Former Clayton Township Clerk Dayna Hooverson was sentenced to prison for theft by Crawford County Circuit Court Judge James Czajkowski at a hearing Thursday, June 23.
Hooverson received a six-and-a-half-year sentence for felony theft in a business setting of over $10,000. She will serve one-and-a half years as initial confinement and the other five years under extended supervision, Czajkowski explained.
Hooverson was accused of embezzling almost $230,000 from Clayton Township, while she was employed as their clerk from 2008 to 2013.
Crawford County District Attorney Tim Baxter was the first to speak at the sentencing hearing. As Hooverson sat at the defense table just feet away dressed in a black sweater and print dress with her hair tightly pulled back, Baxter reviewed the facts of the case.
The veteran district attorney began by acknowledging the many letters of support that the court had received on Hooverson’s behalf.
“Those letters say what they normally do say,” Baxter noted. “Things like, ‘it was a mistake’ and ‘mistakes were made’.”
The letters also referenced the defendant’s young family and her role as their mother.
“It’s what you see in other cases,” Baxter said. “And, I’m not suggesting it doesn’t have some merit.”
Then, the district attorney went on to review some local cases that he felt could serve as precedents in this case. He began by citing the case of Linda Christofferson, who was convicted of theft in a business setting. Christofferson was found guilty of embezzling more than $250,000 from her employer, the Prairie Beer Distributing Company. In 2003, Crawford County Circuit Court Judge Michael Kirchman sentenced Chirstofferson to four years, including three years of initial confinement and one year of extended supervision.
Sharon Clausen was another case referenced by Baxter. Clausen, a Seneca Schools secretary, was convicted of embezzling $24,000 from student funds. She did make restitution on the missing money. In 2000, substituting Judge Robert VanDeHey sentenced her to 60 days in jail.
Rochelle Harris, employed by the Seneca Township Wastewater Utility, was convicted of the theft of $45,000 from her employer. Substituting Judge George Curry sentenced her to eight years with three years of initial confinement and five years of extended supervision.
Baxter claimed Hooverson owed Clayton Township $228,422.67 in restitution. He also noted that restitution to the State of Wisconsin Department of Revenue for unpaid taxes on the money would be $7,781 and that did not include interest and penalties. Baxter concluded Hooverson owed “upwards of $240,000 in restitution.”
The district attorney pointed out that there were “hundreds and hundreds” of unauthorized checks paid to Hooverson “by herself” over a period of five-and-a-half years. Later, it was pointed out by Judge Czajkowski that the PSI put the number of unauthorized checks at 250.
Baxter acknowledged there was some “embarrassment” on the part of township officials, but they were not responsible for the thefts.
“They trusted her with doing what is right and look what it got them,” Baxter said. “It doesn’t make them any less the victims.”
Hooverson was supposed to be paid $8,500 as a base salary for the town clerk job. She was also eligible to be paid for expenses and overtime. During the investigation by the Wisconsin Department of Justice Division of Criminal Investigation, Hooverson stated that she had worked additional hours on FEMA flood recovery claims and elections.
The exact amount of missing funds, supplied by Baxter, was disputed by defense attorney Adrian Longacre in his statement to the court.
In beginning his statement, Baxter had said he would be brief “because the case speaks for itself.”
The district attorney emphasized that the presentence investigation or PSI stated that Hooverson was “justifying and rationalizing” the theft.
The probation agent who prepared the PSI and interviewed the defendant said that at no time did Hooverson accept responsibility or show remorse for taking the money, according to Baxter.
The district attorney also told the court that he doubted that Hooverson would ever be able to make restitution of the missing money.
Of the factors considered in sentencing, the district attorney noted protecting the public and several other factors were not relevant in this case of non-violent crime. Instead he focused on the need for deterring others from committing similar crimes.
“This case is a case that screams for deterrence,” Baxter said.
The DA emphasized the need to send a message to others entrusted with money that there will be punishment for theft.
Baxter recommended the court impose a seven-year sentence with two years of initial confinement and five years of extended supervision. He also favored court-ordered restitution to the township.
Longacre, Hooverson’s attorney, began by presenting Judge Czajkowski with some late-arriving letters. The judge took time to read them.
The defense attorney presented two witnesses. The first was Kevin Walleser, who with his wife owns Walleser Holsteins, a dairy farm in Vernon County. Walleser employs Hooverson in the operation. In answer to the attorney’s questions, Walleser affirmed Hooverson was a good employee, who stayed late when necessary and covered shifts for other employees at times. He told the court that Hooverson worked with calves and fresh cows.
The second witness Longacre called was Melanie Jelinek, a close friend of Hooverson.
Jelinek told the court that she had two children, who were the same age as Hooverson’s children. She said Hooverson was “like a second mom to my kids.”
Jelinek also explained that Hooverson had helped her coach two years of softball and one year of basketball. She described Hooverson as “caring, compassionate, reliable and respectful.”
