Effects of embezzlement still felt as families, bank rebuild | SteamboatToday.com

Effects of embezzlement still felt as families, bank rebuild

John and Julie Worden are trying to put things back together after their lives were turned upside down by Pamela Jean Williams and Terri Dawn Moody Fatka. Williams and Fatka pleaded guilty to embezzling about $1.3 million from the Steamboat Springs branch of Alpine Bank and its account holders.
John F. Russell

The fallout from the theft of $1.3 million from Steamboat Springs’ branch of Alpine Bank was described during the sentencing of Pamela Jean Williams on March 17 as a “ripple” with “compounding effects” for the victims, the bank and the community.

Williams and Terri Dawn Moody Fatka, who each pleaded guilty to stealing the money during the course of four years using hundreds of separate transactions, were ordered to pay back the entire $1.3 million – plus interest – as restitution. That prospect, according to victims and lawyers, seems unlikely. The women were each sentenced to eight years in prison.

John Worden, who was the first victim, said he was frustrated as he listened to testimony from the two women about a series of five vacations to Las Vegas and the purchase of expensive jewelry.

“Hearing about all these trips to Las Vegas, I kind of got pissed because I haven’t been able to take my kids on a spring break trip since ’04,” he said. “These girls are down in Vegas tearing it up, and I’m here explaining to my kids why we can’t go on a spring break trip.”

Worden learned about the theft after Williams and Fatka were caught in January, but he said he’s been financially drained and frustrated for more than four years.

“Definitely, the bottom line of the household economic situation was significantly impacted,” he said.

Worden, a real estate broker and one of six identified victims, said he was shocked when he received his first overdraft notice.

“When all of the sudden, you get an overdraft statement from your bank and you’re say-

ing, ‘Holy cow, how did that happen, where did that go?'” he said. “The sense of failure, of not knowing : you think, ‘Well jeez, what a loser am I.'”

Worden said he was forced to sell a home and a rental property in Steamboat and borrow additional money to cover the theft loss, unsure where the money was going.

When he approached the bank with his concerns, he said he was referred to credit counseling to curtail his spending habits.

“They never did say, ‘Let’s take a look at your account,” he said. “It’s disappointing, in hindsight.”

Alpine Bank President Adonna Allen said she couldn’t comment on Worden’s claims because the case is ongoing, and she didn’t want to jeopardize the resolution. She also declined to say whether credit counseling was ever recommended for a concerned customer.

However, Allen said that if a concerned customer came in with questions, the bank made available all of the advice-of-charge slips for their accounts for the customers to review. Those are the internal debit slips Williams and Fatka used to take the money. The customers then could determine whether anything looked suspicious, Allen said, such as a forged signature or questionable charge.

“We were more than happy to pull all of the like-advice-of-charge slips and run the entire inquiry,” she said. “We would leave it in customers’ hands to see if any looked odd or (whether they) had questions about them.”

Worden said Williams and Fatka, who often would pick him out of line to help him at their own teller stands, always were friendly.

“(Williams) definitely was friendly and went to lengths to bring me to her window. I felt like a special customer,” he said. “When a teller remembers your name and smiles and asks how you’re doing and befriends you, the trust follows.”

Shame and humiliation

At Williams’ sentencing last week, Judge Paul McLimans heard testimony from Worden and Elizabeth Wittemyer, who represented a victim who didn’t want to be named publicly because of his embarrassment.

Wittemyer said her client is the owner of a successful construction business in Steamboat. He speaks limited English and suffered a brain injury as a child, making it difficult for him to keep track of numbers, she said.

“He became so ashamed, he lived in fear and shame and stress and humiliation for years,” Wittemyer said. “He felt like he was a bad provider and bad father and bad husband.”

The unnamed victim would stay up late at night trying to piece together his finances and where the money could have gone but could not figure it out.

Adding to the confusion, Williams said she and Fatka targeted customers who did not bank online. The women then would put holds on the accounts they stole from, leaving the customers without a way to track expenditures or see the forged withdrawals.

Recouping the losses

The deception by Williams and Fatka extended beyond just bank customers, Allen testified.

“They betrayed their customers, their supervisors and their coworkers,” she said. To rebuild the trust of their employees and the community, the bank has been working on outreach programs and advertising campaigns.

Allen, who helped open the bank in 1999 and was promoted to bank president in 2007, said all but one of the employees now working at the bank have been there for more than a year.

Allen said the bank’s policies and procedures were appropriate at the time of the theft. She also said Fatka and Williams have made no attempts at restitution, and she does not think they will be able to pay back the losses.

Instead, Allen said the bank has made a claim to its private insurance carrier, although she said she does not expect the losses to be covered completely.

The claim was not made to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation because that organization generally covers only customers of failed banks.

The insurance company, in turn, can make claims on Fatka and Williams for restitution.

Allen, on the stand, and the bank’s Regional President Glenn Davis, in August 2008, said that all six victims have been repaid in full. Worden said Wednesday that was not the case.

He said Alpine Bank has repaid part of his losses – he declined to say how much – but he has hired Steamboat attorney Ralph Cantafio to help collect the rest.

Cantafio is working with the bank out of court to recoup the losses. He doubts he will be able to directly receive money from Fatka and Williams.

“They probably don’t have assets, so there’s nothing you can levy and liquidate. So, that’s really not an option. Because they’re felons, the type of jobs they get tend to be very, very low-paying, and under our statutory legal authority, if you garnish someone’s wages, there are certain wages they get to keep no matter what to sustain themselves,” he said. “When you go through all the statutory exceptions, there’s just not much left.”

Allen said she was unable to comment on Worden’s claim of outstanding losses.

One other victim, who did not want to be named because he is worried that his connections with the theft could hurt his business, said he was fully repaid.

“The bank’s been very stand-up,” he said by phone. “They took care of me a long time ago.”

Worden said he is upset with himself for not checking his bank accounts more often, a habit he followed regularly as a teenager but neglected in recent years.

“Never in a million years would I have thought they were stealing from me. That never occurred to me that it could even happen,” he said.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Steamboat and Routt County make the Steamboat Pilot & Today’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.


Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User

Explore Steamboat