TWIN FALLS • A former College of Southern Idaho employee was sentenced Friday to at least 10 years in prison after embezzling more than $530,000 from the college.
In a nearly full courtroom, Dawn Marie Orr started crying as she apologized to family members, friends and former coworkers.
Orr said she made a conscious choice to take money from CSI and doesn’t blame anyone else.
“I will never forgive myself for what I’ve done,” she said.
Twin Falls County Fifth District Judge Randy Stoker said it’s the worst embezzlement case he has seen in his 40 years in Twin Falls.
Prosecutor Stan Holloway asked for a prison sentence of up to 14 years. But Stoker said that’s not sufficient.
He called the crime “outrageous” and an affront to the community. He ordered Orr to serve a minimum of 10 years in prison, with the potential of serving up to 70 years.
She’ll also pay restitution, with the amount to be determined at a future hearing.
Holloway said he didn’t know until the pre-trial investigation that Orr pleaded guilty to two felony counts of forgery in 1993, but there was a withheld judgment. The case was dismissed in 1996.
This embezzlement case is parallel to the one in the 1990s and shows a “fundamental character flaw,” Stoker said.
Orr told the crowd she apologizes for breaking their trust and told them: “I love you all.”
“CSI was my family,” she said. “I spent more time there than with my own family.”
Orr said she would willingly take her punishment. But Stoker said there’s still a lack of acceptance by Orr and she’s feeling sorry for herself.
He also called her a “professional criminal,” saying he wanted to impose a sentence to ensure a crime like this doesn’t happen again.
“How you will ever compensate for the damage you’ve done to the college is beyond me,” the judge told Orr.
Once Orr is out of prison, the state will “monitor you for the rest of your natural life,” he said.
In March, Orr pleaded guilty to five counts of felony grand theft after stealing $530,556 from CSI.
According to court records, Orr told college administrators on July 31, 2014, that she stole money and admitted it when she could no longer live with the guilt.
Orr — who was an assistant in the CSI business office for 17 years — admitted she had a gambling problem. She exchanged checks for cash from the safe and overstated third-party billings.
Orr admitted to detectives that she’d taken money since 2007, but several years expired under the statute of limitations.
Orr’s attorney, Steven McRae, said he has gotten to know Orr over the last 10 months and watched her go through treatment, “and frankly, (I’ve) seen a change in her.”
Orr had mental breakdowns for years that went undetected, McRae said. She has bipolar disorder, a gambling addiction and is depressed, Holloway said.
Orr took all the money she stole to Jackpot, Nev., and put it in slot machines, McRae said, calling it a tragedy.
A common theme in letters from Orr’s treatment providers is that she’s remorseful and a hard worker, McRae said.
After being fired from CSI, Orr worked at C3 and quickly rose through the ranks, he said. But she left after news of her charges came out.
It’s evident by many letters of support about Orr that her public persona was as a “warm, supportive, trustworthy,” Holloway said. But “when people are not watching over Miss Orr, she steals.”
McRae said he thinks highly of Orr and believes the state prosecutor’s recommendation for punishment was too harsh.
Orr was entirely responsible for trying to justify stealing from CSI, McRae said. But he said it was a long series of “crimes of opportunity” due to a lack of supervision at CSI.
Stoker said there’s no way the court can find CSI at fault in any way.
The embezzlement case tarnished CSI’s reputation and was devastating to employees, college trustee Laird Stone told the court, reading from a prepared statement.
“This incident will stay with the college forever,” Stone said, and nothing can fix it.
College staff spent hundreds of hours reviewing financial records, Stone said. They had to call all major donors to explain what happened.
They received questions from counties and state legislators. CSI officials were publicly accused of wrong-doing, Stone said.
College President Jeff Fox previously mentored Orr and helped her continue her education, Stone said. “Her betrayal was a shock to him and his office.”
Orr’s actions constituted a “major breach of trust,” Holloway said, and there are community-wide repercussions of the crime.
But Orr showed a tremendous amount of intelligence and initiative at CSI, Holloway said, and quickly rose up the ranks.
And “we obviously have a courtroom today who loves Miss Orr,” McRae said, and who recognize her redeeming qualities.
Orr has been honest and done everything she has been asked, McRae said, and there’s a chance she’d never be in court if she had stayed quiet.
Holloway called one witness: Tina Standlee, who has worked in the CSI business office for 23 years.
Standlee testified that Orr came to her office the day before turning herself in. Orr was upset about issues happening in the finance department and said she was being unfairly treated.
Orr admitted she was close to having a nervous breakdown, Standlee said, adding she encouraged her to get help.
At CSI, officials hired a certified fraud examiner to review cash receiving and payroll processes, who presented 10 recommendations to CSI trustees in November.
Those include creating a part-time controller to address internal controls and provide fiscal oversight, and changing job descriptions.
All of the recommendations have now been implemented, the college said.