No middle ground in views of Pressler, ex-boss
With a jury seated after a day and a half of selection, prosecuting and defense attorneys in Erin Pressler’s trial gave their opening statements Wednesday, presenting sharply contrasting views of Pressler and her former boss, from whom she is accused of stealing.
Deputy District Attorney Sarah Oszczakiewicz described Pressler’s case in three pieces: embezzlement of about $180,000 from her former employer for three years, unlawfully collecting Social Security benefits while she was working and failing to claim on her taxes the money that prosecutors say was stolen and the defense says was earned.
The case began as a simple burglary investigation, the deputy district attorney said. Jim Pribil, owner of Designer Door Hardware in Glenwood Springs, contacted police just days after Pressler quit working for him in 2012, as he suspected that she was behind a night burglary of the company.
He found that accounting software had been deleted from the company computer, so he couldn’t access the company’s finances.
But Pressler made a huge mistake by deleting only the program and not also the company file that kept the data, said the deputy district attorney. By simply reinstalling QuickBooks, Pribil could regain access to that information.
As the investigation continued, investigators discovered that the company’s finances didn’t add up. No one could have imagined how much more the investigation was going to turn up, said Oszczakiewicz.
This is when Pressler lost control of her scheme for easy money, and her three-year cover up was exposed, said Oszczakiewicz.
Pressler had hidden transactions for personal expenses from a company debit card in her name and company checks made out to her own credit card accounts, she said.
She had relabeled the expenses and taken advantage of the fact that QuickBooks’ accounting was not directly linked to the company’s bank account, she said.
The prosecution plans to call on software experts who worked with Pribil to trace what had happened with his company’s finances.
Eventually, both an investigator working on the case and a QuickBooks expert tracing the business’s financial activity came up with $180,000 that Pressler had embezzled from the company, said Oszczakiewicz.
After breaking her back in 1996, Pressler also started receiving benefits from Social Security disability insurance because she couldn’t work.
She never gave notice that she had started working again in 2009 at Designer Door Hardware. She used her husband’s name and likewise filed taxes on that earned income under his name, all in an attempt to conceal from Social Security administrators that she was working, said Oszczakiewicz.
The deputy district attorney described Pribil as a first-time business owner whose people skills played into building the business’s clientele – not with handling his company’s finances.
Prible hired Pressler to be the company’s bookkeeper, and eventually she realized that he did not check his bank statements or even know how to look up bank statements online, said Oszczakiewicz.
Their characterizations of Pribil are a big way in which the prosecution and defense differ.
“Erin Pressler never meant to do anything illegal. She just wanted to walk away. But she learned the hard way that no one walks away from Jim Pribil,” said public defender Alex Haynes.
The Presslers’ story was one of a couple struggling to get by, “doing the best they could,” according to Haynes.
The Social Security payments were desperately needed, and she started working again as a bookkeeper to help her husband’s small drywall company they were running out of their home.
When Pressler started working at Designer Door Hardware, it was Pribil who proposed paying her under her husband’s name due to the risk that she could get hurt again on the job, said the defense attorney.
He had also given her permission to use company money to pay down some of her debt, he said.
While working for him, Pressler learned that Pribil has two sides, said Haynes. One side was a caring and generous boss – the side that gave her permission to pay off some of her debt and opened a company debit card in her name – and the other side that liked to exert control over her, had a big ego and was quick to anger, he said.
By May 2012 she’d reached a breaking point and quit, he said. “But no one walks away from Jim Pribil.”
She immediately began worrying what he would do in retaliation, so she went back at night to avoid running into him and to erase her email account from the company computer – not to sabotage the business, said Haynes.
Pribil will likely testify that he never gave Pressler his blessing to use the money, and he’ll ask jurors to believe that he had no idea any of this was going on even though he was in charge, said Haynes.
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