A woman convicted of embezzling from a local company was ordered to pay restitution of more than $250,000 and sentenced to up to ten years in prison Wednesday in Natrona County District Court.
Melissa Fenster, who was originally charged with 14 counts — including 11 felonies — related to stealing from her former employer, Rocky Mountain Oilfield Warehouse, was convicted on four felony counts as part of a plea agreement and sentenced to no less than two and one-half years in prison.
“I thought I was a good judge of character,” owner of the company Phillip Cooper said during the hearing. “I guess I was wrong.”
Assistant District Attorney Michael Shafer said Fenster had been living a “lavish” lifestyle with the money she had been quietly stealing over the course a little less than two years.
According to court documents, Fenster was hired at Rocky Mountain Oilfield Warehouse in September 2010 and put in charge of accounts payable, meaning she handled the company’s bills.
Throughout the course of her employment, Fenster used that position to pay for her own personal benefits and used various unauthorized accounts for herself, including an account with Staples, whose documents state she used to make $134,410 in unauthorized purchases at the company’s expense.
“It might be more understandable if she had used the money to pay for her son’s college or something like that,” Shafer said. He went on to say that she had used it to accumulate goods, many of which he had found broken in her home during investigations, he said.
Fenster was caught after she was fired in late July 2012 for sloppy work, Cooper told police. According to the arrest report, Cooper and his accountant had then reviewed the company’s accounts and found unauthorized charges on the phone bill. Fenster had used company funds to provide her boyfriend and two sons with phones and service through Verizon Wireless, costing the company $7,319.02.
Further examination of the accounts found that Fenster used the company to pay for her insurance and had used accounts with businesses including Staples, Home Depot, corporate Mastercard and gas companies without authorization.
She also opened some accounts in the business’s name but with her home mailing address, the report states.
The police report also alleges that on multiple occasions Fenster forged Cooper’s signature, including on two occasions for checks to the Natrona County Circuit Court. Those charges were dismissed in the plea deal.
During the sentencing hearing Wednesday, Shafer said Fenster had previously pleaded guilty to eight counts of forgery in Nebraska from 2006 to 2008.
When offered a chance to speak, Fenster said those charges were the result of a misunderstanding. She also said that the current situation had arisen because she had been desperate.
In an interview Wednesday, Cooper said Fenster’s actions had a direct negative impact on the business and the business’s employees, who receive bonuses based on the company’s profit.
Cooper said he wasn’t optimistic about recovering the $257,131.68 owed to the company.
“The judicial system doesn’t do anything for the victims,” he said. “This process has taken forever, and now it’s on to the next set of headaches.”