Former law firm employee sentenced to federal prison

URBANA — A Buckley woman who admitted stealing from her employer for at least a decade to pay for vacations and personal property has been sentenced to prison.

U.S. District Court Judge Mike McCuskey on Friday approved the sentencing agreement which had been reached in advance by the government and the court-appointed attorney for Laura Tholen, 56, a former office manager for the Champaign law firm of Erwin, Martinkus & Cole.

She’ll serve 21 months in the Bureau of Prisons, three years of supervised release and pay a $300 special assessment. Additionally, she has to make restitution of $64,288.02 to Cincinnati Insurance, the bonding agent for the law firm.

In June, Tholen pleaded guilty to federal mail fraud, admitting that between February 2000 and February 2010, she stole about $152,000 from the law firm, where she had worked as a legal assistant and office manager since 1997.

Tholen had been convicted in 1996 of wire and mail fraud in federal court in Urbana in connection with the theft of funds from Northwest Mutual Insurance. In that case, she was sentenced to five months in prison, three years of supervised release, and was ordered to pay $22,000 in restitution.

“The (sentencing) guidelines in this case are shockingly low for someone who has committed a federal crime before,” said McCuskey, who noted that Tholen began her job with Erwin, Martinkus & Cole while she was still on supervised release for the prior conviction.

It wasn’t until after she was successfully discharged from that sentence that she began stealing again, he pointed out.

He enumerated multiple personal trips she made — at law firm expense — to Hawaii, Las Vegas, Nashville, Dallas and Florida during the 10 years she was stealing.

He said it was clear that Tholen was “hard-working and interviewed well” since she was able to obtain work with two other local law firms even after having been fired from Erwin, Martinkus & Cole.

McCuskey ordered Tholen to be taken into custody immediately.

He did not impose a fine in light of the fact that she’s already repaid the majority of the money she stole.

Tholen’s theft came to light when another law firm employee found a check she had written to pay personal expenses.

It wasn’t until December 2011 that she was indicted. The case had been investigated by Champaign police.

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