Emmett woman who stole from Caldwell employer has done it before

November 26, 2013 

Sonia Jean Branch

Sonia Jean Branch, 59, was sentenced Tuesday to four to 20 years in prison for embezzling more than $1.2 million from her employer, Caldwell-based High Desert Wall Systems.

Branch had worked as a bookkeeper for the construction company for nearly 20 years. A police investigation found that she stole the money over a seven-year period, beginning in 2006.

The bookkeeper had access to four company bank accounts along with signature stamps for High Desert executives. She was accused of writing numerous checks made out to herself or written on her behalf.

Branch pleaded guilty in July to four counts of grand theft. The resolution came about, authorities said, following an all-day mediation session with Linda Copple Trout, former chief justice of the Idaho Supreme Court.

She will have to spend at least four years in prison before she's eligible for parole.

Third District Judge Molly Huskey noted that company owner Franklin Freeman and his relatives had treated Branch as family. Huskey said Branch reminded her of Janus, an obscure Roman god who was pictured with two faces, one looking forward and the other one looking back.

"On the one hand you’re a loving family member, and on the other hand I will say that you are a consummate con artist and manipulator,” Huskey said. “You stole from these people under their very noses at the same time that you are acting and they are treating you as if you are part of their family."

Branch was ordered to pay back the $1.2 million. She was also fined $400 and ordered to pay court costs.

The defendant was arrested in February by officers from the Caldwell Police Department.

Branch served four years in prison after being convicted of 10 counts of grand theft in the late 1980s. She was charged with 71 counts of grand theft in Gooding County after stealing from Basterrechea Distribution, a freight hauling company based in Gooding. She was also charged with two counts of embezzlement for stealing from another employer in Elko, Nev., according to Canyon County officials.

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