Pleasant Valley school embezzler sentenced
A Nevada County judge cited the sophistication of the crime, two prior convictions for the same crime, and the fact that the defendant targeted a small, volunteer-run nonprofit that served children as some of the reasons she chose to sentence embezzler Michelle Huni to four years in prison.
That sentence will be served locally in county jail, however, and more than half of that will be on mandatory supervision, Superior Court Judge Candace Heidelberger said Friday.
Huni was arrested in March 2014, after members of the Pleasant Valley Elementary School District Parent Club reportedly realized Huni stole about $11,000 from the group’s account while serving as president of the club. Huni allegedly spent the money on a cell phone, groceries and other purchases.
Huni had taken a plea agreement in March 2015 in return for one year in jail and five years of supervised probation. In June 2015, Huni withdrew her plea in a dispute over alternative sentencing, then failed to appear for a pre-trial conference or for her next hearing. She subsequently was arrested in Oregon and charged with a felony count of failing to appear while on bail.
After a trial in July, Huni was found guilty of absconding after she fled the state, with a potential enhancement for failing to appear while out on bail for a felony.
Huni subsequently was set to go to trial on the embezzlement charges, but opted to plead no contest to grand theft by embezzlement, welfare fraud and perjury for aid. Her plea was entered as a “West plea,” meaning she was not admitting to the charges.
Victim Shari Oitzman read a letter before Huni’s sentencing on Friday, noting that the case had been going on for what seemed like a “very long time.”
Oitzman said she had made a promise to the schools’ staff and students that she would see the prosecution through to the end and she never wavered from her determination to see justice done.
“This was not an easy promise to keep,” she said, adding that every time she attended a court hearing, it “was like ripping the Band-Aid off the wound.”
“Maybe now we can all move on and finish the healing,” Oitzman said.
“There will always be scars,” she continued, saying that hers will remind her that not everyone can be trusted.
‘I hope your scar reminds you that what you did was not worth … the jail time, not seeing your kids,” Oitzman said to Huni.
“I hope your sentence will be long enough and difficult enough for you to decide to stop your bad choices … and not break the law again. I hope your sentence will be long enough and difficult enough that you decide to teach your children the value and honor of truth. I hope your sentence will be long enough.”
Huni’s court-appointed attorney, David Alkire, argued that Heidelberger should pay more attention to prior probation reports than the newest sentencing recommendation, saying that she deserved credit for accepting a plea agreement. He told Heidelberger that a longer sentence would penalize her husband and children, adding, “This is not the most serious financial crime to come before this court by a long shot in recent years.”
Heidelberger chose to deny probation, noting the vulnerability of the victims and the infliction of emotional injury and saying, “It was not the largest amount, but it was a small nonprofit, so it was large from that standpoint.”
She sentenced Huni to four years, with 20 months to be served in jail and the remainder to be served under mandatory supervision. A restitution hearing was scheduled for Sept. 30.
To contact City Editor Liz Kellar, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4229.
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