An Idaho Falls woman who embezzled more than $240,000 was sentenced to a rider program Thursday.
The Bonneville County Prosecutor’s Office had offered to recommend probation for Sarah Elizabeth Kjar, 24, as part of a plea agreement if she paid $15,000 of the restitution owed to Castlerock Homes, her former employer. She failed to pay the amount, and both the prosecution and defense agreed the prosecution was not bound by the agreement. Kjar pleaded guilty to grand theft and forgery.
Kjar was arrested in April after an audit discovered she had sent herself checks from the company where she worked as a bookkeeper and used a company credit card for personal expenses. The funds were used to cover her and her former husband’s college tuition, and for spending at restaurants and luxury stores. Kjar had also not paid Castlerock Homes‘ suppliers.
According to court records, when Joshua Higley, the owner of Castlerock Homes, confronted Kjar, she told him she was a “trust fund baby” and would pay him back.
Higley read a victim impact statement in court, saying he nearly had to declare bankruptcy and had to shut down his business for six months to assess the loss, reducing his revenue.
“What she has done and the severity of the damage will go on for years and years,” Higley said.
Higley said he nearly lost his own home and had started taking heart medication for the stress caused by his financial struggles.
Defense Attorney John Thomas argued his client should be placed on probation, despite failing to cover the $15,000 in restitution in the plea agreement. Thomas said his client had struggled to find work because of the charges against her. He offered evidence she had recently found a job and said she could more easily pay off the restitution while on probation or in jail on work release.
Thomas said his client had no criminal history, though he acknowledged Kjar “swung for the fences” in her first offense. The presentence investigation found she was a low risk to reoffend, and Thomas argued she was not the type of repeat offender the rider program was meant for.
“I think Ms. Kjar’s number one priority is to pay this restitution off, and in order to do that she needs to be in the community,” Thomas said.
Bonneville County Deputy Prosecutor Tyler Dodge, however, pointed to the means Kjar used to embezzle the money and said it was evidence of criminal thinking. The probable cause affidavit states Kjar deleted records of the checks she sent minutes after writing them and forging Higley’s signature. The embezzlement took place over a 13-month period.
Dodge also cited the presentence investigation, saying Kjar told the investigator she believed her boyfriend would cover the restitution if she was unable to find a job. The investigator concluded Kjar did not understand the damage cause by her crimes.
Kjar told District Judge Joel Tingey she intended to give her entire salary to the victim and that her employer had offered to address her checks to the courthouse.
“I’m ashamed of myself, and I’m ashamed of what happened,” Kjar said.
Tingey gave Kjar an underlying sentence of two to seven years in prison. If she completes the rider program, typically lasting six months to a year, Tingey can decide whether to release her on probation or impose the underlying sentence.
Kjar was ordered to pay $330,564.54 in restitution.