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Bank official laments former employee's sentence

An Oak Harbor bank official isn’t happy that a former employee who forged customers’ checks to steal thousands of dollars received a relatively lenient sentence in Island County Superior Court.

Jo Ann Lammers, a 55-year-old Port Townsend resident, pleaded guilty Oct. 24 to three counts of first-degree theft and three counts of forgery.

The prosecution and defense originally made a joint sentencing recommendation of 45 days confinement, with 30 of those days converted to 240 hours of community service. Judge Alan Hancock, however, handed Lammers a tougher sentence after hearing from a representative of the victim, Pacific Northwest Bank.

In a letter to Deputy Prosecutor Leslie Tidball, Marilee Paddock, an assistant vice president with corporate loss prevention at Pacific Northwest Bank, asked that the court to reconsider the proposed sentence and give Lammers the maximum sentence.

“Ms. Lammers held a position of trust with her co-workers and subordinates as a manager and administrator within Pacific Northwest Bank for over 20 years,” Paddock wrote. “They looked up to her for her trustworthiness, knowledge and guidance. She was in the meantime, defrauding the bank and negatively impacting customer accounts.”

Hancock sentenced Lammers to 60 days in jail, with 15 days converted to 120 hours of community service. He also ordered her to pay $727 in fines and fees, plus restitution to the victims.

Lammers originally faced 28 charges for stealing $32,000 from bank customers’ accounts, which could have meant almost five years in prison. She pleaded to the three counts as part of a plea bargain.

Tidball said she felt that sentencing Lammers under the state’s first-time offender statute, which cuts sentences, was appropriate in this case. Lammers’ only criminal history was a single traffic ticket. Lammers stole the money during a time of great stress in her life. She was dealing with the death of a child, a husband who was out of work from a serious injury and major financial problems.

Tidball pointed out that Lammers has to start pay a minimum of $100 a month in restitution starting next February. The court is reviewing her case next May to make sure she’s complying with conditions.

“My main concern was that the bank recoup their money,” Tidball said, “and she be convicted of a felony so that she has to say that when she’s applying for a job of trust.”

Last October, a manager at Pacific Northwest Bank reported to police that Lammers, a system administrator in the construction loan department, had been taking money from customer accounts and putting them into her personal account at another bank.

As system administrator, Lammers “had unlimited access to customer accounts,” Police Det. Cedric Niiro wrote in a report. Lammers used a number of methods “to embezzle funds from the construction loan department,” according to the police report. She took funds from customer accounts by cashier’s checks — forging a co-worker’s signature — and either deposited the money into her account or paid her own mortgage directly.

When customers calling to complain about their accounts being short would speak to Lammers she would transfer funds from others customer accounts to cover up the thefts.

Lammers was finally caught when she went on a vacation and a customer called to complain about missing money. Ironically, a co-worker whose signature Lammers allegedly had been forging on cashier checks answered the call and immediately became suspicious.

According to Niiro’s report, bank officials fired Lammers before reporting the theft to police. When confronted by bank officials, Lammers said “she owed the IRS a large amount of money,” Niiro wrote.

Lammers was accused of stealing money from about 15 of the bank’s customers.

You can reach News-Times reporter Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611.

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