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Embezzlement victim gets bill from thief

It’s like an excerpt from “News of the Weird.”

A bookkeeper, who siphoned off nearly $100,000 while working for a successful construction company, is convicted of embezzlement and heads off to prison. While in prison, she files a claim with the state Department of Labor and Industry that says her former employer — the one she bilked — cheated her out of 40 hours worth of wages, plus overtime.

In response, L&I sends the construction company a bill for $578 and warns the owners they may be in violation of state labor law if they don’t pay up.

“It’s really a kick in the teeth,” said Steve Davis, general manager of Port Orchard-based RV Associates.

Davis said he was floored when he received the L&I letter a week ago. He said it seemed ludicrous that Jennifer Kathleen Montague — the woman who was convicted in January of stealing $87,792.41 in order to subsidize a gambling habit — was claiming Montague’s company cheated her out of her rightful earnings. It seemed particularly absurd given the likelihood that Montague had worked all those overtime hours in an effort to cover her tracks.

“They’re not even telling us how much overtime there is here,” Davis said.

Adding to the irony of the situation was a letter Davis received a week earlier from Kitsap County Superior Court.

In the letter, the court informed Davis that a restitution settlement had been reached. In accordance with the county’s standard repayment schedule, Montague would be sending RV between $25 to $50 a month until the $87,700 was all paid off.

At $25 a month, Davis pointed out, it will take Montague nearly 293 years to pay back all she stole. Even at the highest rate of $50 a month, it will still take the 58-year-old Montague approximately 146 years to repay everything.

Davis doesn’t expect to ever get back the money Montague took — prior to her arrest, she had stopped making payments altogether on a prior embezzlement conviction. However, he said the terms of the restitution settlement were borderline insulting.

“It’s a joke,” Davis said. “I’ll never get the money, first off, but to see this — it’s almost flaunting it in our face.

“If this is the system, it’s not a good system at all,” he added.

Neither the Department of Corrections officer responsible for Montague’s case — and her repayment schedule — nor the L&I agent handling the case returned phone calls for this story.

Davis doesn’t expect the L&I case will really go anywhere — he said RV Associates has a spotless record so far as employee payroll is concerned and he judges Montague’s claim bogus at best. After all, he explained, while Montague worked at his company, she was in charge of company payroll. If she forgot to pay herself, Davis said, she can hardly blame RV for it.

The issue, he continued, is the seeming injustice of the justice system.

Davis said RV has still not fully recovered from the damage Montague did while she worked there. He estimates the company laid out another $50,000 just to put its records and financial systems back in order after she left.

He said it bothers him that Montague can get the state to go to bat for her, while her victims struggle to rebuild and are accused of criminal misconduct to boot.

RV did decide to sue the agency it hired to do a background check on Montague — a check that missed her prior federal embezzlement conviction. Davis said the details are now in the hands of the lawyers, but said he expected the case to hit the courts sometime next year.

In all, the damage Montague did was not permanent — Davis said even now the company is in the process of recovering. However, he said there should be more accountability for Montague, particularly when it comes to returning what she stole. Davis said he would also prefer L&I to do its own checking into the legitimacy of claims before sending warning letters to the victims of embezzlers.

“They really need to investigate these things before it gets to this point,” Davis said.

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