Suspended sentence

The former executive director of the Marshalltown Convention & Visitors Bureau who pleaded guilty to embezzling thousands from the organization received a suspended 10-year prison sentence and $1,000 fine.

Shannon M. Espenscheid, 44, of rural Green Mountain, will not go to jail but the felony charge will be on her record, per the decision handed down by Judge James Ellefson in Marshall County District Court.

Espenscheid will also pay $500, the deductible on the C&VB’s insurance policy with West Bend Insurance Co. for the incident and full restitution.

However, the embezzled amount stolen through fraudulent use of a credit card is under dispute, as each side in the case gave different figures.

Paul Peglow, Espenscheid’s attorney cited $10,001, while the court claimed $24,123.68.

Peglow said he would be discussing the amount with West Bend Insurance Co.

Additionally, Espenscheid will be on supervised probation for two to five years

In June before District Court Judge John Haney, Espenscheid had changed her plea from not guilty to guilty on first-degree theft (Class C felony).

It was part of a plea agreement reached with the state through the Marshall County Attorney’s office, represented by Assistant County Attorney Ben Stansberry.

Espenscheid’s guilty plea resulted in her giving up the right to trial.

At Monday’s sentencing, Peglow made a case for a deferred judgment, which would have expunged the felony charge from Espenscheid’s record.

He claimed his client had expressed remorse from the beginning.

“No one in this court feels worse about what happened than Shannon Espenscheid,” he said.

He argued she had used the funds in question to pay for household expenses such as groceries and utilities resulting from her husband’s job loss.

“We were under financial distress … I used the credit card for personal use … for my family,” Espenscheid said at a June 6 court appearance. At the same appearance, she admitted to embezzling Marshalltown Convention & Visitors Bureau funds from June 2011 through Dec. 24, 2015.

Peglow also said Espenscheid had struggled with depression.

“She is taking medication and is being counseled at Center Associates,” Peglow said.

However, Ellefson, specifically citing travel and other expenses billed to Amazon and Expedia, said he was disturbed those were non-household expenses.

Additionally, he identified the three and one-half years of fraudulent credit card use as a reason for denying the deferred judgment.

Finally, he cited the importance of placing a deterrent.

Prior to the sentencing, Espenscheid read briefly from a prepared statement, in which she tearfully apologized for her actions.

After sentencing, Ellefson told Espenscheid she could appeal.

However, it must be filed within 30 days.

In the courtroom were Espenscheid’s husband, Jon, and David Barajas Jr., Shannon Espenscheid’s former supervisor and CEO of the Marshalltown Regional Partnership. Barajas had previously submitted a written victim impact statement to Stansberry.

The sentencing was the latest development in a case which came to light Jan. 28 of this year when Espenscheid was arrested and charged with first-degree theft and ongoing criminal conduct by the Marshalltown Police Department.

Capt. Michael Hanken of the MPD said authorities were initially contacted on Jan. 5 by Barajas, in regards to suspicious and possibly fraudulent credit card expenditures then allegedly made by Espenscheid.

After reviewing financial data provided by the CVB, the MPD conducted its investigation revealing at least $10,000 in fraudulent purchases allegedly involving misuse of a credit card by Espenscheid – the threshold for the first-degree theft charge.

Also on Jan. 28, Barajas issued a statement about the investigation and Espenscheid’s status.

“After the completion of an internal investigation, Shannon Espenscheid was relieved of her duties as the executive director Dec. 29, 2015,” he said. “Ms. Espenscheid’s termination was a direct result of some financial irregularities we discovered regarding the personal use of a business credit card.”

The CVB budget receives funds from the local hotel-motel tax and miscellaneous grant funds, among other sources.

Barajas later told the Times-Republican: “I want to make it clear this is an isolated case involving one employee. In light of this development, the CVB has put into place more stringent auditing procedures.”

Espenscheid had served as executive director since September of 2007.

Contact Mike Donahey at 641-753-6611 or mdonahey@timesrepublican.com