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Ziehli gets 2+ years in prison for embezzlement
Joyce Ziehli looks toward New Glarus Home Executive Director Rick Colby as he takes a seat following a statement to the court during her sentencing hearing Friday. (Times photo: Anthony Wahl)
MONROE - Joyce Ziehli was sentenced Friday to 2 1/2 years in state prison for embezzling more than $300,000 from the New Glarus Home.

Ziehli, 56, Belleville, a former administrative secretary for the nursing home, was sentenced in Green County Circuit Court to an initial confinement in state prison for 2 1/2 years, as well as 10 years of extended supervision to run consecutively, and 5 years of probation to run consecutively to all her sentences and 10 years of probation to run concurrently to all her sentences. She was also ordered to pay almost $296,000 in restitution to the New Glarus Home during her incarceration, extended supervision and probation periods.

Ziehli was charged with six Class G Felony counts in January 2014; one was dismissed after Ziehli's attorney Robert Duxstad filed a motion showing the statute of limitations excludes the years 2003 to 2006 referenced in that count. According to a forensics accounting study, Ziehli stole more than $800,00 over a 10-year period, however, that number was reduced when the home could not produce court-ordered financial records and the one felony charge was dropped.t of a plea agreement in October, Ziehli was convicted of using her position to complete hundreds of fraudulent transactions from 2007 to 2013. The criminal complaint indicates Ziehli used a stamp of her former employer's signature to fill out checks made out to cash or in her name. She pulled money from insurance companies or donations to the home to pay bills in the home's general fund and then transferred money between accounts, a system so complex that it avoided detection even by the nursing home's outside auditors for several worked for the home for 31 years until she was fired in January 2013 in the wake of the allegations.

Two victims from the New Glarus Home prepared statements, and many friends of Ziehli gave testimony, at the sentencing hearing Friday.

Rick Colby, executive director of the New Glarus Home, asked for a long period of incarceration in his testimony. After hearing the sentence, he said the home has accepted the judgment.

"The judge made the decision and we're moving on," Colby said.

Colby came on as executive director after Roger Goepfert retired in 2014. Colby said restitution was not the chief concern of the home, as much as sending a message that theft should be punished.

"Given the opportunity to commit these crimes again, we believe she will," Colby said. "Rather than seek restitution, we would focus on what is more important, making sure the punishment fits the crime."

Dennis Tomczyk, a board member at the home, said Ziehli was in charge of a vulnerable population of people at the home, where many suffer from dementia or need extra care - even though no money was taken directly from residents of the home.

"You abused the spirit of trust at the home with theft after theft after theft," Tomcyzk said.

Duxstad asked Tomcyzk a number of questions, including whether the home had made a profit of $4.1 million prior to Ziehli being fired. Tomcyzk answered "yes," but he qualified his answer by accusing Ziehli of possibly stealing from the home for a greater time period than the years in the charging documents spanning from 2007 to 2013.

"The onus of this case is the amount estimated at $850,000 stolen over six or seven years, but this could have been going on much longer than that," Tomcyzk said.

A minister, family friend, employer, co-worker and author of the defense's pre-sentence investigation spoke on Ziehli's behalf.

Andrew Jenness hired Ziehli to work at a senior care center, Heartsong Assisted Living in Belleville, about a year ago. Jenness said he performed numerous background checks on Ziehli and was aware of the charges against her.

"When Joyce walked in to apply to work there, I knew within about four minutes she had some issues," Jenness said.

He said Ziehli exhibited "heart" for the 14 residents at Heartsong, and was considering moving her into the administrator position.

"Even if she gets sent to jail, what she offers to Heartsong is invaluable," Jenness said.

District Attorney Gary Luhman argued Ziehli's claims that she gave the money back to the home were egregious. Ziehli claimed to have paid back about $16,000 the home after being confronted by Goepfert, but court records show no money was given back.

"I doubt she can offer any explanation to the court how she gave money back," Luhman said.

Luhman said she took the money from the home and poured it into several failed businesses she and her husband had started. After Ziehli was confronted by Goepfert about large sums of money in a resident account in October 2010, she lied to him to cover up her theft, saying it was a mistake.

"A lie you repeat loud enough and long enough, it is still a lie," Luhman said. "By 2012 she had doubled down on her crimes," referencing how Ziehli had begun to take larger sums and was paying off her credit card payments with the embezzled monies, according to court records.

Duxstad said Ziehli did not take the money to improve her own wealth, but to keep treading water.

"It probably forestalled the Ziehlis from filing bankruptcy," Duxstad said.

He argued Ziehli would not re-offend and that she deserved a second chance, describing the theft as a "fall from grace," as Ziehli has a clean record besides this conviction.

"Joyce shows a genuine care for others," Duxstad said.

Ziehli read from a hand-written note and expressed her apologies to the New Glarus Home.

"I am truly sorry for what I have done," Ziehli said. "I've been an embarrassment to my family and friends."

Judge Thomas Vale said that though this is Ziehli's first offense, it spanned many years and could be considered a repeat offense.

"People lose faith in humanity when they see these types of crimes," Vale said.

He described how some people view themselves in camps of criminals and innocent citizens. He said Ziehli at one point could be counted among the former group and this theft marks a "major break" in the community.

Conditions of Ziehli's extended supervision and probation period include that she have no contact with the New Glarus Home and that 25 percent of possible prison wages be paid back to the home. She is ordered not to have any financial responsibilities at a job unless given permission by her probation agent. She is to make monthly payments towards restitution; file yearly tax returns with all tax refunds paid to restitution; and is ordered to file a written report every six months regarding her income, expenses and payments towards restitution.