Woman guilty of stealing money from teller drawer
April 19, 2002
A 52-year-old grandmother and former Alpine Bank teller was convicted of felony theft in Pitkin County District Court on Thursday.
A six-man, six-woman jury found Susie Braunthal guilty of stealing $4,000 from the Aspen branch of Alpine Bank on Nov. 24, 1999. The jury reached its verdict after nearly three days of trial that ended with Braunthal taking the stand in her own defense.
Braunthal, who began sobbing after hearing the verdict, faces up to 12 years in prison and fines of anywhere from $2,000 to $500,000. But the presumptive sentence for a felony theft conviction is two to six years, according to Assistant District Attorney Lawson Wills.
Braunthal currently lives with her husband, Sergio, in Hawaii. Pitkin County District Court Judge J.E. DeVilbiss agreed to allow Braunthal to remain free on $5,000 bond until she is sentenced in early June.
In deciding Braunthal’s guilt, the jury overcame some weak points in the prosecution’s case. That included a lost segment of videotape that reportedly showed Braunthal reaching into a money drawer at a teller station at Alpine Bank and taking the money.
The video surveillance tape was destroyed because it was played over and over by bank officials and police investigators. The prosecution was instead forced to rely on a set of seven fuzzy still shots captured from the videotape that depicted Braunthal at her co-worker’s station with an open drawer, although none of the pictures showed Braunthal with money in her hand. That co-worker, Janice Rust, came up $4,000 short that night.
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In his final arguments, Wills said the crux of his case had shifted away from the surveillance tape, however, and on to Braunthal’s credibility as a witness. Braunthal was the one-and-only witness for the defense, so credibility likely played a key factor in the jury’s deliberations.
Braunthal put up a spirited fight when she took the witness stand, emphatically and repeatedly denying that she took the money. But her decision to testify exposed her in ways that wouldn’t have come up had she remained seated.
She admitted that she was convicted of theft in 1985 while living in California. And she confirmed on cross examination that she changed her name from Susana Braunthal to Susie Braunthal after the 1985 conviction.
She admitted lying on her employment application at Alpine Bank by checking the “no” box next to the line that asks applicants whether they have been convicted of a crime. She thought the deception was necessary because she “really wanted the job.”
She admitted lying early on in the investigation about being in Rust’s teller station, even after being told that the bank’s surveillance system caught her in Rust’s station.
Throughout cross examination and final arguments, Wills repeatedly pointed out Braunthal’s lies and untruths. “She is not above telling you untruths whenever it suits her,” Wills said.
Defense attorney Fred Gannett said he and Braunthal were disappointed with the verdict, but declined to say whether they intended to appeal. Asked if they regretted putting Braunthal on the witness stand, Gannett replied, “Ms. Braunthal had a story to tell. She said what she aimed to say.”