.

She was arrested in 1998 and extradited to Aspen from Seminole County, Fla. Fratis pleaded guilty to three felony counts of theft. Seven other counts were dropped as part of a plea agreement.

Under state rules, felony offenders can have their jail terms reconsidered by the sentencing judge.

“I’m really sorry for what I’ve done. I broke your trust and you have never done anything to me,” Fratis told Weinglass during the hearing. “I’d like to prove to you I can be a productive member of society, if you’d give me a chance.”

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Weinglass told the court while Fratis pleaded guilty to embezzling $1.7 million, he can prove that she actually took close to $4 million. But investigators stopped going back into the financial records when they had enough proof. He said other employees of his were affected by the financial loss, as was the Buddy Program, when Fratis allegedly pocketed some of the proceeds from a July 4 Buddy Five race.

“I believe she’s sitting on huge money,” Weinglass said. “Everybody can make a mistake, but this was not caused by alcohol or drugs. It was methodical and manipulative. [Prosecutor] Lawson Wills says she stole for seven years, but I think she stole for nine.”

Weinglass said regardless of a local perception that Boogie’s Diner has continued to be a lucrative business, he said he has struggled to pay back various banks in the wake of the embezzlement. Karen Baxter, who worked as general manager of the diner and clothing store just after Fratis and is credited for detecting the crime, told the court a lot more money went missing from the business than was brought up in court.

“There were so many victims and people who got their commissions cut short,” Baxter said. “[Fratis] had so many opportunities to change what she was doing every day for 10 years, but she didn’t do it.”

DeVilbiss told the courtroom he’s noticed embezzlements happen frequently in Aspen when an employee gets “an awful lot of slack in managing money or access to money.”

“Ms. Fratis started taking money and I would guess she’s addicted to having that money to spend, and it became impossible to control that addiction, so she kept taking money,” he said.

DeVilbiss said the dozens “if not hundreds of thefts” Fratis committed warranted the lengthy prison sentence. He said Fratis’ statements to the court never countered claims that she had embezzled almost double the $1.7 million she pleaded guilty to.

“In my own attempts to deal with that, I gave her the maximum sentence in the aggravated range in accordance with the plea bargain,” DeVilbiss said. “But I was not unmindful of the fact she had two young children, and if she decided she wants to sit on that money, that’s what she’s decided.”

But DeVilbiss then added that Fratis’ children now “deserve some consideration.”

“Her children and her should have some opportunity to know each other before the children are fully emancipated,” he said.

Fratis will be eligible for consideration of parole after another three and a half years. She will complete five years of probation when her sentence is over.

“I kind of like that there is one day in prison for every day she was out spending Mr. Weinglass’ money frivolously, enjoying everything Aspen has to offer,” said Wills. “Each day she spent his money will cost her a day in prison.”

[Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is nhavlen@aspentimes.com.]

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