Pleads not guilty in court
An accountant for a local interior design business has been accused of multiple crimes, including theft, fraud and embezzlement, involving funds in excess of $100,000.
Crested Butte South resident Paula Stepanek is the suspect in two different legal cases in which she allegedly took money without authorization from Ansley Interiors. The Gunnison District Attorney’s office is charging Stepanek with five counts of felony theft as part of a criminal case. The owner of Ansley Interiors is making 10 different legal claims against Stepanek as part of a civil case.
Stepanek plead not guilty to all charges in the criminal case in Gunnison District Court on Thursday, September 11. District Attorney Myrl Serra says the case is now set for trial in the first week of March 2009. The trial is expected to last two weeks.
Ansley Interiors owner Sara Potoker hired Stepanek in 2004, first as an accountant and later as a bookkeeper for the business. Potoker alleges that Stepanek began wrongfully taking money from business accounts after only a few months on the job.
Potoker claims the Quickbooks accounting reports provided regularly by Stepanek differ from actual bank statements and recorded checks.
Potoker alleges Stepanek was writing monthly paychecks to herself for $2,000 to $3,000 each, was using the company account to make purchases on Amazon.com, and was also using the company account to pay off personal credit cards in her and her husband’s name.
Potoker believes Stepanek stole in excess of $100,000 altogether.
According to Serra, Potoker contacted local law enforcement to report the crime on March 24. Serra says the local police conducted a preliminary investigation and determined that the alleged crime could be considered a felony offense. At that point, the police turned their case file over to the district attorney’s office with a request for prosecution. Deputy district attorney Shannon Chambers has led the investigation.
Serra says Stepanek has been charged with one count of theft series over $20,000, a class three felony offense. Stepanek is also charged with four counts of theft series between $500 and $15,000, all class four felonies.
A single theft under $500 is considered a misdemeanor offense, but when it can be proven that such a theft occurred repeatedly and intentionally, it becomes a felony known as theft series.
Serra says theft series crimes are on the rise. “There has been a significant increase in these types of allegations in the last three or four years,” he says.
Serra stresses that Stepanek is innocent until proven guilty. “She has not been convicted of anything,” he says.
Stepanek’s attourney chose not to comment on the story.
Potoker also filed a separate civil case in Gunnison District Court against Stepanek and her husband, Nathan, a Mt. Crested Butte police officer.
In the civil case, Potoker is making 10 claims against the Stepaneks, including theft, fraud, embezzlement, civil conspiracy, and breach of contract.
The civil complaint was filed on August 28 and the defendants had until September 8 to answer.
Paula Stepanek has asked the court to postpone, or “stay,” the civil case until the criminal case has been resolved.
District attorney Serra says the civil case has no bearing on the criminal case.
Nathan Stepanek has filed an answer and counterclaim to Potoker’s allegations. Throughout the majority of his answer, Mr. Stepanek either denies outright the allegations made by Potoker, or argues that he does not have enough information to determine whether certain allegations are true or false.
Mt. Crested Butte police chief Hank Smith says the case is not being discussed among officers, and is not affecting the department. Smith says as soon as Nathan Stepanek found his wife was being investigated, he informed the department. Smith says, “Whatever somebody’s spouse does is their business. I can tell you, everybody here emotionally supports Nate.”