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Ex-loan officer sentenced

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ANN MARIE AMES
May 3, 2012
— Thefts by a Parker Community Credit Union manager were harder on employees than an armed robbery would have been, a former employee said in court Wednesday.

Rock County Judge Kenneth Forbeck agreed.


"Armed robbery usually involves an insignificant amount of money and one teller," Forbeck said. "This is not that situation. You have affected a ton of people."


Forbeck sentenced Laura A. Powers, 51, Janesville, to five years in prison and five years of extended supervision.


Powers was charged in June with using her position as a loan officer to take out more than $600,000 in loans in other people's names. She pleaded guilty in February to one count of theft of more than $10,000 in a business setting and four counts of identity theft.


Six other counts of identity theft were dismissed but read into the record for purposes of restitution.


A restitution hearing is scheduled for Thursday, June 21. The credit union believes Powers should repay $734,335, but Powers' attorney, Jack Hoag, disagrees with that, Assistant District Attorney Mary Bricco said.


Forbeck told Powers that a room full of people sat behind her.


One side of the room was filled mostly with employees or members of the credit union who remained mostly dry-eyed.


On the others side sat mostly members of Powers' friends and family members. Many cried openly.


"No matter what side of the room they are sitting on, they are disappointed," Forbeck said.


Powers worked at the credit union for more than 20 years. Over about 10 years, she used other people's names to take out at least 18 loans totaling about $615,000, according to court documents. She had at least $700,000 in loans in her own name from the credit union. Her monthly payments were between $10,000 and $15,000. Her annual salary was $40,000, according to court documents.


Powers started using family members' names to take out loans. She later moved on to friends and strangers, according to court documents.


She withdrew cash from a machine at the drive-through window and used that to repay loans. She accessed teller stations to make cash payments or made employees do so for her. She instructed a former collections employee not to make calls to some people about past-due loans, according to court documents.


She was caught when she forgot to change the mailing address on a loan book. When a credit union member got the loan documents in the mail, she called the credit union, Bricco said.


Powers' actions tarnished PCCU's reputation and brought financial hardship for the credit union as well as personal and financial hardship for some employees, said James Anson, PCCU board president.


The credit union had to hire an attorney and a forensic auditor and pay staff to sort through the trails of Powers' fake loans. It hired grief counselors to help employees deal with the stress of being deceived by a friend and manager, Arneson said.


A number of members closed accounts, he said.


Some employees lost their jobs because the company that backs the credit union's bonds were no longer willing to bond some employees who worked with Powers, CEO Steve Petrillo said.


Sandra Homan was one of those people who lost her job as a direct result of Laura's actions, Homan said Wednesday in court. Some people are losing their homes as well, she said.


White-collar crimes might be considered less dangerous than violent crimes, Homan said, but because Powers was well respected and looked up to as a leader, the pain is greater and felt by more people than an armed robbery would have been, she said.


"The fallout of Laura's crimes will be felt for years to come," Homan said.


Powers' sister, Alicia Bolton, said Powers has turned over her 401(k) and other possessions to start making restitution. Bolton said community service would be the best means of allowing her sister to repay her moral and financial debt.


"I'm sorry that she's hurt other people," Bolton said. "But you, yourselves, have said she would be there for you. Her boys need her, and she needs them. We need her."


Karen Meng, another family member, read from a letter Powers had written.


Powers "got caught up in an impossible nightmare," Meng read. Before the investigation, Powers would wake up in terror in the middle of the night and pray she wouldn't die in her sleep before she could confess, Meng read.


Hoag said Powers' actions were the result of "some form of distorted mental health."


Forbeck said he didn't agree with that.


"You got greedy," Forbeck said.


He added that he did not think Powers was likely to commit another financial crime.


Bricco agreed and said Powers stole out of greed. Powers violated people's privacy and fostered a work atmosphere that lacked appropriate oversight. Powers chose to use her family members' identities to get fake loans because family members are forgiving, Bricco said.


Bricco argued for eight years of prison and eight years of supervision.


Hoag argued for one year in the Rock County Jail so Powers would be better able to work to pay restitution.


Powers said a few words to Forbeck to express her regret. Hoag's voice cracked with emotion when he read a statement on Powers' behalf.


Powers has been living in a mental prison, hiding in her home and praying no one recognizes her when she is out, according to the letter.


"It is a horrible feeling, but one I have created," Powers wrote.



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