SANDPOINT — Former Coldwater Creek executive assistant Susan Hopkins is facing incarceration after pleading guilty to one count of grand theft.
At a sentencing hearing Monday morning, 1st District Judge Steve Verby ruled that Hopkins serve a maximum of five years with a fixed term of one-and-a-half years in a state prison. In addition, she has agreed to pay $246,561 in reimbursement to the affected organizations — $9,457 to Panhandle Alliance For Education, $137,104 to Coldwater Creek insurance provider Continental Insurance and $100,000 to Coldwater Creek itself.
“I think a lesser sentence would depreciate the seriousness of this crime,” Verby said.
The sentencing followed a request by Hopkins and her attorney for leniency in respect to prison time. Despite the guilty plea, the defense only acknowledged $25,000 that Hopkins definitely spent on personal items, including rings and purchases for her wedding, and argued her lifestyle didn’t reflect a quarter-million dollars in theft.
The defense also argued that massive embezzlement didn’t fit her psychological profile. A psychological evaluation of Hopkins conducted for the court proceedings used descriptors like submissive and self-effacing, characterizing her as a perfectionist struggling with inadequacies, a lack of initiative and an avoidance of autonomy.
Furthermore, Hopkins said that a prison sentence would impact her ability to seek out new employment and make reimbursement payments in a timely manner. She also noted that she had already paid a heavy price for her decisions.
“I lost my job, my house, my savings, my retirement and many personal relationships,” she said.
However, Verby pointed out that justice must serve several needs at once. He cited four pillars of sentencing laid out by the Supreme Court, stating that a sentence must protect society, foster rehabilitation, exact retribution and deter both the defendant and those who might consider the same crime. In this case, Verby said people needed to see that embezzlement was a serious crime with serious consequences.
“There is a tendency in society to think of white collar crime as a low-priority crime,” he said. “However, I and other judges find it a very serious crime.”
Verby added that embezzlement could translate to higher prices on goods as companies attempted to recoup losses or even result in innocent individuals losing their jobs.
“When people steal from their employers, everyone pays the price,” Verby said.
According to court documents, Hopkins is a former executive assistant to former chief marketing officer and CEO Georgia Shonk-Simmons. She was accused of charging more than $260,000 in personal expenses onto company credit cards between 2006 and 2010. A second charge added later detailed alleged embezzlement from PAFE taking place between 2008 and 2010. After reaching a plea agreement with the prosecution, Hopkins pleaded guilty to one count of grand theft last November.
“I want to sincerely apologize for my actions and the sorrow and pain I have caused,” she said at her sentencing.