PINEDALE – Benita Gustafson, formerly of Big Piney, was sentenced by Ninth District Judge Marv Tyler Monday to five concurrent prison terms of five to eight years after pleading guilty to five of 23 check-forgery felonies filed against her earlier this year.
Gustafson, who previously worked as a prevention specialist, was also employed by the Sublette County Mosquito Abatement District #2 in Big Piney where her duties included making invoices and delivering checks for authorized board members’ signatures.
After finding irregularities, board member Karen Taylor contacted the Sublette County Sheriff’s Office, and an investigation revealed that Gustafson wrote, signed and cashed abatement district’s checks
totaling $24,815.27, records show.
Gustafson was arrested in July in New Mexico and extradited to Sublette County, where she has remained in the jail. A District Court trial was set on Dec. 10 but a plea agreement was filed Sept. 5. The next day, Gustafson pleaded guilty to five felonies, court records show.
The agreement states that if Gustafson pleaded guilty to the five felonies, the sentence recommended would be not more than 10 years at the Wyoming Women’s Center in Lusk, with credit for pre-sentence custody. It also recommended that Gustafson pay $25,567.27 in restitution, with a court order converting that to a civil judgment upon her sentencing, records show.
Monday the judge ordered her to repay a total of $29,066.27 to the abatement district and that she owes $20,633.08 for an appendectomy she had while in custody.
Eighteen of the felonies, as well as a 24th charge of felony larceny, were dismissed. Every charge carried a maximum penalty of up to 10 years in prison and/ or $10,000 fines.
Three people made statements on Gustafson’s behalf at Monday’s hearing, including her sister Jackie Arthur, who spoke of her volunteer work with A Woman’s Work, for one.
County attorney Neal Stelting had requested a sentence of seven to 10 years in prison based on her prior criminal history, saying she only learned how to commit the same crime again. Both sides asked that she receive counseling and treatment for anxiety and depression, which the judge noted she would receive during her prison term.
She said she was using the money she gained to pay her rent, utilities and help her parents.
Gustafson faced eight similar felony charges in Uinta County that were dismissed in 2008. She was charged in 2002 with larceny by bailee of almost $103,000 from that county’s conservation district. She faced the same penalties then that she did here.
Under terms of her plea agreement filed Oct. 22, 2002, and accepted by Third District Court Judge Dennis Sanderson, if Gustafson pleaded guilty or was convicted of two or more larceny charges, he could order her sentences to run either consecutively or concurrently and require payment of court fees and restitution of the amount taken, records show.
The 2002 agreement also noted that if Gustafson completed terms of supervised probation, the case would be dismissed without conviction. Court records show in 2002 Gustafson pleaded guilty to one charge of larceny. Judge Sanderson then suspended proceedings and “neither accepted nor rejected” Gustafson’s single guilty plea, pending her success with five years of supervised probation.
Probation terms included paying court fees, state costs of $10,230 and “her best efforts” to pay $102,847.49 to the Uinta County Conservation District, records show.
On Jan. 22, 2008, Judge Sanderson dismissed further proceedings and the charges with prejudice, noting that she “successfully completed all terms and conditions of probation,” records show.
He also ordered the “pending balance of restitution … reduced to a civil judgment in favor of the Uinta County Conservation District in the amount of $102,847.49 and the state of Wyoming in the amount of $4,040.00.”
For the complete article see the 11-06-2012 issue.
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