Christine Benson acknowledges that the case sounds like one that might be featured on an investigative television news program. This time it happened in Parker.
More than $620,000 embezzled by a trusted employee. A lavish lifestyle filled with vacations, horses and new cars. One person single-handedly taking down a successful company built up by retired and active-duty veterans. Relationships, once thought to be tight, shattered by deception.
It was a reality for AES Group, a small Parker-based, disabled veteran-owned engineering firm.
It wasn’t until an auditor was hired in September 2009 that Kathleen Ann Green’s eight-year lie was uncovered. The auditor was brought on to simply make sure the company could continue qualifying for federal contracts. There had been no signs of trouble, said Benson, the projects administrator for AES and daughter of one of the principals.
There were no red flags because Green, the friendly office manager for AES between 1999 and 2010, answered all of the phones, opened all of the mail, and managed all of the bookkeeping. It turned out she had only been paying the minimum on loans and other outstanding debts, while simultaneously funneling money into her personal accounts and forging signatures to take out lines of credit on the company.
Judge Michael Spear showed little mercy when handing down Green’s 12-year prison sentence at the Arapahoe County Justice Center on May 7, calling her crime the equivalent of “economic homicide.”
Green, 46, known to friends and co-workers as Kathi, received the maximum of 12 years in prison on each of two counts of felony theft, and six years for identity theft, but the sentences will run concurrently. She could be eligible for parole in as little as four and a half years.
It was a bittersweet moment for the owners and employees of AES as they watched Green get cuffed and escorted from the near-silent courtroom. Knowing she would never be able to pay restitution, they pleaded with the judge to impose prison time as a lesson and a deterrent for others.
“Whether the lady came in and held us up with a .45 or did it with 45 keys on a computer, it’s still robbery and she needed to go to jail,” said Mike Summers, the company's president.
Before the sentence was announced, Green, who had no prior criminal record, expressed remorse and said she has done everything she can to pay back the money she stole, including selling three of her five horses. Green admitted to the years of theft after being confronted with the overwhelming evidence in March 2010, saying she did it to keep from losing her home. She also accepted responsibility for stealing nearly $100,000 while keeping books for the Cherry Creek Water Users Association, a group comprised of ranchers.
Throughout the ruse, which totaled more than 1,900 transactions for things like braces for herself, bartending school for her son and airline tickets for the family, Green became close to the owners’ families and treated them to gifts she purchased with their money. Green’s sister even married Benson’s father, further complicating matters.
AES Group was forced to cut a division and lay off several employees. The principals, including Summers, who was on a three-year deployment to Afghanistan and planned to retire upon his return, all cashed in retirement funds and used their savings to keep the company afloat. Benson’s dad even used money from a life insurance policy after his wife lost her battle with ovarian cancer in 2006. During her statement to the judge, she described the woman as her mentor, shocking Benson and her associates.
One thing that didn’t come as a surprise to Benson was Green’s seeming lack of remorse. She did not face or directly apologize to the AES employees seated in the courtroom. Spear even chided Green for her attempt to gain the court’s sympathy, saying if she was truly sorry for wrongdoing, she would not have maintained the deception for so many years.
Green’s lone supporter at the sentencing hearing was her husband, Darl, who described his wife as a “good person” who struggles daily with the impact of her “mistake.”
“She wishes she could take it back,” he said. “She can never make it right, but she wants to try.”
AES is still trying to recover from the crushing financial blow, but is staying resilient in the face of an incredible challenge. Any inklings of retribution over the two-year wait were swept aside in favor of allowing the justice system to do its job.
Co-owner Russ Ostler struggled with whether he should feel any amount of satisfaction from the sentence.
“You never want to see someone go to prison,” he said. “But the bottom line is: Kathi took a lot of our future away. I feel that justice was done.”
-Case was moved from Robert A Christensen Justice Center in Douglas County to Arapahoe County because Green's relative works for Douglas courts
-If Green made monthly restitution payments of $1,279, it would still take 40 years to pay off the amount stolen
-Green originally faced 37 counts related to theft, forgery, embezzlement and others, but reached an agreement with prosecutors to plead guilty to three felonies
-Green faces supervised probation upon her release from prison
-Green's defense attorney asked for probation so she could pay back money
-Green said it was a "relief" when she got caught because it was time to "fess up"
-Scheme lasted from 2002-2010, however, AES officials believe they still don't know the extent of the financial damage
-AES Group, forced into lay-offs, went from 25 employees to six in a four-year span
-Green made a salary of $40,000-$55,000 during her tenure with AES
Kathi Green’s purchases with AES Group money:
Airline tickets, liquor, groceries, dental braces, bartending school for her son, new tires for family vehicles, iPhones, restaurant meals, veterinarian bills for horses, personal bills, concert tickets and hotel rooms.