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Charge stands against past museum boss

Charge stands against past museum boss

May 22, 2014 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

A judge dropped the case against a former Pioneer Museum employee who had been charged with helping his boss steal $29,000 of material from the Lander institution. The case against his former boss has been sent on to District Court.

Surveillance video from 16 cameras showed the employee, Joseph E. Spriggs, and the museum director at the time, Carol J. Thiesse, 58, now of Thermopolis, between June and August 2012 removing interpretative signs and pictures from walls and pedestals in the museum and piling the materials up within the facility.

Thiesse is recorded moving the material out the door and into her personal vehicle, Lander police detective Randy Lutterman said, but Spriggs is not.

The case against Spriggs hinged on whether he acted knowingly. He was charged with accessory before the fact to larceny by bailee, alleging he knowingly aided and abetted Thiesse in stealing property she was entrusted with between June 1 and Aug. 22, 2012.

Fremont County Commissioners asked Thiesse to resign from her position as Pioneer Museum director in June 2012, and the county Museums Board fired her Aug. 22, 2012.

"He didn't have any participation taking the property anywhere that wasn't proper," Spriggs's lawyer Bill Miller said. "Maybe that was her plan (to steal the material), but the state has to show he knew she was going to do that."

The standard a circuit court judge uses to decide whether to send felony charges to District Court or dismiss them is probable cause, meaning the evidence would convince a reasonable person the defendant probably committed the crime.

Fremont County Attorney Michael Bennett tried to establish Spriggs's knowledge through evidence that he was close with Thiesse and that their actions to remove the material were out of the ordinary.

Bennett asked Lutterman if the museum ever removed all of the interpretative material from the museum all at once and if there were other signs ready to go up to replace those taken down.

The detective answered "no" to both questions.

Lutterman also said museum employees heard Spriggs refer to Thiesse as his sister.

Circuit Court Judge Wesley Roberts was not convinced.

"The helping remove (materials) and the nature of the relationship in my mind doesn't rise to the level of probable cause," he said.

Bennett did establish probable cause for Thiesse's charges -- larceny by bailee and destruction of intellectual property. Larceny by bailee requires a person steal something entrusted to that person converts it to personal use. To be a felony, the property must be worth more than $1,000.

Her lawyer, Tim Kingston, of Cheyenne, argued the property at issue had no value and that Thiesse did not convert it to her own use.

The interpretations were only useful within the museum in connection to the artifacts they describe, Kingston said.

"How can that be possibly converted to her use?" he asked rhetorically.

It does not matter what Thiesse did with the materials, Bennett argued, only that she took them for herself.

He also said, "She gutted the museum to get back at her employer," a statement Roberts found convincing.

The use of the material to Thiesse was that in stealing it, she spited her employer, the judge said.

Kingston also argued that because prosecutors never showed there was a resale value for the materials, they had not shown it was worth more than $1,000.

Bennett pointed to the value the materials had to the museum.

Earlier, Lutterman testified employees estimated the signs took about $29,000 in labor and materials to produce.

Roberts agreed.

"That property does have value. It just doesn't have market value," he said.

To fight the destruction of intellectual property charge, Kingston emphasized Lutterman's testimony that three or four other employees also had access to computer files Thiesse is alleged to have erased, and the lack of physical evidence tying her to the data's destruction.

Thiesse's statements connected her to the actions, Bennett said.

The former museum director told employees, "Get your stuff off the server. It's all going away," Lutterman testified earlier.

Roberts thought the statements were "consistent" with destroying the files, and bound over both charges against Thiesse.

She now faces them in District Court, where she could have a trial. The maximum penalties for the charges are 13 years in prison or a $13,000 fine or both.

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