The big news of March was the end of the Kuskokwim 300 theft case. Former manager Staci Gillilan pled guilty to felony theft and was sentenced to two years probation and restitution in the amount of $7,500 to the race and $1,000 to a trust from which she also stole money. She must also write a letter of apology. Her sentencing ended a two year ordeal where she twice previously agreed to a plea deal and then backed out. Her guilty plea comes after two very public declarations of innocence. She had a long interview with KYUK radio which allowed her the opportunity to dazzle listeners with her account of being victimized by the race, and she also paid for a full page ad in a local newspaper to further the charade. Staci reportedly requested an opportunity to testify in front of the grand jury, but at the last minute she had a scheduling conflict which prevented her from appearing. She also ducked a couple of meetings with the 300 board at the end of her employment where tough questions would have been asked.
Her crime consisted of stealing about $6,000 of cash which was generated at the K300 rippie booth, and about $3600 in payroll checks which she wrote herself and a $250 reimbursement she took for merchandise that was actually paid for by someone else. Those amounts were easy to trace. Some of the cash actually ended up in her personal account, some deposited by her husband. When given the opportunity, neither Staci nor her husband could account for the cash deposits in their personal accounts. Other cash she handled for the race was not possible to trace, as it came in from merchandise sales and gate receipts. It is known that when she was fired the race was $30,000 in debt, despite normal revenues and expenses that had in previous years resulted in about a break even status each year.
There was also an allegation made that Staci stole from a trust fund which she administered. Her bills to that trust were greatly in excess of the bills for several other people who did the same job before and after her. The final element of her case involved money from elementary school kids who paid $20 each for a yearbook which Staci was supposed to handle. Some of that money ended up in Staci's account as well, but the school believes she paid back those sums after being told to do so. No yearbook was ever produced. That issue might never have surfaced, but did so after the K300 started getting calls about Staci's misdeeds after she was fired.
During this saga, ALO learned a lot about Staci Gillilan. Her ability to look directly at a group of people and lie is astounding. That is so even when the truth is obvious and she has been confronted with it. She is so convincing that it took a long time for some Bethel folks to realize how badly she was misleading them. This case, and some other personal issues that became very public in the past two years, have changed all that. The 300 will await its apology letter and money, in hopes that the Staci Gillilan era will finally be in the rear view mirror.
Other legal news was mixed at ALO. Two settlements were reached, one involving a serious car crash in Anchorage where an elderly Grayling woman lost a finger among other injuries. That case settled for policy limits, and will involve further litigation of underinsured motorist coverage which often kicks in to assist an injured person when the initial insurance coverage is not enough to fully compensate. The other case involved a village woman who wrecked her snow machine and was injured when she hit an obstruction on the trail in her village that had been left by a construction crew.
ALO had a traffic trial in March which resulted in a very small split verdict (liability for both plaintiff and defendant) In that trial, a driver rear ended a Bethel police car which was making an illegal turn into the exit at the YKHC administration building. The poor result was apparently a consequence of a juror fooling the court by suggesting that her friendship with the driver of the police vehicle would not be a factor if she was chosen as a juror. According to other jurors, that was not the way it worked, and the juror was a strong advocate for the city's position which overcame several other jurors.
An earlier report mentioned the success of Bethel wrestler Randy Hanson. Randy has since signed as a recruit to wrestle at the University of Minnesota. He was even mentioned in the sports column of Sid Hartman, who has been writing for the Minneapolis paper for about 70 years. The Gopher wrestlers are often among the best in the nation, and their coach is infamous as a stern taskmaster. ALO has a Gopher insignia on its front window, so it will come as no surprise to Randy when Bethel refugees show up at his wrestling matches.
Finally, two local youngsters did very well in the Iditarod. Mike Williams Jr and Pete Kaiser both finished in the money and among the top rookies. Pete started with and finished with one, Lucy who is a favorite around ALO.