RIVERTON — Moments after pleading guilty to nearly half a million dollars in thefts, Laura Burleson was sentenced Wednesday morning to probation, with a suspended prison term of five and-a-half to seven years.
She will, however, have to make restitution in full.
Also known as Laura Veach or Laura Logan, Burleson was arrested last August, on four counts of felony aggregate theft. She spent three days in jail before bailing out.
She had been, by her own admission, overstating receipts and reimbursement requests to her former employer, M&M Well Service, for whom she managed financial accounts.
The prosecutor requested a five and one-half to 10-year prison term.
“This is the largest theft in Fremont County, that our office has charged since 2012,” began Fremont County Attorney deputy Seth Griswold at Burleson’s sentencing hearing.
There were at least 27 thefts, ranging from $2000 to $27,000 apiece.
Most of the thefts were deposited to Burleson’s personal Chase credit card account as checks, which made them indistinguishable from other payments by M&M Well Service, because the oil and gas company also kept Chase credit cards, which Burleson had been authorized to pay monthly.
“Groceries, fancy vacations, furniture, glasses, clothes jewelry… a personal remodel,” Griswold listed many of the indulgences toward which the stolen funds went. “And monthly payments to her husband’s attorney.”
Griswold said the only reason Burleson was not being seen by the court as a repeat offender is because she evaded detection for so long, through a prolonged, sophisticated scheme against a victim employer – John Majdic – who trusted her completely.
Burleson’s plea agreement guaranteed that she pay $403,185.18 in restitution to M&M Well Service.
Now having been sentenced to three years’ probation with her prison term suspended, Burleson has only three years to pay that amount back.
Majdic testified, explaining how Burleson had betrayed his trust and that of his employees, who have since had to take pay cuts.
“She started stealing money from me about seven years ago,” said Majdic, adding that “She kind of forced another secretary out when she took over the books – that’s when the embezzlement started. She got more brazen as she went along.”
Majdic said she used the money to pay for child custody for her husband, to remodel her house, and to support the Third Base sports bar in Riverton, which closed soon after she quit M&M Well Service.
He also asserted that her two recent pregnancies were both, likely, conceived as intentional bids for mercy.
Burleson has a 7-month-old daughter and a 28-month-old son, both with developmental issues. Her father, Jim Logan, countered Majdic’s theory about the pregnancies, saying he didn’t think his daughter conceived either child to avoid anything.
Then he addressed Conder, saying “Their wellbeing and future and their lives are truly in your hands your Honor. We must ask the question of how one wealthy man’s money can compare to the value of two small, innocent lives.”
Burleson’s defense attorney, Joe Hampton, also argued about the psychological harm that could be caused by separating the little ones from their mother.
Hampton, who requested a suspended sentence, argued before the court that he believed his client could be a victim of abuse by her husband, Scott.
He also said that the state’s not charging Scott Burleson as a conspirator in the case deprived his client of a tenet of defense.
The attorney said Laura Burleson received a “suspicious head injury” in 2017, and he also pointed to Scott Burleson’s extensive benefit from the stolen funds.
“I was almost certain that Laura is a victim of abuse,” said Hampton. “I don’t know if it’s physical or emotional abuse; I don’t know the level. And this is something my client will not cooperate with me on, and I believe it’s because she doesn’t want both her children’s parents to be incarcerated.”
Scott Burleson has not been charged with abuse of Burleson, nor of theft from M&M Well Service.
It was the payments to Scott Burleson’s divorce and custody attorney, Laurie Malone, that seemed to evoke mercy from Fremont County District Court Judge Jason Conder.
“Part of the nature and circumstance of the offense also include ‘what was the money going for?’ – and that’s always an interesting question,” said Conder. “Folks who steal money to feed a drug habit are always treated more harshly. Or someone who steals to feed a gambling habit. They’re always treated differently than someone who steals to pay a divorce and custody lawyer. And it doesn’t excuse it. But it explains it.”
Burleson had told the court that she was stealing the money from her employer to get visitation and custody rights for her husband, Scott, for his children, whom she said she loves as her own.
Burleson confessed fully and apologized publicly to Majdic.
“I did this,” she said. “And I can’t express how much I regret my actions.”
She focused on the portion of the money that went to the custody attorney, saying “I feared what was happening with Scott’s kids more than I valued my own moral compass, my own self; I allowed myself to take on a problem that was not initially mine.”
Weeping, Burleson begged Conder “Please don’t take me from my children. “To my babies, I’m life. I’m the one my baby girl cries for when she’s hungry and sleepy… I’m scared to death to lose that bond with her.”