Convicted $514K Juneau thief could serve out her sentence at home

Defense attorney Kevin Higgins and defendant Christena Leamer listen as District Attorney James Scott speaks during a sentencing hearing on Wed., Dec. 15.
Defense attorney Kevin Higgins and defendant Christena Leamer listen as District Attorney James Scott speaks during a sentencing hearing on Wed., Dec. 15. (Photo by Matt Miller/KTOO)

A Juneau woman on Wednesday was sentenced to serve a year in prison for running up over a half-million dollars in personal expenses on a Juneau business’s credit card. Among the various charges billed to Christena Leamer’s employer were over $112,000 on food, liquor, clothing and four-dozen flights to the Lower 48 that included watching a Seahawks game, concerts by Pink and Tim McGraw, and a visit to Disneyland.

Leamer, now 44 years old, worked as an office manager at Juneau Bone and Joint Center for seven years before she left in October 2014. The new office manager noticed some discrepancies and a forensic accountant later produced a 500-page report documenting how Leamer used her employer’s credit card for a wide range of personal expenses.

District Attorney James Scott said they figured that Leamer stole a total of $514,371.

“She spent the money on consumables, your honor. If she had spent the money on power boats or jewelry or something that we could (seize) to make the victims whole, then we’d be in one position,” Scott said. “But she spent this money like a drunken sailor.”

After pleading guilty in August, Scott said Leamer reported to Lemon Creek Correctional Center to serve 60 days in jail as part of a plea and sentence agreement.

On Wednesday, Juneau Superior Court Judge Louis Menendez sentenced Leamer to five years in prison with four years suspended, that is, one year to serve on a charge of first degree felony theft. He mentioned that he briefly considered rejecting the plea agreement because of perceptions that the current sentence as limited by the agreement and sentencing guidelines would be too light.

Menendez ordered Leamer to pay back over $343,000 in restitution while she is on probation for five years.

“I’m going to put on probation for the longest period of time that I can put you on probation which would be five years because I want control over you for the next five years,” Menendez said. “I have some serious doubts that, right now, you are completely understanding about this process. I have some doubts that, in fact, you will make restitution or (be) able to make restitution.”

Owners of Juneau Bone and Joint Center can file a civil lawsuit to recover the additional $171,000 in personal expenses charged by Leamer that are not part of the restitution.

Menendez noted how Leamer avoided taking responsibility in recent statements to her former employer and investigators. Yet, she seemed to make no effort to hide her thefts.

“I don’t mean to be cruel when I say this, but I mean to be direct,” Menendez said. “You’re a bad criminal. You don’t do crime well.”

Leamer clutched a Kleenex and dabbed at her nose and eyes for most of the nearly two-hour hearing.

“I want to apologize, first and foremost, and for the pain and suffering that this situation has caused,” Leamer said.

Leamer spent four minutes reading a letter of apology to the court, pausing frequently to sniffle or clear her throat. She said she abused the trust placed in her by owners of the Juneau Bone and Joint Center, and caused anguish among her family and friends.

“I’m certain there are serious questions about how and why this happened,” Leamer said. “I’ve asked myself this question many times and when I come to some sort of explanation of the events, I believe they would be interpreted as excuses, and that is not what I’m here to do.”

Scott explained the plea agreement likely avoided a very costly and drawn-out jury trial.

“The presentation of this to the grand jury and the presentation of this case to the petit jury and trial would take weeks, if not months,” Scott said. “It would involve the type of labor of when I was an insurance defense attorney litigating breach-of-contract cases, had a partner, three associates and three paralegals assigned for six months.”

During a potential trial, evidence of each of Leamer’s expenditures — scores of them — would have to be submitted. Even then, a guilty verdict by a jury would never be assured.

Leamer is required to report back to Lemon Creek Correctional Center on Jan. 13 to serve out the remainder of her sentence. It’s still unclear if she’ll remain at the prison. The Department of Corrections may determine that Leamer is eligible to serve out the rest of her sentence under home confinement and electronic monitoring.

That didn’t sit well with Juneau Bone and Joint Center’s Dr. Gordon Bozarth who called the plea agreement “incredibly lenient, almost embarrassing.”

“I don’t know how this can be made right. I don’t think she can make it right,” Bozarth said. “But I believe the current sentencing guidelines and the plea agreement are fundamentally based on the State of Alaska not having the monetary or human resources to try this case as it should be tried.”

That’s why Scott made it a condition of the plea agreement for Leamer to serve 60 days behind bars before her sentencing hearing.

“Hence this extremely unique Rule 11 agreement was the only way that I could give victims any satisfaction in that regard was to require Ms. Leamer to do jail time up front prior to sentencing,” Scott said. “She may well have to go back to jail.”

According to court documents, Leamer charged $7,573 worth of clothing from Cabi using Juneau Bone and Joint Center’s credit card.

Here are some of her other expenditures over seven years broken down by category:

  • $80,087 for fuel, utilities, and phone bills
  • $76,672 in charges for groceries and liquor
  • $36,832 for rental cars, hotels, airfare and entertainment expenses
  • $28,812 in charges for toys and clothes
  • $26,759 for online shopping
  • $23,206 for insurance
  • $18,984 for gas, auto and marine
  • $12,884 for household goods
  • $9,562 for bars and restaurants
  • $5,987 for fitness and beauty
  • $5,429 for pet supplies and pet care
  • $3,421 for photos, gifts and books
  • $1,678 for licenses and fees

Leamer used her employer’s credit card for 41 trips for herself and her family to Seattle. At least another seven trips to Portland, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Hawaii were also charged to the Juneau Bone and Joint Center.

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