$4.1M embezzlement: Big theft brings big prison term for ex-accountant from Gretna

Caroline K. Richardson

It was a staggering theft — one of the biggest heists by an individual in Nebraska history. Tuesday, it netted the embezzler a substantial sentence.

Caroline K. Richardson, 54, an accountant, was sentenced to 14 to 20 years in prison for stealing $4.1 million over two years from an Omaha distributor, Colombo Candy & Tobacco.

Richardson, of Gretna, a former controller at Colombo, must serve seven to 10 years under the sentence handed down by Douglas County District Judge J Russell Derr.

Combined with an earlier sentence for income tax evasion, Richardson faces a total of about nine to 12 years in prison under state sentencing guidelines.

But the story isn't over.

Richardson — whose embezzlement was first exposed by The World-Herald a year ago — is considering another brash move: filing a lawsuit of her own against Ameristar Casino for allowing her to gamble incessantly.

Her attorney, James Schaefer, said Tuesday the casino should have known that Richardson was spending ill-gotten money.

“Our contention is they knew or should have known that it was going on,” Schaefer said.

Tiernan Siems, an attorney for Ameristar, declined to comment.

However, William Thompson, a national expert on lawsuits against casinos, said Richardson's suit would be a long shot.

Unlike other lawsuits by problem gamblers against casinos — such as the one brought by former Omaha businessman Terry Watanabe — there are no claims that casino employees got Richardson drunk or took advantage of her intoxication to get her to gamble. And there's no allegation that Richardson had been banned from the casino and circumvented that ban, he said.

Thompson, a professor at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, said a jury or judge would have to weigh who bears the most blame: a woman who knowingly took millions and gambled it away; a business owner who didn't notice an employee stealing $4.1 million for more than two years; or a casino that didn't ask questions of a rampant gambler.

“Bottom line, it's her fault,” Thompson said. “Did casino employees egg her on to keep gambling? Well, guess what — casino workers do that. But can you say that (casino) management planned all of this? ... On the surface, it doesn't seem like much of a case.”

The Richardson theft already has prompted two unusual lawsuits.

Earlier, Colombo Candy & Tobacco filed a lawsuit against Ameristar, saying the casino knew or should have known that Richardson was using illicit means to get the millions she gambled away. Colombo and owner Monte Brown also filed a lawsuit against Richardson's previous employer for recommending that Brown hire Richardson as his controller. Both are pending.

Meanwhile, the theft has rocked Colombo. At one point, the embezzlement caused Colombo to go from 52 employees to 22, Monte Brown has said.

Brown declined to comment Tuesday, other than to say: “It's a struggle. ... We're satisfied with the sentence.”

County Attorney Don Kleine said he hopes the sentence sends a message to white-collar criminals that their thefts “will be punished.”

In 2009, Richardson was caught and confessed to stealing $109,000 from a LaVista business. However, no charges were brought against her after reports on that case apparently died on a Sarpy County sheriff's investigator's desk.

Richardson then got the job at Colombo.

“This, by far, is the most money we've seen stolen,” Kleine said. “It's important for business owners to know that any theft needs to be reported ... and prosecuted. Our concern here is holding people accountable so they can't do this to anyone else.”

Recent sizable thefts
Caroline K. Richardson, 54, Gretna
Theft: $4.1 million from an Omaha business from July 2010 to July 2012
Real-time sentence: Eight years, eight months to 11 years, eight months in prison
Dinah Turrentine-Sims, 63, Omaha
Theft: Convicted in 2010 of stealing $450,000 from a total of eight vulnerable adult wards she was assigned to oversee
Real-time sentence: 10 to 13 years in prison
Thomas J. Herink, 47, Fremont
Theft: Sentenced in 2013 for theft of $6.8 million from banks and investors in his golf-course construction company
Real-time sentence: 18 months in prison and three years of supervised release, in addition to making restitution

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