Mills Woman Admits Stealing Over $7K From Casper Motel
A Mills woman accused of stealing over $7,000 from her former employer pleaded guilty to a felony charge Tuesday morning in Natrona County District Court.
Jennifer Pizarro, 34, pleaded guilty to one count of felony theft. The crime is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine of $10,000, but under a plea deal, prosecutors will recommend she serve no prison time.
The terms of the agreement call for Pizarro to be placed on a term of probation and repay $7,916 to her former employer. The state is considering granting Pizarro first-offender status, though whether prosecutors elect to go that route will be their decision at Pizarro's sentencing hearing.
Charging papers say the owner of Diamond Suites in Casper reported the theft to the Casper Police Department on Dec. 21. The owner, Norita Trussell, said she had just learned someone was using her company's credit card machine to process refunds without her permission.
On Dec. 13, Trussell told police, the credit card processing company informed her that they declined a refund for the amount of $2,106.30. Trussell had not authorized any refunds, and had not used the machine since Nov. 4.
Upon contacting her bank, Trussell learned at least nine refunds had been processed from October 2016 through December 2016 totaling over $5,300.
Trussell told police that only she and one other person -- Pizarro -- had keys to Diamond Suites. Pizarro used to work for Trussell as a cleaner, and worked off and on at the motel since Jan. 11, 2016, but hadn't worked for the month or so prior to Trussell reporting the theft to police.
Trussell said she had been unable to contact Pizarro by phone, and Pizarro had not returned her keys to the motel.
On Jan. 3, 2017, a detective spoke with Trussell about the fraudulent refunds. Trussell said the credit card processing machine was left in the motel office, and Pizarro's keys would have allowed her to access that office.
Trussell told the detective that the refunds were manually processed on the machine, and were not a result of the credit card processing company being hacked. After contacting the company, Trussell said, she realized she hadn't received any bank statements in several months, despite the statements still having the correct address.
The credit card machine, Trussell added, should have produced printed a daily report of refund or purchase activity, but Trussell said she found no such reports.
The card processing company was able to determine that all the refunds went back to a specific MasterCard. A total of $13,432.32 was attempted initially, but was denied. Smaller refund amounts were then attempted and processed over the next few months.
Upon reviewing her banking documents, Trussell found additional unauthorized refunds occurring over most of 2016. She told police the refunds appeared to have been processed during the periods in which Pizarro was actively working for her.
During the month of January, the detective obtained credit card processing records as well as a search warrant for records on the suspect credit card. Those records showed Pizarro was the sole account holder associated with the card, and statements from the account confirmed the refunded money was being put back on her credit card from the Diamond Suites account.
The detective interviewed Pizarro on Jan. 18. Pizarro initially said Trussell told her to process the refunds, then Pizarro withdrew the money and gave it back to Trussell. When the detective confronted Pizarro with the lack of withdrawals on her bank records, Pizarro admitted she was lying.
Pizarro reportedly said she ran into financial difficulties and used the credit card machine to process refunds. At first, she said, it was just to make ends meet until she got her next check, but the habit later spiraled out of control.
In total, Pizarro allegedly tried to process a total of $17,416.57 in refunds from Diamond Suites, and was successful in taking $7,916.03 from her former employer.
Pizarro remains free on bond pending sentencing.