Embezzler gets prison, her victims get the bills

“This will affect me the rest of my life and my kids’ and grandkids’ lives. That’s how deep this goes,” Monty Rollag said Tuesday. “We’ll just have to tighten our belts up ... until we get our feet back on the ground.”

A bookkeeper who embezzled more than $40,000 from Oak Harbor’s Westside Auto Rebuild was sentenced to three years in prison.

Anna Bellavance, a 29-year-old Oak Harbor woman, pleaded guilty in Island County Superior Court last week to 68 counts of second-degree theft in order to take advantage of a plea bargain.

Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Leslie Tidball said it was an especially heartbreaking case because of the damage it did to the Rollags, the family that has owned the business for years and trusted Bellavance with its money.

“There was such a sense of betrayal,” she said. “Monty Rollag is the kind of guy who does business with a handshake.”

Rollag said he considered Bellavance a friend as well as a reliable employee for the four years she worked for him. “It was an incredible shock,” he said. “I still think it’s a nightmare I’m living through.”

Bellavance was the bookkeeper and receptionist for the company since 1999. In October of that year, she started altering the amount on her weekly pay checks. She changed a check for $195, for example, to $995.

To cover her thefts, she didn’t pay creditors or FICA taxes for each dollar she stole for herself.

“The worst part of the whole things was the taxes she didn’t pay for over two years,” Rollag said. “That was the big hurt.”

Tidball said Bellavance got away with embezzling for over two years because she controlled the business books and answered the phones. An investigation by Oak Harbor Police Officer Carl Seim revealed that she would make excuses when creditors called and even tore up delinquency notices.

Monty and Donna Rollag discovered the thefts in March when they were gathering tax documents and found bills that had not been paid as well as copies of Bellavance’s altered paychecks.

After the crimes had been discovered, Rollag said he liquidated all their retirement assets and borrowed from a family member to pay off their creditors. They immediately paid the IRS $30,000 in back taxes.

“To their credit, they’ve taken care of everybody,” Tidball said. “They’ve taken it all on themselves.”

Unfortunately, Tidball said it’s unknown what Bellavance did with the money, which appears to have been spent. While restitution hasn’t yet been set in the case, Tidball said Bellavance will likely have to start paying back at least $40,000 when she gets out of prison.

So far, she has paid nothing. Rollag said Bellavance has never offered an explanation as to why she stole the money. The day he fired her, the only thing she could only say she didn’t know why she did it.

According to Tidball, the Rollags were very much involved in the plea bargaining decision’s sentence recommendation and are satisfied with the results. While the couple agreed that Bellavance should be punished, they were still concerned about Bellavance and especially her two children, ages 5 and 9. They agreed to allow their former bookkeeper to have a few days to say good-bye to her kids before reporting to prison.

“These people are still so generous of heart,” Tidball said.

Had Bellavance gone to trial, she could have faced up to four years and nine months on the charges. Plus, she could have faced a felony bail jumping charge — which carries a possible six-year term — for not showing up to a court hearing.

Tidball explained that the prosecution agreed not to charge Bellavance with bail jumping in exchange for her plea.

Unfortunately, this type of “mini-Enron” case is not all that unusual.

“We’ve been seeing an increase in this kind of white collar crime, and we take it very seriously,” said Greg Banks, Island County prosecuting attorney. “In this case, Ms. Bellavance devastated a family-owned business that has been a part of the community for years.”

The lesson that can be learned from the case, Tidball said, is that businesses both large and small need “checks and balances.”

“People need to look at their own books once in a while,” she said.

For Monty Rollag, he said his dream of retiring in three years has vanished. He started working for his uncle at Westside Auto when he was just 17 and later bought the business.

Thanks to Bellavance, he’ll likely be working hard to pay off bills for years to come.

“This will affect me the rest of my life and my kids’ and grandkids’ lives. That’s how deep this goes,” Rollag said Tuesday. “We’ll just have to tighten our belts up … until we get our feet back on the ground.”

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