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Judge gives probation to remorseful former tobacco shop clerk who stole over $48,000

She will serve four years probation

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CEDAR RAPIDS — A former clerk of Smokin Joe’s Tobacco and Liquor Outlet who stole more than $48,000 by ringing up false lottery winnings, cried and told a judge on Tuesday it was a “complete lapse in judgment and she was terrified of going to jail.”

“I have every intention of paying back the money,” Erin M. Brunston, 37, of Cedar Rapids, tearfully said before 6th Judicial District Judge Ian Thornhill sentenced her. “I’m sorry it ever happened.”

Thornhill said he wasn’t sending her jail but instead was going with the prosecutor’s recommendation of a deferred judgment because he believed Brunston was remorseful and this was her first and only criminal act. He did warn her to follow the rules of probation and that she must pay $48,376 in restitution, which is a stipulation of her probation.

Assistant Linn County Attorney Jason Besler said Brunston admitted her theft soon after being charged in May. She pleaded guilty to first-degree theft in August and faced 10 years in prison if not for the deferred judgment.

After the hearing, Besler said that Brunston was a store clerk with the outlet for 10 years, and over a six-month period in 2015 through 2016 she would ring up small amounts of lottery winnings, which were false, and collect the money for herself.

The owner eventually discovered the stolen money after noticing how much more frequently the lottery winnings were paying out, he said.

Brunston told investigators that she loaned out her car to a person and he took it to Colorado, so she needed to pay him to get it back, Besler said. Brunston told police she thought she had taken $15,000 to 20,000, he said.

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