Opinion

Wendy Stevens cuts deal with prosecutor to avoid jail time

Naval Avenue PTA President Barbie Swainson holds an $8,000 check from Wendy Stevens’ attorney in front of the Kitsap County Courthouse Tuesday morning. - Kevan Moore
Naval Avenue PTA President Barbie Swainson holds an $8,000 check from Wendy Stevens’ attorney in front of the Kitsap County Courthouse Tuesday morning.
— image credit: Kevan Moore

Former Bremerton school board candidate Wendy Stevens agreed to cut a deal in her first-degree theft case and her attorney cut the check.

At a scheduled court appearance on Tuesday morning, Stevens sat in a packed Kitsap County District Court room. Like many others, though, she never had to appear before a judge. Instead, her lawyer, Thomas Weaver, presented an $8,000 check to Naval Avenue PTA president Barbie Swainson. He also gave Swainson a little more than $60 in cash.

Kitsap County Deputy Prosecutor Barbara Dennis says that Stevens will enter the Kitsap County Superior Court’s felony diversion program, a contract between her and the state, where paying restitution to the PTA is one of several conditions. Stevens will also have to perform 48 hours of community service, pay a $1,500 fine and stay out of trouble for a year.

“If she does those things, the case will be dismissed at the end of the year,” Dennis said. “If she doesn’t, she’s given up her right to challenge any of the evidence. So, if she’s out of compliance, we would just submit the police reports and the judge would make a determination of guilt based on the police reports alone.”

Stevens will not have to enter a guilty plea as part of the deal. Dennis said Stevens’ ability to pay back the money she took was critical.

“The PTA has been paid back in full and that is one of the main reasons she was offered diversion, was she would be able to pay that restitution up front which I thought was the most important part of that case,” she said.

Dennis also doesn’t think that allowing Stevens to enter the diversion program sends the wrong message about first-degree theft to the residents of Bremerton.

“No, this is exactly the type of case that our felony diversion program usually accepts,” she said. “It’s one where it’s a financial crime and one where restitution can be made to the victim. And this case is one where Mrs. Stevens has no felony history.”

A person convicted of theft in the first degree, with an offender score of zero, meaning they have no criminal history, faces 0 to 90 days in jail. The state, though, can seek prison time for the offender if he or she was in a position of trust or authority at the time the crime was committed. In a case like that, with aggravating circumstances, the person can face five to ten years in prison.

“Technically, that’s true,” Dennis said. “That would be at trial ... I find it unlikely that any of our judges would give prison time for a first time felony, even if they could with the aggravator being proven.”

Stevens was charged Nov. 4 with first-degree theft for allegedly stealing $8,061.27 from the Naval Avenue PTA, where she had served as president for three years. Charging documents allege that she convinced her husband to serve as treasurer of the group, but kept him in the dark about ongoing thefts, forging his and others’ signatures.

Standing outside of the courthouse on Tuesday morning with an $8,000 check a little over $60 in cash in hand, Naval Avenue PTA President Barbie Swainson said she was contacted by the prosecutor’s office on Monday and told about the deal by Dennis.

“She said that they wanted to make a deal for $8,000 and were pretty sure (Stevens) would take it,” Swainson said. “I said I think the parents will be excited to get $8,000 back.”

“I was just focused on the fact that we’ll be able to get this money now for the kids,” Swainson added. “I think it’s not the best resolution, but we have parents who really want to get these bills paid. I think that the PTA is happy with the $8,000. Would we like to see more? Yeah. But, we’re happy to have what we have because lots of people in these situations don’t necesarily get paid as soon as we have and definitely not in a big lump sum.”

Swainson also weighed in on Stevens’ opportunity to avoid any jail time.

“My view on that is she’s a mom with a young child,” Swainson said. “Do I agree with what she did? No. But I’m glad she doesn’t have to spend a night away from her child. For us, going into this, it was never about her spending time in jail. It was about her never being able to do this again to somebody else.”

Swainson said there is one thing that many people still hope to see.

“The one thing that some parents asked me to ask for was an apology letter,” Swainson said. “So, I did ask her attorney and the lady from the prosecuting attorney’s office if it was possible to get an apology letter to the parents, teachers, staff and students. So, (Stevens) told her lawyer, because I asked him when he handed me the check, at this time she wants to think about writing us an apology letter, but she wasn’t going to commit to that.”

An apology letter, though, is not part of the deal or a requirement of the felony diversion program.

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