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Theft ends up a bad gamble

Woman gets 15 months for stealing $785,000 from her employer

A former assistant manager for First American Title Insurance of Portland has been sentenced to 15 months in federal prison for embezzling almost $800,000 from the escrow accounts of some of the company’s customers. Judith Yoresen, 61, of Portland, stole the money, according to federal prosecutors and court documents, to feed a gambling habit. “It’s kind of tragic because she was working in the industry for over 30 years,” said Jay Dobson, a lawyer for First American Title, who said Yoresen apparently began embezzling almost immediately after joining First American Title in late 2001 and continued into 2005. “It came as a total shock when it came to light. It shows how bad a problem gambling can be.” Yoresen was sentenced last week by U.S. District Judge Anna J. Brown. She had pleaded guilty to the embezzlement charges in January. Dobson said First American officials noticed discrepancies in some accounts in December 2005 and left voice mails with Yoresen — who was on vacation — to help them understand the discrepancies. Yoresen then never returned to the office after her vacation was scheduled to end. “It was the last thing in our minds that the problem was that she took the funds — and she just didn’t show up for work the next week,” Dobson said. Yoresen remained out of town for “several weeks,” according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Lance Caldwell, then “returned voluntarily and when contacted by the FBI was cooperative and agreed to plead guilty to the charges.” In her January guilty plea, Yoresen admitted to using her access to First American Title escrow accounts to write checks to her own bank accounts. She admitted to embezzling more than $785,000. According to a transcript of Yoresen’s sentencing hearing, a presentence report on her and her gambling indicated that she had withdrawn roughly $500,000 from automatic teller machines in or near casinos. Dobson said tracking of her bank withdrawals also showed significant withdrawals near video lottery retailers. Dobson said Yoresen embezzled from up to 20 different escrow files, and “in some of the cases would take from one file to reimburse another.” Dobson said the money was stolen from First American Title’s customers — people who had money in escrow through real estate sales — but that the company has reimbursed all its customers. First American Title has an insurance policy for such situations, but must pay the first $500,000 of any loss, Dobson said. Dobson said First American officials contacted some of Yoresen’s previous title insurance company employers about the case, to allow them to check their records on other possible embezzlement. He said none of the previous employers found anything questionable. Cases often involve women Yoresen is only the most recent Oregon example of a significant embezzling case that involved a problem gambler. And most of the recent embezzling and problem gambler cases have involved women. In June 2005, an Aloha woman was sentenced to 27 months in prison for stealing more than $900,000 for her employer, U.S. Bank. In March 2006, a 52-year-old Washington County woman was sentenced to state prison for embezzling $275,000 from her employer, EasyStreet Online Services. And in November, Elma Magkamit, the former West Linn finance director — was sentenced to eight years in prison after she stole $1.4 million from the city. The high-profile embezzlement cases are happening at the same time experts are saying that an increasing portion of compulsive gamblers in Oregon are women. “It used to be considered an activity that was predominantly male,” said Jeff Marotta, problem gambling services manager for the state of Oregon. Now, as many women as men are in state-funded compulsive gambling programs, he said. ‘I couldn’t be any more sorry’ Marotta said that, as opposed to card rooms or casino games or parimutuel betting on horses or dogs, women tend to prefer the electronic gaming devices like video poker and video slots. And, he said, the problem of compulsive female gamblers is worse in Oregon than many states because of the wide availability in Oregon of those types of machines — at Native American casinos and through the state’s video lottery retailers. Yoresen, who is scheduled to report to federal prison May 24, declined through her public defender to talk about her case. Her attorney, Matthew Rubenstein, also declined to talk about her case. According to the transcript of her sentencing hearing, Yoresen told Judge Brown: “I cannot tell you how I regret what I did. I couldn’t be any more sorry.” According to the transcript, Rubenstein told Brown that “it’s a tragedy because the gambling addiction pushed her to a place where she stole from her employer repeatedly over many years in a way that voided all the things that she valued about herself.” Departing from sentence recommendations that called for a 30- to 37-month sentence, Brown sentenced Yoresen to the 15 months, saying she had lived a crime-free life before the embezzling, was doing well in gambling treatment and was unlikely to reoffend. Brown ordered Yoresen to pay $785,000 in restitution, but Yoresen doesn’t have the money. She will be required to make restitution payments of at least $150 per month after she is released from prison.