Longacre told the court this was Hooverson’s first offense of any type, including traffic violations. He also told the court that she is the mother of four children, aged four, six, 10 and 11.
The attorney pointed out the incident was not a violent crime and “no one was hurt in a physical sense.”
The defense attorney indicated that Hooverson thought more money was due her and justified it because of additional work.
Longacre noted the situation was confused “by sloppy bookkeeping,” but the missing money was not hers and there was “a considerable amount of it.” While he disputed the amount mentioned by the DA for restitution, Longacre conceded it was “a large amount and we’re not going to argue about that.”
When it came to citing cases as precedents, Longacre cited one of his own cases in Vernon County. The defense attorney said that members of the Readstown Rescue Squad and Fire Department convicted of theft were given probation as a sentence and put into a diversion program.
“Prison is not automatic,” Longacre said.
The defense attorney also noted that a lot of Hooverson’s friends are standing with her and in this type of case that was “not very common.”
Longacre dismissed the deterrent effect as reason for the sentence recommended by the district attorney. He said he felt that in a case like this, it was just another way to look for trying to increase the punishment for the defendant.
“My recommendation is for probation, straight probation, so the children will still have a mother,” Longacre said. He also said restitution should be ordered even if it will take a long time to get the amount needed.
Before Czajkowski moved on to the sentencing, he asked Dayna Hooverson directly if she wished to address the court.
“No thank you,” Hooverson said in a soft voice muffled by her crying.
“She said no your honor,” Longacre told the judge in clarifying his client’s response.
Judge Czajkowski began by noting the seriousness of the crime. He explained the penalties set out by the state legislature in creating the law showed the importance with which they viewed it. The maximum penalty for theft in a business setting of $10,000 or more is 10 years in prison or a fine of $25,000 or both.
Hooverson looked down and away as the judge spoke. She continued to sob softly.
The judge noted the importance of considering the number of unauthorized checks and the number of years involved.
Czajkowski reviewed some of the facts in the case including that Hooverson had no prior criminal record and had four children, who all would be impacted by what the court did.
The judge stated he was informed through the letters that many considered the defendant a “good person.” He noted she was a high school graduate and attended Southwest Tech and Viterbo. By all accounts, you are a good worker and a good mother, Czajkowski said.
The judge was struck by a number of comments in the letters and particularly by a letter from one child.
“I need my mom the letter said—to me that was truly touching,” Czajkowski said. “Another said don’t take her away from us.”
The judge seemed to agonize over the sentencing decision.
“One letter said, ‘I’m not here to judge,’ but I thought I am,” Czajkowski said.
The judge pointed out that without a criminal record and with many positive accomplishments it made sentencing “very, very difficult.”
“You really were a model citizen,” Czajkowski said as Hooverson continued to sob softly at the defense table. “What does the court do with a model citizen and mom?”
However, the judge also saw another side to the case noting that in addition to theft, there were five “read-ins” for tax evasion that the state felt should be considered at sentencing.
Czajkowski told Hooverson that in accepting a position with the Town of Clayton to do a public service, “great trust had been placed in her by others” in town government.
“That trust was misplaced, when you committed long-term theft which benefitted you and victimized others,” Czajkowski said.
At one point, the judge wondered where the money had gone. He noted that letters indicated she was not into drugs.
“Where did this money go?” Czajkowski asked. He again noted the number of checks involved and the length of time over which they were written.
Czajkowski, like the two attorneys had done previously, reviewed the sentencing factors. He concluded, as they had, that many didn't apply.
However, the judge did see deterrence as a major factor. Czajkowski said he had a difference of opinion with the defense attorney over the importance of considering deterrence as a factor in sentencing.
“The sentence of this court must act as a deterrent to others,” Czajkowski said. “People who handle money must know the law protects (it). If the court doesn’t enforce the law what incentive is there for those people to not take the money. There’s none.”
The judge again questioned what had happened in the case. He said he could see “no need” for why the money was taken, “no evidence of remorse” and “no explanation of what happened.”
“I conclude for this conduct, there must be a punishment,” Czajkowski said.
The judge again noted the mitigating circumstances and the calls for mercy.
“This is so, so difficult,” the judge stated. “We have a young woman with a family. The family will be harmed if the mother is taken away from them. However, this conduct by any objective standard merits a prison sentence.”
In addition to the six-and-a-half-year prison sentence with a year-and-a-half of initial confinement, Czajkowski ordered Hooverson to seek and maintain employment while on extended supervision. He further ordered her to pay 10 percent of her gross income to restitution, while she served the extended supervision portion of the sentence.
Going further with the sentence, Czajkowski ordered Hooverson to receive a psychological assessment and follow any recommendations. He referenced the need to understand what drove the defendant to commit the crime.
When the judge pronounced the prison sentence, Hooverson gasped and seemed to gulp for air and the volume of her crying audibly increased.
Hooverson continued to cry as she was led by a bailiff down an outer aisle from the courtroom. She was separated by Plexiglas partition from a small group of friends and family, including Walleser and Jelinek, who stood as she passed.