ELKO – The former treasurer of the Elko Motorcycle Jamboree was ordered to serve a year in jail for embezzling more than $35,000 from the organization.
Deborah Urrizaga, 52, was given a suspended sentence of five years in prison and was placed on probation for two years on Monday by Judge Al Kacin in Elko District Court; however, as a condition of probation, she was ordered to serve 364 days in jail with credit for eight days served.
Upon hearing the sentence, Urrizaga leaned on the table before breaking down into tears.
Urrizaga served as the treasurer of the Elko Motorcycle Jamboree for three years and was associated with the organization for nine years. She was arrested Feb. 9 and charged with 21 counts of fraud and theft. She pleaded guilty in September to one count of theft by conversion in exchange for dropping the other charges.
At the time of her arrest, she was a teacher at Spring Creek Middle School.
An investigation into missing funds from the Elko Motorcycle Jamboree began June 2016, shortly after organizers decided to end the event after 16 years.
Jamboree Board President Brandie Notestine told Elko Police detectives Urrizaga informed her that there wasn’t enough money to cover expenses for the event. In reconciling bank statements, Notestine found out several checks had been forged with her name and deposited in Urrizaga’s account.
Court documents stated Urrizaga embezzled $35,442.83 between 2014 and 2016.
During an interview with detectives on July 8, 2016, she said she paid bills out of her own pocket and wrote checks to reimburse herself.
Urrizaga told police detectives she was unable to reach board members to explain the situation “not thinking there would be an issue.”
Attorney Michael Shurtz said Urrizaga paid back the full amount of $35,442.83, and stated that his client knew what she did was wrong and how it affected her family and friends.
“She would not deny this, but she betrayed the trust of a lot of people in this community with her actions,” Shurtz said. “There’s no legal or moral justification for what she did.”
Three major incidents in Urrizaga’s life also affected her judgment, Shurtz said, including the suicide of her son, the death of her parents, and a divorce, emphasizing it wasn’t an excuse but an insight into her state of mind.
“Does that excuse her for embezzling $35,000 from the Motorcycle Jamboree? Absolutely not,” Shurtz said. “That can explain … what was happening in her life. Something drastic, traumatic happened to her that changed her.”
Shurtz said the Department. of Parole and Probation recommended probation for three years in its pre-sentence report, because it was Urrizaga’s first felony.
“She’s asking for mercy, accepting her responsibility for what she did,” Shurtz said.
Offered the opportunity to speak on her behalf by Kacin, Urrizaga apologized for her actions, and said she knew she let her friends down.
“I’d like to say how sorry I am to the board,” Urrizaga said. “They trusted me and I let them down. I lost friendships, I’ve lost respect, [and] I’ve put my family in a bad situation.
“If I could go back and do it again, I never would, ever. And I’m very sorry. Very, very sorry for all the harm and everything that I’ve done to people that cared for me. I apologize.”
Notestine and four other board members submitted written statements to the court as part of victim impact testimony.
Reading her statement to the court, Notestine tearfully explained the aftermath of the investigation and how affected her, other board members and the reputation of the Jamboree.
“Over the past year and a half, our board has dealt with this impact of the embezzlement,” Notestine said.
Notestine said her own personal credit was put at risk and her reputation, along with other members of the board, was damaged.
“Our word, my word, no longer means what it once did. Our reputation is tarnished as a direct result of what Debbie did,” Notestine said, adding that the Jamboree was still $26,000 in debt.
Notestine said the “salt in our wounds” to her and board members came when they saw pictures of Urrizaga’s trips posted on Facebook “once we figured out what happened.”
“Not many people in general, living on a teacher’s salary can afford to take those kinds of vacations in the course of one year,” Notestine said.
The board did not want Urrizaga to receive probation, Notestine said, reading from her statement.
“The board’s main objective when asking the DA to prosecute this case was to recover the money we owed these people and to seek justice for this crime,” Notestine said.
“It’s frustrating because she still gets to live her life normally in society while our board has to walk around every day with egg on their face.”
The event was popular for many years, Notestine said, saying she still gets calls to bring it back, but the crime concluded the event on a less than positive note.
“Although 2016 was our last year, for the time being, instead of leaving that positive footprint, it’s now labeled as the event that went under because of embezzlement. It’s a shame.”
Describing her relationship with Urrizaga, Notestine said she considered her a close friend when the defendant joined the Jamboree. Urrizaga had a great reputation in the community as a math teacher, coach, business owner and volunteer.
Before handing down his sentence, Kacin said he recognized that the defendant had contributed to the community in many ways, and that she was “exhibit A” as someone who was not “the sum total of [her] criminal activities,” but that her personal losses “did not excuse what was done here.”
Kacin said Notestine’s victim impact statement “eloquently and definitively explained to the defendant why this hurts so bad and why these decisions were so harmful; decisions that Ms. Urrizaga made,” adding that Notestine made it clear the Jamboree didn’t end because of money issues.
“I recognize there were other reasons why the Jamboree ended and Ms. Notestine allowed for that,” Kacin said, citing an Elko Daily Free Press article submitted to the court by Shurtz dated June 22 which explained why it was shutting down.
“The bottom line is this is the theft of a lot of money and it damaged this organization,” Kacin said. “There was no reason for this to happen, other than pure selfish motives.”
“She needs to be specially deterred from ever doing that again,” Kacin said, adding that a message needed to be sent to volunteers who abuse their responsibilities.
“If you steal from these organizations, you steal a lot of money like this, even if you don’t have a criminal record … jail is well deserved for such selfish acts,” Kacin said.