Katrina Bowen consults with her lawyer after the judge asks her to describe specifically what she did to commit first-degree theft.
By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter
CHEHALIS – The employee accused of helping herself to as many as $2,500 worth of lottery tickets a day from the Flying K store and gas station in Toledo admitted to a judge yesterday what she did; she pleaded guilty.
It was only eight days ago when Katrina M. Bowen went before a judge to hear the charges filed against her.
Bowen was fired in September after the owners discovered the source of their increasingly severe cash flow woes, analyzed their books and confronted her. The loss is estimated at more than $175,000.
She said she was keeping track of her ticket purchases in her head.
Gordon and Tonya Lovell said they’ve struggled for almost 20 years to grow their business, working six and seven days a week and this summer had to borrow money to keep afloat.
The Flying K at the 100 block of Cowlitz Street includes a Napa Auto Parts store and is the base for their Toledo Towing.
“At the end of August, we just came up against a brick wall,” Gordon “Rick” Lovell said.
Bowen, 37, of Winlock, had worked for them eight or nine years and became not only a trusted employee, but like family to them, the couple said.
When Police Chief John Brockmueller interviewed Bowen, she reportedly admitted to pocketing money from beer sales and to playing as many as 500 $5 tickets each day during the previous six months.
She cried, told the chief she had a gambling problem, had never been given a pay raise and needed money to live, according to charging documents.
Bowen was charged with first-degree theft on Jan. 3, and summonsed to appear in court on Wednesday of last week. That afternoon, a judge appointed her a public defender and allowed her to remain free pending her trial. By Friday, her lawyer indicated she would plead guilty.
On Monday, the Lewis County Prosecutor’s Office upgraded the charge, to include a so-called aggravating factor that it was a major economic offense, meaning a judge would be free to lock her up for as long as 10 years if convicted.
Bowen came to court alone yesterday for arraignment, and answered the judge’s questions in a nearly imperceptible voice.
There was no plea deal. There was no promise of recommending leniency. Bowen is represented by Centralia lawyer Don Blair.
Judge Richard Brosey advised her of the rights she was giving up and asked if she understood he could, if he chose, sentence her to a decade in prison.
She responded affirmatively.
Brosey asked for her plea. She said guilty.
He asked what she did that made her think she was guilty.
Bowen told him what she’d told the police chief: She was taking scratch tickets at work and thought she was keeping track of them, but wasn’t. She admitted 500 per shift.
“I assume you were looking for winners?” Brosey asked.
“Yes,” she replied.
According to Lewis County Deputy Prosecutor Eric Eisenberg, Bowen has no felonies in her past. The standard sentencing range for a person with no criminal history and without the aggravator for first-degree theft would be zero to 90 days in jail.
Blair, Eisenberg and the judge agreed Bowen could return to court on Feb. 20 when they will schedule a sentencing date.
Eisenberg said he doesn’t yet know how much time he will ask for when she is sentenced.
How much restitution she will be ordered to pay remains unknown. And how quickly or how much money the Lovells could expect to be reimbursed will depend upon the extent to which she can pay it back, Eisenberg said.
It was less than four years ago when another Winlock resident was caught stealing lottery tickets at a local grocery store where he was a longtime trusted employee and store manager. Benjamin C. Macy was given 14 months in prison. The losses to Cedar Village IGA were said to be close to $1 million.
The state lottery commission has agreed to supply the Flying K with an automatic lottery dispenser. They didn’t have one before because their level of ticket sales didn’t qualify them, the Lovell’s said.
“We’re getting a machine within two weeks,” Tonya Lovell said. “So no employee will ever touch a ticket again.”