McMillan gets 10 years for embezzling from county
Robin McMillan, the former Garfield County bookkeeper who admitted stealing money from the Clerk and Recorder’s Office, was sentenced Thursday to up to 10 years in prison.
McMillan, 52, of Rifle, was arrested in August 2014 and charged with felony theft. In talking with police, she estimated her total theft at around $50,000, but the final figure, for which she will be required to pay restitution, was estimated at more than $440,000.
The original charges were dropped in a plea agreement announced in April in favor of charges of theft from $20,000 to $100,000, a class 4 felony carrying three to six years and prison; and filing a false tax return, a class 5 felony carrying one to three years in prison.
In her sentencing, District Court Judge Denise Lynch disregarded a presentence investigation recommendation of probation and 90 days in jail or on house arrest, and invoked aggravating circumstances, which allow for twice the usual penalty.
“I’m shocked, quite frankly, at the probation recommendation,” she said. “Ms. McMillan hasn’t spent one day in jail. People who get DUIs get more time than that.
“I think prison will serve all the sentencing purposes,” she added. “It will send a message that white-collar crimes in this community will not be tolerated.”
The decision came at the end of a nearly two hour sentencing in a packed courtroom, which included statements from several county employees, including Garfield County Manager Andrew Gorgey and Clerk and Recorder Jean Alberico.
“To say that this shattered me personally was an understatement. I was physically sick for weeks,” Alberico said. “She was trusted, respected, and valued as a member of my leadership team.
“In one sense, it was easy, because she was in such a trusted position, but it was also devious and manipulative,” Alberico added. “Almost as soon as she was put in charge of the bookkeeping, she started taking money.”
Alberico recalled the 2012 arrest of county bookkeeper Brenda Caywood for embezzlement, which McMillan helped uncover and investigate.
Caywood ultimately pleaded guilty to stealing $15,919.12 in 2010 and 2011, and was sentenced to two years’ probation, 60 hours of community service and $19.422.20 in restitution — the estimated theft plus 8 percent interest.
“I sat next to her in this courtroom August of 2013 during that sentencing and we cried together,” Alberico recalled.
The office added several controls and consulted with a fraud prevention specialist following McMillan’s arrest, Alberico said. Workers also spent more than 500 hours reconstructing the crime and enlisted the aid of the state Department of Revenue, a service that she estimated would have cost $150,000 from a private company.
She bemoaned the aura of suspicion the incident cast both in the office and the community at large.
“I do not like treating my staff like potential criminals, but I have to because previous staff members made selfish decisions,” she said.
In closing, she called for at least the minimum three years of prison time.
“I believe in order to deter this type of crime, there need to be severe punishments in place,” she said.
Assistant District Attorney Jason Slothouber followed up with an extensive closing statement of his own, including several clips of early interviews with McMillan.
“I didn’t mean for it to happen, it just happened,” she said in one.
Slothouber set out to prove otherwise.
He explained how McMillan had deleted the automatic sum formula in spreadsheets and manually entered a smaller amount, pocketing the difference. He shared the testimony of a fellow bookkeeper who, confronting McMillan about the discrepancy, was told that she was being tested.
Slothouber drew attention to what auditors viewed as intentional structuring of bank accounts to avoid reporting the extra income, as well as several major withdrawals in the aftermath of her arrest. He emphasized the scope of the deception — 361 separate occasions over almost six years, escalating until, in the final year, she walked away with cash almost every day she worked.
“There were only 15 days out of 199 that she could keep her sticky fingers out of the till,” he said.
Meanwhile, Slothouber observed, McMillan and her husband reported legitimate annual household income of over $100,000, compared with a national median of $54,000.
“They were twice as rich as the average American before she stole nearly half a million dollars from the taxpayers of this county,” he said. “What did she spend it on? It wasn’t medical expenses. It was fast cars, fancy trucks, fancy toys and frivolous spending.”
Specifically, a $47,000 Chevy Camaro, $46,000 GMC Sierra, an $18,000 Harley Davison, a camper worth $20,000, a commercial trailer and $85,000 worth of drag racing parts.
Slothouber dismissed the notion that McMillan had stolen purely to keep up with her mortgage and to pay for medical expenses. Her repeatedly refinanced house could have been paid off for $230,000 and her medical plan would have covered all but $32,000, he asserted, with $180,000 left over.
In the end, Slothouber said, there’s also the matter of the message that the recommended short jail term or house arrest would send.
“If the PSI recommendation is followed, crime does pay,” he said. “I would never commit the theft in the first place, but if someone offered me $400,000 to spend 90 days in jail — I’d take it in a heartbeat. Wouldn’t you?”
He ended on a clip of McMillan alone in the interrogation room on the day of her arrest.
“I let it go too far,” she whispered to herself.
After a short break, McMillan herself approached the podium for a brief statement.
“I would like to say to Jean, the staff, the citizens of GarCo, my family, that I am truly sorry for the pain my actions have caused them,” she said. “I can’t change the past, but I can work on the future.”
Next, Greg Greer did his best to counter Slothouber.
He pointed out that the family owed money on each of the cited vehicles, and had sold the Camaro to get out from under the payments. The Harley and the camper, he added, are both listed on Craigslist.
“It’s really not a coincidence this occurred in a period of time now known as the Great Recession,” he observed.
He found Slothouber’s assessment of her potential medical bills misguided.
“That’s not exactly how insurance works,” he said. “You can’t calculate medical expenses that way.”
Greer reminded the court that McMillan had no prior arrest record and waived her rights and took responsibility following her arrest.
“This is somebody with their world crumbling around them, and she is telling them, “Yes, I did it,’” he said.
He further cited McMillan’s score of 4 out of 54 on the Level of Service Inventory (LSI), which measures risk to reoffend, as “the lowest score I have ever seen.”
A prison sentence, Greer said, was inappropriate based on the evidence at hand, including the cost to the taxpayers and the fact that it would impede her ability to pay restitution.
“Robin McMillan has lived in shame since that day, and she will live in that shame for the rest of her life. That is the sentence brought to her by her own conduct,” he said. “All consequences count, not just consequences that are meted out in this process.”
Judge Lynch wasn’t moved.
“Nobody needs all that stuff,” she said. “Lots of people were suffering during that period of time. There are alternatives to stealing.”
“This is not a victimless crime at all,” she added. “I’m a victim in this case. Everyone here was a victim in this case. This money was stolen from the taxpayers of Garfield County.”
She cited 10-year prison terms in two previous embezzlement cases to cross her desk before making her ruling: 10 years for theft and six for filing a false tax return, served concurrently.
As the assembly quietly filtered out, McMillan was led away to begin her sentence.