7/14/2017 7:28:00 AM Former credit union employee draws jail, probation for stealing funds
Jamie Taylor/River News
Tabitha Kovac leaves the courtroom of judge Patrick OíMelia Monday following her sentencing hearing.
Jamie Taylor/River News
Park City Credit Union president Val Mindak looks at Tabitha Kovac as she reads a victimís impact statement on behalf of her organization during Kovacís sentencing hearing Monday.
A 24-year-old Rhinelander woman was sentenced Monday to 30 days in jail and two years probation after pleading no contest to using her position with the Minocqua branch of Park City Credit Union (PCCU) to steal over $12,000 between October 2016 and Jan. 2, 2017.
Tabitha A. Kovac was charged Jan. 23 with a single felony count of theft in a business setting over $10,000.
According to the complaint, Kovac used her position as a loan officer at Park City Credit Union in Minocqua to write money orders and a corporate check for personal gain. At no time were member accounts or funds involved in the thefts, the credit union has stressed.
PCCU president Val Mindak and the credit union's CEO Jack Mikunda reported the incident to the Minocqua Police Department after an internal investigation turned up irregularities, the complaint states.
In an interview with investigators detailed in the complaint, Kovac allegedly admitted she had been printing checks to herself from the credit union's account without permission.
The credit union claimed Kovac took a total of $12,174.91, but noted it was able to recover a portion of those funds when some of the later transactions were voided before the funds were disbursed.
Kovac faced a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison on the class G felony; however, a plea agreement worked out between district attorney Michael Schiek and defense attorney Gary Cirilli saw Schiek amend the charge to the class H version of the original charge, which carries a maximum punishment of 6 years in prison.
Schiek and Cirilli asked for a withheld sentence and for Kovac to be placed on probation for two years with 30 days conditional jail time, restitution totaling $9,608.94 and 200 hours community service. The plea agreement also directed Kovac to write a letter of apology to the PCCU board of directors and attend a financial counseling course.
Kovac may apply to have the matter expunged if she successfully completes probation and pays restitution and court costs in full.
Mindak made a victim's impact statement to judge Patrick O'Melia before the sentence was handed down. She said the real victims are the 20,000 member/owners of the credit union, as well as the reputation of the institution.
"Tabitha used her position to take $12,174 in money orders and corporate checks for her personal gain from our organization," Mindak said. "She attempted to take $2,786 from innocent member accounts. She made the decision to take money 15 separate times from our credit union."
Based on how Kovac took the money, Mindak said she had to have known what she was doing and her intentions were deliberate.
"I truly believe she would have taken far more if our internal controls hadn't stopped her," Mindak said, adding that when Kovac was confronted "there was no remorse."
"I do not believe that she is sorry that she took the money, I believe she is only sorry that she got caught. The money belongs to the hard-working members of our organization and it needs to be returned," Mindak said. "She used the money to take a trip to Mexico, pay for personal bills, for other personal expenses with no concern with where the money came from or the harm that she was doing to our brand and reputation of our organization. We have been in existence for over 79 years serving our members, and we pride ourselves on the trust and the reputation that we have with our members, that they can trust us with their funds and financial business."
While PCCU was able to stop further thefts of money, the damage to the institution's reputation cannot be quickly undone, Mindak added.
"She was very savvy about what to do to cover up her transactions in the short-term, and we only wish she would have used this for good and continue to progress in her career. This is the saddest part for me," Mindak said.
She asked that Kovac's punishment be fair and said she believes the terms of the plea agreement are fair.
"I'm a realist, though, she is young and I don't want this sentence to haunt her forever," Mindak said. "I want her to be able to get a decent job and not be prevented from having a meaningful life and activities in the future. I really do, Tabitha, you're a smart girl with a lot of promise, but you can't make those choices again."
Schiek said the restitution amount being requested includes the 10-percent surcharge his office tacks on. He said that it was important for the court to hear from Mindak about the damage Kovac's actions inflicted on the credit union's reputation.
"The fiduciary trust is a duty that employees would owe to those clients, and she (Mindak) is certainly concerned about her reputation doing business and relies on the community for that business," Schiek said.
He said the sentence he crafted with Cirilli is a fair one and the 30-day punitive jail time is appropriate.
"I think the message needs to be sent that if somebody in the community is doing this, the reaction is going to be that there will be a jail sentence involved," he said. "I also think that community service is a great way to pay back the community."
He added that offering the option of expungement if she fulfills her probation, community service and restitution requirements is a way for Kovac to put the matter behind her. "But she is going to have to work for it," he added.
Cirilli agreed with Schiek's statement that the plea agreement is a just resolution to this matter. He said Kovac has accepted responsibility for her actions even if she can't clearly explain why she took the money.
"I think she is a very nice person, a well meaning person; she just got into financial hardship and made a series of bad choices, one after the other," he said. "She intended to pay it back, but as we often see in these type of things, they cascade or build upon each other, and that is what happened to Tabitha."
He told O'Melia that Kovac hoped she would have the restitution funds before the hearing and had talked to her grandmother early into the case about borrowing the money from her, but her grandmother died this spring. The estate is now in probate, he added.
"You do know that probates can take a while, don't you?" O'Melia asked.
Cirilli said the proposed punishment is a fair one and the possibility of expungement gives Kovac the incentive to complete all of the various requirements.
"She knows she made a mistake, judge," Cirilli said.
Kovac then made a short statement on her own behalf.
"I just want to say, your honor, that this is not who I am," she said, adding that she would "never ever do something like this again."
When asked why she took the money, Kovac replied she didn't really know herself, "it just doesn't make any sense."
After questioning Mindak and Kovac for several minutes, O'Melia agreed that what happened "was more than a mistake."
"This was more than a teller thinking you can get away with it, but you worked there for three years; you obviously knew what it took to cover your tracks as well as you could, but you should also know that you can't cover your tracks. There's no one that counts their pennies closer than banks," O'Melia said. "And I'm talking pennies. This is not a type of business where you sometimes see individuals who are treasurers or the bookkeeper who has worked there for 10 years and they normally don't keep an eye on that person and they steal money. They don't even know how much money they have sometimes, but banks do."
O'Melia said he doesn't know if Kovac has budget issues, whether her wants exceeded her salary, or what the real reason was that she took the money.
Still, outside of serious, violent crimes, the sentencing guidelines state that probation should always be the first choice of punishment, he noted. He also said Kovac's lack of prior criminal record also worked in her favor.
"But the amount (taken) is pretty substantial, and we will never know if you would have paid back the whole amount if you hadn't been caught," the judge added, before handing down a sentence identical to the plea agreement.
He did, however, make one exception. He directed Kovac to start making monthly payments toward the restitution amount immediately, rather than wait until her grandmother's estate clears probate.
Jamie Taylor may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.