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A former Laramie Dental Arts employee accused of embezzling more than $40,000 was sentenced Thursday to eight years of supervised probation and ordered to repay the stolen money.
Kristina Margaret Meuchel, 39, was charged with one felony count of wrongful taking or disposing of property. She initially pleaded not guilty to the charge in April, but later pleaded guilty at a change of plea hearing in July.
In a statement to the court Thursday, Meuchel said her actions were “selfish” and apologized to Dr. Troy Knaub, Laramie Dental Arts owner, from “the bottom of (her) heart.”
“It was wrong, I’m ashamed and I’m sorry for my actions,” she said.
Defense attorney Tom Fleener requested a sentence of probation, arguing Meuchel was a first-time offender and wouldn’t be able to pay the full amount of restitution if she were incarcerated. At the time of the sentencing hearing, his client had $4,000 in restitution available, he said.
“I was hard on her,” he said. “She needs to pay that money back.”
Prosecuting attorney Robert Sanford agreed with this reasoning, requesting a period of five years of probation with a suspended sentence of three-six years in prison.
“The state is pleased that she did come in today with some amount,” he said.
District Court Judge Jeffrey Donnell opted to prioritize restitution, ordering a sentence of eight years of supervised probation with a suspended sentence of four-eight years of incarceration, a punishment he viewed as “minimally appropriate.” He ordered Meuchel to repay a total of $41,205.23 through payments of at least $500 each month, write a letter of apology and compile a list of office records that were deleted within 30 days.
“That is the only reason you’re not going away today,” he told her.
According to a Laramie Police Department affidavit, an officer met with Laramie Dental Arts staff Jan. 28 following a report of possible embezzlement at the office.
Knaub told the police an employee of Dentrix — a dental software company — alerted him to multiple suspect transactions on office audit reports, almost all of which were under Meuchel’s code, the affidavit states. Knaub and an office assistant said no one at Laramie Dental Arts knew other employees’ Dentrix passwords, not even Knaub.
Meuchel was employed as Laramie Dental Arts’ office manager from June 2012-January 2015, when she abruptly resigned from her position, according to the affidavit. Prior to leaving, Knaub told the police, she started shredding a large number of documents.
An audit dated from June 2012-December 2014 showed a number of payment irregularities, including changed dates and deleted and reposted payments, which were posted and altered under Meuchel’s code, the affidavit states. Many of the accompanying deposit slips indicated no cash or little cash was deposited on the corresponding payment dates.
The total suspected theft was roughly $41,093.
Knaub said Thursday he was considering pursuing civil action against Meuchel to recover wages, claiming she conducted personal business on the clock and destroyed hundreds of Microsoft Word and Excel documents. The destroyed documents did not affect patients, he said.
“I was paying her a very, very good wage, and she was not doing her job,” he said.
He said Meuchel should feel fortunate she wouldn’t spend time behind bars and hoped she could abide by the terms of the sentencing.
“I think the judge and the county attorneys did an exceptional job and I really respect their judgment and the direction that things went,” he said.
In court Thursday, Donnell warned Meuchel there would be consequences if she stole again.
“If you get caught doing this again, pack your toothbrush, ’cause you’re off to the penitentiary,” he said.
Laramie Dental Arts owner frustrated with slow restitution payment
Months after a former employee was sentenced for embezzling more than $40,000 from Laramie Dental Arts, the business has received restitution payments significantly lower than the amount ordered by the court.
In October, Kristina Margaret Meuchel, 40, was sentenced to eight years of supervised probation, with an underlying sentence of 4-8 years incarceration, and ordered to pay back $41,205.23 in monthly installments of $500.
At that sentencing hearing, defense attorney Tom Fleener said his client had brought $4,000 in payment for restitution.
According to court records, a payment of $3,750 was filed Oct. 16, but in the following months, Laramie Dental Arts only received a $125 payment Nov. 30 and a $200 payment Dec. 31.
In a motion filed Nov. 6, Fleener requested a modification of the restitution plan on behalf of his client, arguing Meuchel was currently unemployed and expected to be able to pay after receiving her cosmetology degree.
The motion asked Meuchel be allowed to make a “nominal restitution payment” of $100 per month, but District Court Judge Jeffrey Donnell denied the motion Nov. 30, citing the amount of restitution to be paid.
Dr. Troy Knaub, Laramie Dental Arts owner, said he was frustrated with the amount of payment his office had received, as it could take at least twice as long as anticipated to recover the full amount of restitution if payments continued at the current rate. That amount stolen from his office could have “destroyed a business,” he said.
“Who is holding this woman accountable?” he asked. “She stole more than $40,000 from me. The courts decide to let her move to Colorado, begin her whole new life. Now I’m sitting here and I can’t figure out who I’m going to talk to, who’s going to make her accountable.”
His sentiments were echoed by co-office manager Chris Miller, who questioned what small business owners in the community could do if they encountered a comparable situation.
“I feel like we’re intelligent people who think for ourselves, and it’s shocking,” she said. “I’m shocked, as a 44-year-old human being, that if a judge mandates something that isn’t followed through on.”
In a letter to Donnell written in December, Knaub noted the judge stated during the sentencing hearing the only reason she wasn’t sent to prison was so she could pay restitution to her former employer.
“My frustration level is very high and at this point, I feel her actions show she will never properly repay the stolen money,” the letter states. “Based on this feeling and the tone she’s set for repayments, I would like to see your originally preferred sentencing of jail time instituted as you only avoided this route for the ease of repayment.”
Dasa Robertson, director of the Albany County Crime Victim/Witness Program, said probation and parole officers typically take into account whether the offender is making an effort to pay.
“As long as she’s making some restitution, they won’t revoke her probation,” she said.
According to court documents, Meuchel was Laramie Dental Arts’ office manager from June 2012-January 2015, when she abruptly resigned from her position; before she left, Knaub told the police, she started shredding a large number of documents.
An audit from June 2012-December 2014 revealed a number of payment irregularities, including changed dates and deleted and reposted payments altered under Meuchel’s code, documents state, and many of the accompanying deposit slips indicated deposits of no cash or little cash on the corresponding payment dates.
The total suspected theft was roughly $41,093.
Outside of the financial loss, the theft has had a significant emotional effect on both Laramie Dental Arts employees and their families, Knaub said.
“It’s kind of emotionally draining, having to constantly think about it and wonder if justice is going to be served,” he said. “It was a year of putting together data and information, which was completely exhausting … we had to keep proving, and proving and proving that she was the one that did it, and finally she had a change of plea. It’s just been an emotional roller-coaster, and quite honestly I want to be done thinking about it, but I feel like I can’t, because the state’s not taking the appropriate measures to make sure she’s held accountable.”
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