BELLINGHAM - A former gambling addict has paid back $150,000 she swindled from a blind elderly widow in Whatcom County.
The money will go to the victim's family because Maude Krenz, who was born in Sedro-Woolley in 1922, died this year at the age of 91.
Lorraine Kay Sterk, 56, of Custer, faces a month in behind bars and a month of community service for draining Krenz's five-figure CD and several other bank accounts.
Sterk served as Krenz's go-to bank teller at a Horizon Bank branch in Blaine for many years. Toward the end of her life, Krenz's eyesight faded. She was legally blind. So Sterk, a friend of the family, got power of attorney from close relatives to take care of her money, according to records filed in Whatcom County Superior Court.
But by the summer of 2011, unbeknownst to anyone but Sterk, those finances were in tatters. She had transferred up to $16,000 a month into her own account over the course of two years. Most, or all, of the stolen money she spent at casinos. Civil court records show Maude Krenz left behind only $44.60 in an account that started with close to $182,000.
Lynden Police Detective Lee Beld interviewed Sterk in July 2011. She claimed she never took any money for herself, but she did transfer thousands of dollars to Krenz's son - something Krenz wanted kept secret from other family members, according to Sterk.
But Krenz and her son emphatically denied that story. A month later, Beld interviewed Sterk again. She broke down and admitted to stealing. She said she "had done a lot for the victim and felt that she deserved the monies," wrote Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecutor Mac Setter in charging papers.
Sterk pleaded guilty last week to four counts of second-degree theft. Sterk apologized and cried at her sentencing hearing. She felt "embarrassed" and "traumatized" by the entire situation. Sterk has since quit gambling. Prosecutors believe she spent $177,000 at casinos, most of it on Krenz's dime.
"Meth's pretty bad. Heroin's supposed to be pretty bad," Setter said. "But gambling can be an even harder one to kick." (Sterk was not a drug user.)
Sterk and her husband took out a second mortgage on their home to pay back the stolen money, Setter said. As part of the plea deal, a civil lawsuit was dismissed.
"More than jail time for Mrs. Sterk, I think the family needed their money back," Detective Beld said Tuesday, Sept. 17. "I think (prosecutors) struck a nice balance."