CORUNNA — When people appear before 35th Circuit Court Judge Matthew Stewart for sentencing on theft crimes, the judge usually gives them two options: Pay back the stolen money or serve time behind bars.
For Lauren Ashley Miller, a 28-year-old Laingsburg woman convicted of stealing nearly $3,000 from the Valero Gas Station at 1740 W. M-21 in Owosso Township, Friday’s sentencing hearing was a step toward making restitution and avoiding jail time. But her work isn’t done.
“You’re going to pay one way or another,” Stewart told Miller. “You’re going to pay with money to make the victims whole, or you’re going to pay with (jail) time. One way or another, we’re going to make the victims whole with money, or with the satisfaction of you going to jail.”
Stewart sentenced Miller to 18 months probation and a delayed sentence. She is required to pay the balance of the restitution — about $2,300 — by May 24, 2019, the date she’ll be back before Stewart for
Stewart said if Miller’s probation agent doesn’t have positive things to say about her as a probationer, she may find herself behind bars.
“You have an awful lot hanging over your head, Ms. Miller,” he said. “(The probation agent) needs to tell the court that you were the best probationer that he’s ever had.”
Miller was charged in January with one count of embezzling between $1,000 and $20,000 as an agent or trustee — a five-year felony. Prosecutors at the time said Miller was a manager at the gas station when she took $2,960 from the gas station ATM.
She then falsified the amount of money that was in the machine, prosecutors said said. The store owner saw discrepancies in the gas station financial books and reported it to police. Miller is no longer employed by the company.
In April, Miller pleaded guilty to the charge in exchange for a sentencing agreement allowing her to avoid jail time if she pays the full amount she stole, a sum amounting to about $2,900.
Miller tendered $600 Friday and will be required to pay the balance over the course of her one-year term of probation. On top of potentially avoiding jail time, if Miller completes probation without issue, a misdemeanor embezzlement conviction would enter on Miller’s record in lieu of the felony charge she was convicted of.
Shiawassee County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Dan Nees described the plea offer as generous, but noted the deal put an emphasis on ensuring the money was repaid to the company.
“The people’s mission in regard to this plea was to attempt to make the victim whole, to the extent that we could,” he said.
Stewart said the only way he would go along with such an agreement was if Miller provided money up front and passed a drug screen, both of which she did.
“She understands that this was a very stupid move,” said Amy Husted, Miller’s attorney. “She’s committed to making better choices in the future.”
Miller apologized for her actions and said she’ll “do better” in the future.