MADISON — Attorneys and their assistants are a common sight here in Madison County District Court, as one might expect. However, it is not every day an attorney is called to testify against a former assistant.
Heather Slobodny, 39, of Norfolk was sentenced to 3 to 5 years in the Nebraska Department of Corrections on Tuesday by Judge James Kube for theft.
Slobodny was convicted of stealing from her employer, a petroleum company.
A manager of the company estimates that Slobodny may have stolen up to $86,000 over the course of two years, beginning in 2016, he said.
Slobodny worked part time as an officer manager, and one of her duties included paying bills, said the manager, who testified in court.
The missing funds were not discovered until the owners noticed that withdrawals were being made to pay off credit cards the company didn’t have, and the withdrawals were being made by Slobodny. The owners also discovered that personal items, such as clothes, were being purchased by Slobodny along with office supplies.
Slobodny said she had permission to take the funds, though.
Slobodny said she, and other employees, often borrowed money from the business's owner.
The manager confirmed this but said the loans were always in cash and employees repaid them.
Slobodny said the amount of money she took was significantly less than $86,000 and that she had repaid some of the amount.
The manager said this isn’t the case.
“We have not seen a dime,” he said.
Deputy County Attorney Matthew Kiernan said the evidence was against there being an agreement between Slobodny and the company’s owner, he said.
“If there was such an agreement, why did she take funds in such a secretive way?” Kiernan asked.
The loss of that much money has had a big impact on both the company’s management personally and the business financially, the manager said.
“It’s affected us all emotionally,” he said. “We thought we could trust Heather. It’s been very tough on all of us. It’s been tough on the business financially.”
To make up for the losses, some at the company have had to start working more hours and taking on more jobs, he said.
Another of Slobodny’s former employers was called to testify, too.
An attorney said he had worked with Slobodny, who has a paralegal degree, at another firm before he and his partner hired her to come work at theirs.
Slobodny worked for the attorney and his partner from late 2013 or early 2014 until October 2014, he said.
The attorney said Slobodny was fired after a bookkeeper informed him that she was misusing funds. This amounted to about $5,000 in losses for the firm, he said.
Slobodny was never convicted for this alleged theft.
Slobodny’s attorney, Douglas Stratton, objected to the attorney’s testimony, saying it was hearsay since it had never been proven. Kube overruled the objection, though.
Stratton said Slobodny has not denied that she took money but has only disputed the amount and whether she had permission to take it.
“From the very beginning, Heather (Slobodny) has acknowledged she took money from the company,” he said. “Once you start down that path, it becomes very easy to continue down it.”
Stratton said Slobodny also has health and substance abuse problems that he thinks may have affected her decision-making abilities.
Before sentencing her, Kube told Slobodny that he believed if there was an agreement between her and the owner of the petroleum company, the owner had a different understanding of it than her.
Kube also told Slobodny he was not sentencing her on anything that may have happened while she worked for the law firm. In addition to the prison sentence, there was no order for restitution.
Kube sentenced others Thursday on the following charges:
— Alexander Forman, 18, Yankton, South Dakota, third-degree assault, possession of methamphetamine, 24 months’ probation, 90 days in jail with credit for 76 days served to be served before the end of probation unless waived, costs.
Delivery of methamphetamine
— Angela Casperson, 48, 2213 Sunset Plaza, attempted delivery of methamphetamine, 2 to 3 years in the Nebraska Department of Corrections with credit for nine days served, costs.
— Haleigh Kappel (Gerard), 24, 910 W. Park Ave., two counts of attempted delivery of methamphetamine, possession of methamphetamine, 3 to 4 years in the Nebraska Department of Corrections with credit for 106 days served, 18 months’ SASS probation, 90 days in jail with credit for one day served to be served before the end of probation unless waived, costs.
— Antonio Franklin, Terre Haute, Indiana, theft by receiving stolen property, 2 to 4 years in the Nebraska Department of Corrections with credit for 61 days served, costs.
— Michael Ronnfeldt, 34, 605 Boxelder St., three counts of theft, three counts of burglary, obstructing a peace officer, 12 to 18 years in the Nebraska Department of Corrections with a minimum sentence of 6 years with credit for 143 days served, costs.
— Martin Santiago Jr., Norfolk, criminal impersonation, 12 months’ probation, costs.
— Michael Warnock, 59, 1208 Norfolk Ave., probation violations on prior charge of possession of methamphetamine, probation revoked, 1 year in the Nebraska Department of Corrections with credit for 95 days served, costs.