While the Cheyenne Little Theatre Players were busy figuring out how to make it through closures and restrictions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the nonprofit’s bookkeeper, Carrisa Dunn-Pollard, was actively stealing from the community theater.
“We thought Ms. Pollard was on our team,” Sara Serelson, president of the Cheyenne Little Theatre Players board of directors, told the court during a Wednesday afternoon sentencing hearing for Pollard in Cheyenne.
Dunn-Pollard, 45, was sentenced to 21 months in prison and ordered to pay a total of $333,933.15 in restitution by U.S. District Court Judge Alan B. Johnson as part of a plea agreement. She pleaded guilty to felony embezzlement.
She could have been sentenced to a maximum of up to 21 years in prison.
The judge told Dunn-Pollard that her life forward will be much different, telling her that, “The lifestyle you will encounter will be quite different in the future.”
Despite failing to pay her own taxes, the prosecution noted how Dunn-Pollard’s husband’s taxes, which she filed, also were falsely reported so the couple would still get a tax refund.
“No lie was either too big or too small” for Dunn-Pollard, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Margaret Vierbuchen, the lead prosecutor on the case.
Dunn-Pollard said she regrets the choices she made.
“I am extremely sorry for the pain and hurt I have caused,” she told the courtroom Wednesday. “I fell into very toxic behaviors.”
Although Dunn-Pollard apologized for her actions during the hearing, she expressed little emotion in her voice and kept her back and left shoulder turned away from the gallery throughout the more than three-hour hearing, never looking in that direction.
Nearly Curtains For Little Theatre
While Dunn-Pollard’s apology was brief, those affected by her embezzlement had plenty to say.
About 30 members of the Cheyenne Little Theatre organization were in the courtroom, and four gave impassioned and emotional victim impact statements.
Serelson told the judge how Dunn-Pollard severely hurt the organization. The amount of money Dunn-Pollard stole was equal to about 60% of the organization’s annual budget.
Dunn-Pollard presented faulty financial reports to theater members on numerous occasions to cover up her embezzlement, Serelson said.
Serelson also said there was one particular bank account that Dunn-Pollard did not have access to. If she had access to this account and took the remaining money from it, that would have been a killing blow for the 93-year-old organization, which is one of the longest-running little theaters in the nation.
“The theater has survived the Great Depression, wars and the pandemic,” Serelson said. “Ms. Pollard’s deed would have forced us to close our doors.”
Still, because of Dunn-Pollard’s actions, the theater had to take out a second mortgage on its playhouse to stay afloat.
“If Ms. Pollard hadn’t taken those funds, we could be taking care of critical issues at the theater now,” Serelson said.
Kylie Porter told the court that the money Dunn-Pollard stole could have been used for upgrades for the playhouse, including making the venue more accessible to those with disabilities.
“I would ask the court to take this into account when deciding this case,” she said.
In arguing for leniency, Dunn-Pollard’s attorney, Craig Silva, pointed out holes in the prosecution’s evidence and made subtle criticisms of the theater for not vetting his client better when she was hired.
Silva also asked Johnson to consider that the theater had not requested his client receive prison time.
Dunn-Pollard blamed her actions partly on an alcohol and cocaine addiction, although there was no physical evidence provided of the latter. Johnson recommended she seek drug treatment while serving her time and after being released from prison.
Vierbuchen pointed out that in her presentence investigation report, Dunn-Pollard blamed the theater for hiring her to do a job she believed she was unqualified for.
Vierbuchen said that, to the contrary, the resumé Dunn-Pollard gave the theater in 2016 claimed that she had a broad spectrum of finance and bookkeeping experience. Investigators met with her previous employer, Cheyenne law firm Woodhouse, Roden Ames & Brennan, and discovered Dunn-Pollard’s claims on her resumé were false.
Dunn-Pollard pleaded guilty to the white-collar felony and misdemeanor crimes in March.
More than $220,000 of her restitution is to be paid to the Little Theatre for money she stole from September 2020 through May 2022.
She also was convicted on a misdemeanor charge for not paying taxes from 2018-2021. She was ordered to pay $113,451.58 to the IRS.
Johnson erred on the side of leniency in sentencing Dunn-Pollard.
Most significantly, he approved a variance request to have Dunn-Pollard sentenced as a first-time criminal, reducing her eligible prison range by about six months. The judge expressed skepticism that prison time does anything to mitigate future crimes.
“Perhaps this all came from a mother’s desire to be loved by her husband and children,” he said. “Maybe it was stimulated by a persistent desire to try and accumulate money for the outward signs of wealth.”
Johnson noted that Dunn-Pollard held three jobs during the time of her thefts, yet spent money wildly beyond her means.
“Your lifestyle and everything connected to it took over without any ability to stop it,” Johnson told her.
Many expenditures were made at Colorado Rockies baseball games, and Dunn-Pollard also made big purchases at the Cheyenne Country Club, on home construction work, toward the car payments of two Mercedes-Benz vehicles, and other purchases at stores like Victoria’s Secret.
During the month of June 2021 alone, Dunn-Pollard made nine withdrawals from theater accounts amounting to $37,500. Vierbuchen noted how many of these withdrawals were made into her bank account when it had a negative balance.
Johnson saw this as evidence of an unstable mind and expressed sympathy for Dunn-Pollard’s behavior, which he said was likely fueled by personal issues and her substance abuse.
Dunn-Pollard won’t have to report to prison until July 31.
Vierbuchen reported that the defendant now has no money, so will not be able to immediately pay toward the restitution she owes.
Johnson ordered her to pay $25 per quarter while in prison, and at least 10% of her monthly income once released, a repayment plan that the judge said could last more than 20 years. He said any inheritance she receives must be fully used towards paying her restitution.
Once released, Dunn-Pollard also must serve three years supervised probation.
Bob Hancock, the godfather to Dunn-Pollard’s children, was in the courtroom on Wednesday. He expressed remorse to Cowboy State Daily that those around Dunn-Pollard weren’t able to help with her issues before it was too late.
“This went on for a very long time, and any time those around someone doing this allow her to continue, they're going to suffer in life,” he said.
Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.