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July 30, 2013 | 05:03 PMELKHORN — For years a Fontana home builder was sponsoring Blue Hills Lippitt Morgans, a business that raises show horses.
However, the home builder never agreed to donate money to the company. Instead, his then-employee, Kari Sue Clark-Branton, was writing and forging checks payable to the equestrian company that was owned by her friend, Joanne M. Anderson.
In May, a Walworth County jury found Anderson, 50, now of Arlington, Ky., guilty of receiving stolen property.
On July 30, Judge David Reddy sentenced Anderson to three years in prison and five years of extended supervision.
He also ordered her to pay more than $385,000 in restitution.
In 2009, Clark-Branton was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison and 2 1/2 years of extended supervision after she pleaded guilty to 32 felonies — two counts of theft and 30 counts of forgery.
Anderson said she believed that the money was being donated to her business from Jerry Sjoberg, owner of Home Design Manufacturing. However, no documents showing that Sjoberg was donating money exist, nor did she ever speak to Sjoberg about his donation.
Assistant District Attorney Diane Donohoo called Anderson's defense "ludicrous."
"Nobody gets a free half-million dollars," she said.
During court proceedings, Donohoo and Sjoberg said more than $1 million was taken from Home Design Manufacturing. According to the criminal complaint, nearly $500,000 in checks were written to Clark-Branton and another $400,000 was written to Blue Hills Lippitt Morgans.
When given a chance to speak, Anderson said she was "distraught" over the effect the thefts had on Sjoberg's business and its employees.
"I sincerely regret not seeing the warning signs," she said.
When handing down the sentencing, Reddy was critical of Anderson's apology.
"Apologizing for not seeing the warning signs in this case is not acceptable," Reddy said. "There were at least 400,000 warning signs."
Anderson appeared in court in shackles and a gray jump suit. She has been incarcerated in the Walworth County jail since she was found guilty of the theft charge.
Sjoberg calmly asked Reddy to "throw the book" at Anderson. He said he doesn't expect to see the money returned in restitution.
"I guess it is about putting bad people in bad places," Sjoberg said. "Joanne Anderson deserves a very long time in prison."
He said the thefts not only affected him, but they also jeopardized his business and hurt his 10 employees.
Sjoberg said Clark-Branton received a "light sentence" and believed that Anderson deserved a longer term than her accomplice.
"She deserves way more than Keri Clark-Branton, who admitted her guilt," Sjoberg said.
He said the timing of the theft was especially hard because it coincided with the home building industry's downward spiral. To keep his business afloat, Sjoberg said he has had to drain his personal savings.
"You can't steal from people, it's not honorable," he said.
Donohoo said Anderson hasn't been honest with law enforcement and has been dishonest about her relationship with Clark-Branton. Donohoo said Anderson has said that her friendship with Clark-Branton ended when the thefts came to light.
However, Donohoo read from several letters that Anderson wrote to her accomplice while she was incarcerated. Clark-Branton has been released from prison and is on extended supervision.
Donohoo asked Reddy to send Anderson to prison.
"A million dollar theft that has so impacted the victim, the community and all the victim's employees that it mandates prison," she said.
Anderson's defense attorney, Theodore Kmiec, said the state didn't show any evidence that there was a conspiracy between Clark-Branton and Anderson.
"There has never been any evidence of a conspiracy, because there wasn't one," Kmiec said.
Kmiec asked Reddy to place Anderson on probation. He said it was unlikely that she would commit any other crimes.
"It is highly unlikely, arguably impossible, for this type of offense to happen again," Kmiec said.
He also attempted to dismiss arguments that Anderson, not Clark-Branton, was the instigator of the Crime.
"That is not supported in the evidence, and this was a five-year investigation," Kmiec said. "Clark-Branton was a pretty good con person, she conned her boss and the accountant."
During the hearing, Reddy said the three years of initial confinement was given because of how serious the offense was and to act as a deterrent to other potential criminals.
He said the five years of extended supervision, the maximum supervised term he could hand down, would give Anderson the most amount of time possible to pay back the restitution.