Joy Barela has had “continuing problems … with, for lack of a better word, taking things that don’t belong to her,” her defense attorney said in court last month.
Barela was in a district courtroom to be sentenced for stealing more than $30,000 from a Cody businessman in 2016 and 2017 — abusing her position as the man’s bookkeeper to embezzle the money.
It wasn’t Barela’s first brush with the law, either, as authorities say she defrauded two other employers in Colorado roughly 15 years ago.
“I’ve lived a life that I’m embarrassed and ashamed of. I’m a liar, a thief and a cheat,” Barela told District Court Judge Bill Simpson on Sept. 20. “I know that I have to pay for what I did and have done.”
Park County Prosecuting Attorney Bryan Skoric argued that Barela should be put behind bars for four to six years, followed by five years of supervised probation.
“The state certainly can’t overlook the amount of money stolen, but what it really can’t overlook is the history,” Skoric said, pointing to the prior cases in Colorado.
Meanwhile, Barela’s court-appointed defense attorney, Tim Blatt, argued that his client should be credited for the more than 10 months of jail time she’d served and released on probation. The probation and parole agent who reviewed Barela’s case and prepared a pre-sentence report also recommended probation.
Blatt suggested his client may struggle with a disorder like kleptomania — perhaps related to abuse she suffered as a child — and said those issues should be addressed.
“Simply not getting to the issue and throwing her in the state pen does not seem to be the solution in protecting not only the public, but [also in] making sure Ms. Barela can get back on a law-abiding life …,” Blatt said.
Judge Simpson ultimately decided to impose a three- to five-year prison sentence, followed by five years of probation. He urged Barela to seek counseling while at the Wyoming Women’s Center in Lusk.
“You can get some help, you can get some treatment and you should be able to learn from that — and you will be out in a reasonable amount of time, but you still account for what you did,” Simpson told the 44-year-old.
With good behavior, Barela may have less than a year and a half of time to serve. The judge said that, once she’s released, he’ll expect her to quickly begin paying at least $400 a month toward the more than $30,000 she’ll owe in restitution.
In her earlier remarks to the court, Barela said she knows “I can’t go back and change what I did, but I can go forward and make amends.”
Around 2003 and 2004, Barela defrauded two of her employers in Colorado, according to court records. While working at a bank, she manipulated their records to boost her credit to obtain a $250,000 home loan and authorized an unsecured loan for a friend, Skoric said. In addition, while working as an office manager for an electrical contractor, she received credit cards in her co-workers’ names and wracked up $2,270 worth of bills — then used one of those cards to bail herself out of jail, the prosecutor said.
Barela ultimately received a two-year prison sentence for those crimes.
She later moved to Cody and joined the Park County Clerk’s Office in January 2014 as a deputy in the elections department, being hired by then-County Clerk Jerri Torczon. Current Clerk Colleen Renner said she moved Barela — then known as Joy Barela-Vaughn — to payroll duties in August 2015. Barela left the county job in early March 2016 and then began working as a bookkeeper for Cody businessman Frank Kraut.
Kraut owns several rental properties and businesses in Cody — including Cody Paint and Body and Brewgards, a sports bar and liquor store. However, in early November 2017, Kraut became suspicious of Barela’s bookkeeping after one of her reports included figures that he knew were wrong.
Charging documents say Kraut investigated, spotted some discrepancies and confronted Barela, who admitted to stealing from him; Barela reportedly said she was using the money to pay old medical bills related to her late husband’s suicide.
Cody Police Detective Sgt. Juston Wead interviewed Barela on Nov. 7, 2017, and she also confessed to him, charging documents say. She’s been in custody since that date.
Barela told police she had pocketed the payments from a renter on Cody’s Beck Avenue for roughly a year — totaling somewhere between $7,730 and $10,912.37. (Barela contends it’s the lower figure.)
Meanwhile, she admitted to stealing $19,094.15 from Cody Paint and Body. She explained that if someone paid in cash, she’d lower the invoice — to make it look like a smaller transaction — and then pocket the difference, court records say. She did that more than 40 times, Cody police found.
Finally, when Barela was asked to make Brewgards’ deposits for a few days in April 2017, she kept the cash, stealing $3,319.50.
All told, Barela took somewhere between $30,143 and $33,325.
Skoric, the prosecutor, said probation was inappropriate not only because of Barela’s history, but also because of the impact the thefts have had on Kraut.
“Certainly, we all have issues,” Skoric said, referring to Barela’s account of being abused as a child. “But that does not give you the right to steal other people’s monies to make other people victims because you yourself was a victim. … These financial crimes cause harm.”
The prosecutor said he hoped Barela would get the treatment she needs in prison to prevent future crimes.
Skoric did agree with Blatt, the defense attorney, that Barela’s full and immediate confession to her thefts helped law enforcement wrap up what could have been a long, difficult case.
“She doesn’t know why she continues to be involved in these types of cases,” Blatt said of his client.
Barela’s mother and brother in Colorado — who said they will help and support her when she’s released from prison — both testified that the thefts were out of character.
Judge Simpson encouraged Barela to see the sentence as an opportunity to address her problems rather than as a punishment.
“You said it best: let’s move forward. But at the same time, don’t forget about these consequences,” Simpson said in closing. “Never forget what brought you here — and never put yourself back in this situation again.”
In her earlier remarks, Barela tearfully apologized for what she’d put Kraut through, saying the businessman had been not just her boss but a friend. She also described herself as a sick person who wants to get better.
“I will do everything in my power to change my life so others will be proud to know me,” Barela said.