$207,985 theft will cost woman 10 weekends

A 61-year-old Wellington woman who admitted embezzling more than $200,000 from her employer to finance a gambling addiction was sentenced Tuesday to 10 weekends in Douglas County Jail.

District Judge Dave Gamble ordered Michele Baligad to pay $1,000 criminal restitution, and said she is subject to a civil judgment from the insurance company which repaid a $207,985.29 loss to Campora Propane Co.

Baligad said the thefts started shortly after she went to work for the propane company in 2000.

Her lawyer, Derrick Lopez, said his client had never been in trouble, and he doubted she would ever commit another crime.

Baligad pleaded guilty to one count of theft.

"I am so sorry," she said. "I wish Campora was here so I could tell them how sorry I am for what I did. There was no excuse. This will never happen again."

Lopez said Baligad gambled away the family's savings and the profit from the sale of their house in California, in addition to losing their home in Nevada.

"She kept records of how much she was taking with the belief at some point she would win enough to pay it back. The explanation is as old as gambling itself. If she had never moved to Nevada, this would have never happened," he said.

"That's how places like Harrah's and Harveys and Carson Valley Inn can build big buildings, because they win," Gamble said.

He said cases like Baligad's made sentencing difficult in punishment and accountability.

"They're all '61-year-old ladies who've never done anything wrong before,'" he said.

Gamble said he was prevented from ordering restitution by the Supreme Court which sets restriction on such criminal penalties when the victim has been repaid by its insurance company.

Assistant District Attorney Michael McCormick argued for prison. Baligad faced up to 10 years.

"She took a tremendous amount of money. Had they not had insurance, they would be out $200,000," he said. "If we don't hold her accountable, it sends a strong message that you can steal upwards of $200,000, and get probation and not pay it back. You'll have a felony record, but so what? You've had $200,000 of somebody else's money to play around with."

Gamble said if he had his way, offenders like Baligad would "put in some kind of forced labor for restitution only."

"She pleaded guilty to one felony, but what she did was commit more than 100 felonies. For the last six years, she committed a felony every month. That would add up to many life sentences," Gamble said.

He said he based his sentence on Baligad's attendance at counseling and 12-step meeting since her arrest and the actual loss to the victim.

"She has addressed her problem with her family, with her community and with her soul. Those are positive factors," Gamble said.

He sentenced her to 60 months in prison, suspended, and placed her on probation for five years.

In addition to the weekends in jail and restitution, she must continue to attend counseling and 12-step meetings. She must maintain full-time employment, inform any employer of her conviction, and may not gamble or enter any gaming establishment.

Baligad also is forbidden to possess a checking account or credit card.

"You need to understand if I see you back here, you are going to prison," Gamble said.


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