Patricia Urbanovsky was sentenced to seven years to 11 years in Nebraska prison Wednesday for stealing from employees to prop up her air-travel Ponzi scheme, but will likely never serve a day once released from federal custody in about four years.
The former owner of Omaha event-planning firm Creative Creations was sentenced by Douglas County District Judge Leigh Ann Retelsdorf for two counts of theft by deception; Urbanovsky this year pleaded no contest to using employee credit cards to buy cut-rate airline tickets she had been promising buyers on her website. She “repaid” her workers with bum checks.
“The court takes it very seriously that these people trusted her and worked for her,” Retelsdorf said, as Urbanovsky looked on from the defense table, flanked by her lawyer, Steve Lefler. “This clearly was theft.”
Two employees were out about $51,000 combined. Retelsdorf laid down the Douglas County sentence to run at the same time as the federal one Urbanovsky is already serving — 63 months at a Minnesota minimum-security lockup after pleading guilty to a $4.7 million fraud. She is scheduled to be released in August 2021.
Attorney Lefler said after the sentencing hearing that with time deducted for good behavior in the federal system of 54 days per year for each year served, it is likely that Urbanovsky, 32, will serve somewhere between three and a half years and four years in federal custody and then go free.
Urbanovsky declined a chance to address the court about the bad check scheme when offered by the judge. Her attorney, however, accepted, and he urged the judge to concentrate on the bad checks, not the Ponzi scheme that surrounded them. Prosecutors alleged that Urbanovsky was advertising $150 airfares on the Internet, pocketing the money and buying only enough tickets to keep some of the buyers at bay. Federal authorities have ordered Urbanovsky to repay $4.7 million to victims.
“She has already been punished in federal court for that,” Lefler said to Retelsdorf. “Unfortunately, the business plan fell apart. Call it a Ponzi scheme if you want.”
Douglas County prosecutors, however, also had their say and weren’t as quick to chalk it all up to some poor business decisions. Deputy Douglas County Attorney Sean Lavery said it was not a simple matter of some employees offering to help out the struggling business — he acknowledged that the credit cards were volunteered. But the workers, Lavery said, had no idea what they were volunteering for:
» The amounts the employees agreed to lend to get through a cash crunch were “grossly and vastly exceeded.”
» Fake emails from a fake contact at a vacation sales company — the purported source of the bargain-basement airfares — were circulated to lend credibility to the fraud.
» While employees were forking over their own money to help the company, Urbanovsky was living it up, with a “nice house, nice cars, a boat and trips that were extravagant,” including to Anaheim, California.
Urbanovsky might have faced 40 years in prison from the Douglas County charges of felony theft. The Better Business Bureau received 1,600 complaints about the scam that began in 2013 and unraveled in 2015 after disgruntled air-ticket buyers began besieging Creative Creations to no avail.
After the hearing, Lefler said Urbanovsky, who was brought to Douglas County District Court by federal marshals from the Waseca Prison Camp in Minnesota, declined to address the court because she was tired and wants to get on with life.
“She did live in a nice house,” Lefler acknowledged. “But she isn’t living in it anymore.”