Before a multimillion-dollar embezzler was sentenced Monday for tax evasion, her attorney had a question for the judge.
“Is she being sentenced for tax evasion or theft?”
Both, the judge told Omaha defense attorney James Schaefer.
Sarpy County District Judge Max Kelch said he was sentencing Caroline K. Richardson primarily for tax evasion – the three charges to which she pleaded guilty in Sarpy County. But under previous high-court rulings, the judge said he also had a right to consider the root of her evasion: the $4.1 million she stole from Colombo Candy & Tobacco of Omaha.
In turn, Kelch sentenced Richardson, 55, to five years in prison for three counts of income tax evasion. Under state sentencing guidelines -- which cut most sentences in half -- Richardson must serve 2 1/2 years in prison before she is eligible for release.
Now Schaefer has another question: whether Richardson, who faces theft charges in Douglas County over the $4.1 million embezzlement, will end up being sentenced twice for essentially the same crime.
Schaefer said Monday there is “no question” his client stole millions while serving as controller for the candy and tobacco distributor from July 2010 to July 2012; she entered into a civil settlement in which she agreed that she owed the company $4.1 million. The question is whether two sentencings – one in Sarpy, the other in Douglas County – amounts to double jeopardy.
“I'll have to look at the case law,” Schaefer said outside Sarpy County District Court. “At this point, it seems, in the very least, to be piling on.”
Prosecutors say the two counties' separate charges are appropriate. Deputy Sarpy County Attorney Nicole Hutter told the judge that Richardson was being prosecuted there for failing to report the $4.1 million in ill-gotten income -- a slight that cost Nebraska taxpayers more than $400,000.
In Douglas County, Richardson was charged Friday with three counts of theft for the embezzlement. She waived a preliminary hearing and was bound over to district court, where she faces up to 20 years in prison on each count.
Schaefer said he plans to talk to Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine about a possible plea after he researches prior high-court rulings on double jeopardy.
In the meantime, civil litigation continues over Richardson's theft. Colombo and owner Monte Brown have filed two lawsuits over the theft — one against the casino where she gambled away the money and one against a man who recommended that Colombo hire her.
With Richardson having admitted her misdeeds, Schaefer said, he expects the theft charges to be resolved relatively quickly.
“This has never been a whodunit,” he said.