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Pasco judge says plea deal too soft for woman in theft case

Kristen Collins, now Kristen Lausburg, has asked the judge to let her keep working so she can make full restitution to victims.

BRENDAN FITTERER | Times

Kristen Collins, now Kristen Lausburg, has asked the judge to let her keep working so she can make full restitution to victims.

NEW PORT RICHEY — Kristen Collins came to court Friday with $20,000, a substantial portion of the money authorities say she and her former boss stole from their clients.

The amount was enough to satisfy prosecutors, who agreed to a sentence of house arrest and weekends in jail so that Collins, 32, could continue working to repay the debt.

But it didn't satisfy the victims, and so it didn't satisfy the judge.

Authorities say Collins was working as a paralegal for Port Richey attorney Jessica Miller when the two began using clients' fees to fund personal shopping excursions and family vacations. They raided two clients' trust accounts, leaving the divorcing couples with no assets to divide. The losses totalled more than $70,000.

Miller, 32, pleaded guilty to grand theft and was sentenced earlier this month to more than four years in prison. She came to sentencing with $250, the proceeds of a garage sale.

Collins, now known as Kristen Lausburg, pleaded no contest to grand theft. She cooperated with prosecutors and was prepared to testify against Miller.

"She basically worked 12 to 20 hours a day assisting me with the case," Assistant State Attorney Chip Stanton told the judge.

But then two victims got up and said they wanted to see Collins go to prison.

"To walk away with no time at all, that just doesn't sit with me well at all," said Stanley McEwen, who lost more than $20,000 out of his trust account. He has been mostly repaid by a Florida Bar victims' fund.

William Morales, another victim who was homeless for a while after his money went missing, agreed.

"I think she should do some time for what she put us through," Morales said.

Circuit Judge Michael Andrews said the plea deal was too good.

"I don't know that I have an adjective to explain how good it is," Andrews said.

He also noted that Collins has been implicated in similar crimes before. In 2005, she pleaded guilty to forgery and uttering a forged instrument after she was accused of forging the signature of a circuit court judge.

She has been dubbed the mastermind of the scheme with Miller, who said she trusted Collins to handle all the firm's finances. The judge said Collins is "at least as culpable if not more culpable than Ms. Miller."

Collins apologized to the victims and said she wanted to keep working to repay what is owed.

"I'm extremely, extremely sorry for what's happened to Mr. Morales and Mr. McEwen. My goal is to get them paid back, but if I can't work during the week I can't do it," she said.

The judge ordered a pre-sentence investigation to get more feedback from victims and investigators before formally sentencing her. He set a hearing for July 2.

Pasco judge says plea deal too soft for woman in theft case 05/21/10 [Last modified: Friday, May 21, 2010 9:07pm]
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