West Views: Much to learn in wake of College of Southern Idaho embezzlement

Seldom does a Magic Valley judge send an embezzler to prison for up to 70 years. But seldom does someone do so much to destroy the public trust, or steal such a huge amount of money without being detected.

On Friday, 5th District Judge Randy Stoker ordered Dawn Marie Orr to spend at least 10 years in prison. An employee in the finance office at the College of Southern Idaho, Orr admitted to stealing at least $530,000 from the college over several years. It’s likely she took even more.

Orr turned herself in and said she could no longer cope with the guilt, but college officials had already begun to unravel the scheme by the time she fessed up.

A very animated Stoker said it is the worst embezzling case he’s ever seen. He called the crime “outrageous” and an affront to the community.

Previously unreported news surfaced Friday that Orr had been charged in the 1990s with forgery, but the case was ultimately dismissed. Couple that with the embezzling and it’s evidence that Orr is a “career criminal,” the judge said.

Still, it’s hard to walk away from this case with any sense that justice has been served. Yes, Orr is headed to prison, but the community still has questions about how this was allowed to happen, and it is still seeking reassurances from CSI that our community college has its house in order.

CSI has mostly refrained from commenting as the case played out, but college officials who testified at the sentencing hearing appeared humbled by the crime.

“This incident will stay with the college forever,” trustee Laird Stone told the court. The embezzlement case tarnished CSI’s reputation and was devastating to employees.

The judge said there’s no way the court can find CSI at fault in any way. Yet community members have been right to ask how the stealing could have gone on for so long without the knowledge of Orr’s bosses. State legislators have asked the same.

At what private business could so much money be stolen without anyone finding out?

All the more shameful it was allowed to happen with public money.

Once Orr confessed, college staff spent hundreds of hours reviewing financial records. A fraud examiner hired by CSI to examine its books gave the college 10 recommendations in the fall. Those include creating a part-time controller position to address internal controls and provide fiscal oversight, and changing job descriptions.

CSI said Friday that it has adopted all of them.

Stoker’s hefty sentence could have the same effect. It’s a warning to any would-be embezzlers that crimes like this won’t be tolerated.

Ultimately, it’s a disgrace it took such a brazen crime — and the destruction of someone’s life — for CSI to detect its accounting shortcomings.