A Plains woman who admitted to embezzling more than a quarter-million dollars from a local dental clinic was sentenced Friday to 30 years with 25 suspended in the Montana Department of Corrections.
Dorothea P. Knudson, 45, of Plains, pleaded guilty to theft by embezzlement, deceptive practices and theft by insurance fraud in Ravalli County District Court in May.
She was sentenced to 10 years with five suspended for embezzlement, 10 years suspend for deceptive practices and 10 years suspended for insurance fraud, to run consecutively.
After sentencing, Deputy County Attorney William Fulbright was disappointed at what he called “a slap on the wrist.”
“I’m disappointed that a bookkeeper can steal $250,000, and not set foot in prison,” he said in a prepared statement.
Fulbright argued for a Montana State Prison commitment for 10 years for the first charge, five years suspended for the second and 10 years with five suspended for the third count.
“This sentence is clearly driven by the (Montana State Prison) Sentence Review Board’s prior intervention in the sentencing of the Teller Wildlife Refuge and Specialty Woodworks embezzlers,” Fulbright said. It is unfortunate that this virtually unknown institution, not subject to review, has taken away discretion our district court should feel to sentence appropriately. The Sentence Review Board has again sent the message that white-collar crime pays in Montana.”
In two recent Ravalli County embezzlement cases, the board knocked down hefty prison sentences in favor of a few years of probation for convicted felons.
The defendant argued for 20 years in the Montana Department of Corrections with 18 years suspended, including participation in the adult probation intensive supervision program.
Knudson tricked the dental clinic’s owners into writing her 185 checks worth more than $163,500. Knudson also filed a number of fraudulent insurance claims worth $35,836.
Langton ordered Knudson to pay $228,861 in restitution to the owners of the dental practice. He also ordered her to pay the remaining $1,140 to the Delta Dental Insurance Company.
Ravalli County Attorney Bill Fulbright recommended 25 years with 10 years suspended, saying Knudson exploited a trusting friendship with the Laceys, who own the business.
Sandy Lacey testified Knudson was a supportive friend to her when her mother passed away, offering a shoulder to cry on. Yet that same week she took thousands of dollars from the business.
“I don’t want her to pay us back by doing this to someone else,” Lacey said. She added that while they were struggling to makes ends meet living in a 1,000-square-foot apartment, Knudson and her family were living a fancy lifestyle in a nice big house.
Lacey said Knudson was taking $2,500 to $5,500 a month from the practice.
It took hundreds of hours over the last three years for the Laceys to go through their records from the dental clinic to figure out what items were fraudulent and what was valid.
Knudson was initially charged with two counts of theft by embezzlement, theft by deception and forgery, all felonies, but a May 24 plea agreement amended the charges.
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