BOULDER — Former St. Vrain Valley School District secretary Dawn Hobson was sentenced Wednesday to two weekends in prison, 300 hours of community service and three years probation after pleading guilty in February to felony theft charges.
Hobson, 45, bilked the school district out of about $25,000 over a period of two years by illegally using purchase orders and a district credit card to make personal purchases that included a computer, books and magazine subscriptions.
She became upset in court Wednesday when Judge Frank Dubofsky told her she’d have to spend additional days in jail even after her lawyer pointed out she’d voluntarily spent 29 days in jail after turning herself in to authorities in May 2002.
Hobson’s lawyer, Larry Mertes, acknowledged that from the beginning his client admitted her crimes and said she knew what she had done was wrong.
“She is remorseful,” he said, adding that while Hobson had the ability to bond out of jail last year, she declined to do so to “pay a pound of flesh up front.”
Hobson addressed the court Wednesday, saying she wants to do everything she can to “be a better person.”
“There are really no words that I can speak that can undo the things I have done,” Hobson said in court. “I live with guilt and remorse every day. ... I don’t hold anyone else responsible for what happened, and I deserve the punishment I have received.”
Hobson’s lawyer, Larry Mertes, said Wednesday he believes “gross incompetence” on the part of employees at the school district paved the way for Hobson to illegally use her district credit card, although he said he was not blaming anyone else for Hobson’s crimes. However, he pointed out that Hobson told him other employees, too, had illegally used district credit cards.
“Every single employee had a credit card,” Mertes said. “There was no oversight and no control,” he continued, saying he learned one employee had gone to Disneyland using a district credit card but was not caught.
“People suddenly repaid their obligations, saying, ‘I’m sorry,’” he said.
Citing a psychological evaluation Hobson underwent, Mertes said he believes his client committed the theft because “she had a sick need to make herself feel better.”
“She took things that made no sense,” he said, pointing out that when Hobson left the school district, she stole pieces of art made by students for an art show.
Prosecutor Pete Maguire said he believed that act could have resulted from “in-your-face arrogance” on Hobson’s part, or could have been “an affront to parents in the schools she was hired to serve.”
But no matter why Hobson committed the theft, Mertes said he believed Hobson had suffered from “intense public scrutiny” because the case is somewhat “political,” as it involved a violation of public trust.
He told the court Wednesday that upon discovering the theft, the school district initially did not intend to prosecute Hobson, but the Boulder County District Attorney’s Office stepped in following a loud public outcry that she be punished.
Mertes said he believes his client is being punished more harshly than others in a similar situation, because the victim in the crime is the school district rather than a private business.
Dubofsky replied, “I think she has suffered from this, as she should have.”
Both Dubofsky and Maguire recognized proactivity on Hobson’s part to serve time in jail immediately after turning herself in, and they said they too believed she had become a spectacle of intense public scrutiny in the city where she was born and raised.
“This is a very sad case,” Maguire said, adding that he believed Hobson had “taken advantage” of the disorganization and lack of financial supervision in the school district. “Ms. Hobson is not a victim in this case.”
Dubofsky told Hobson she has 18 months in which to complete her 300 hours of community service. He encouraged her to do so by working directly with children, teaching them to read, something Hobson expressed interest in, according to Mertes.
He said if Hobson is successful in the first half of her three-year probation, she may return and have the sentence reviewed and possibly shortened. Other stipulations of her probation include that she may not possess a company credit card and have access to no more than $50 in petty cash funds.
Prosecutors requested that Hobson be required to disclose her felony convictions to her employers during the duration of her probation. Dubofsky skirted the issue, saying he wanted to leave it to probation officers to decide.
He will determine at a June 5 hearing the exact amount of financial restitution Hobson must pay back.
“Good luck to you Ms. Hobson,” Dubofsky said.