The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Police/Courts

December 6, 2012

Convicted embezzler gets jail time

FAYETTEVILLE — A woman convicted of embezzling thousands of dollars from Fayetteville Physical Therapy was sentenced to 42 months of supervised probation and 120 days of jail time Monday by Fayette County Circuit Judge John Hatcher.

Karen Brandstetter, 46, apologized to the court, her family and friends, and said she was “deeply saddened” by the loss of her friendship to one of her former co-workers, Lisa Harris, at Fayetteville Physical Therapy.

“This has been a difficult situation for all of us,” she said.

The woman’s crime was discovered after West Virginia State Police began investigating her live-in partner, Micah Feltner, who pled guilty in 2010 to stealing $373,000 from the City of Oak Hill in his capacity as President of the Volunteer Fire Department there. Hatcher says he has seen no evidence that there was any connection between the two cases.

Brandstetter asked Hatcher to grant her probation instead of a jail sentence so she can continue to work full time, pay restitution, be with her family, receive medical care, and “continue to be a productive member of the community.”

But her former employer, James Truitt Harris of Fayetteville Physical Therapy, asked that she not be given any leniency.

“She took advantage of us, and for that reason I ask that you sentence her to prison,” he said in a statement to the court.

Brandstetter was also ordered to pay $5,000 in restitution, plus court costs. Harris sought restitution in the amount of $69,217, but Brandstetter’s lawyer, Scott Stanton, said the state had not proven the requested restitution amount and called the company’s record-keeping and culture “borderline absurd.”

“The culture wasn’t the problem,” said Harris. “The problem was we had her working for us.”

Hatcher says he could not order a restitution amount that large based on “the lack of facts.” He says he never received a report from a certified public accountant who testified during the trial, only a handwritten note from Harris.

Hatcher says he suspended the execution of Brandstetter’s prison sentence to probation because of her lack of criminal history and a heart condition that is prompting a surgery in January. But he had strong words for Brandstetter nonetheless.

“I don’t want you for a moment to think that what I’m doing in any way says that what you did was OK. So as a special condition of your probation, so you can hear the door slam and smell the stench of those places, you’re going to serve 120 days in the Southern Regional Jail on weekends,” he said.

“I can’t un-ring the bell that you are a felon and a thief.”

She is also ordered to undergo an addiction evaluation, complete ongoing drug testing, obtain her GED and perform 500 hours of community service.

Current employers Debra Pories and Ann Whittaker, co-owners of Active Recovery Physical Fitness in Oak Hill, came to the sentencing to support Brandstetter, a current employee.

“As her employer, we are satisfied with the court’s sentence because it will allow us to continue to have Karen as an exemplary employee,” says Pories.

The business partners were sued by Fayetteville Physical Therapy in 2010 over an employee who quit and came to work at their competing business. The case was settled in August of 2011.

Brandstetter’s treatment in “social media” was raised by her lawyer, who said she has been “prosecuted and persecuted at a ridiculous level” online.

But Hatcher said that social media was irrelevant in his sentencing.

“I do not access social media. I cannot send an e-mail. I can send a text after a fashion on the cell phone. Social media has no part to play in this case, on either side. Social media is an abomination,” he said.

— E-mail: cmoore@register-herald.com

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