OLYMPIA - A Thurston County jury sentenced the former owner of the downtown Olympia coffee shop Java Flow to 90 days in jail Wednesday following her conviction for embezzling $79,170 from a defunct Olympia nonprofit group where she had volunteered.
Stephenie Patricia Jekel, 37, was found guilty of one count of first-degree theft during a jury trial in October. According to court papers, she embezzled the money from the Washington Cooperative Support Center, or WCSC, from June 2005 to November 2006.
The WCSC formerly provided temporary labor and services to businesses in Thurston County, founder Bruce Palm has said. It went bankrupt in 2006 because of losses it incurred as a result of the thefts, Palm has said. He could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
According to court papers:
Jekel’s crimes occurred while she served for two years as a volunteer bookkeeper at the center and were discovered by her replacement, Joel LeBlanc. LeBlanc said that when he began working at WCSC, Jekel told him she owed WCSC about $20,000.
“Mr. LeBlanc discovered that Stephenie Jekel had been using the WCSC as the employer for her coffee shop workers dating back to mid-2005, which was just after she had acquired the Java Flow business in the downtown Olympia area,” court papers state. “However, Mr. LeBlanc discovered in his investigation that Stephenie Jekel was rarely invoicing herself (the business) for the employee services. WCSC was paying those employees it sent to work at Java Flow espresso stands, but it was hardly receiving any reimbursement back from Ms. Jekel in her capacity as the business owner of these espresso stands. This had created serious cash-flow problems for WCSC.”
LeBlanc’s documentation that was submitted to Olympia police included “approximately 362 instances where the WCSC had paid Java Flow employees but Ms. Jekel had not invoiced Java Flow (herself) for reimbursement, and reimbursements were not received. The total amount of accumulated labor charges was $89,207.96.”
Jekel’s felony judgment and sentence indicates she must pay $79,170 in restitution to Palm. The discrepancy between the restitution amount and the $89,207.96 figure indicated in court papers could not be reconciled Wednesday evening.
Jekel’s attorney, John A. Kesler, argued at trial that Jekel always intended to repay the money to WCSC and that she did not commit a crime because there was no intent. Kesler added that Jekel served as a volunteer bookkeeper for Palm at Palm’s request while the two were in a romantic relationship.
Jekel’s father, Chris, said in a phone interview Wednesday that his daughter had sold Java Flow but still works there. He added that she will repay the money she owes Palm.
Palm has said that WCSC had to declare bankruptcy after experiencing cash-flow problems as a result of the embezzlement. WCSC’s bankruptcy put many people out of work, Palm has said.
Thurston County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Mark Thompson said Wednesday that he had asked Thurston County Superior Court Judge Carol Murphy to impose a sentence of three years, seven months.
Jeremy Pawloski: 360-754-5465 firstname.lastname@example.org