Sara Batterham and her husband, Colin, have some decisions to make this holiday season.
Sara, who was convicted on Nov. 16 of embezzlement, one of two forgery counts, and preparing and submitting false documents for trial, was originally to be sentenced on Monday, Dec. 19. That proceeding turned into a hearing, in part regarding a date for a retrial of one of the original counts, Intimidating a Witness, on which the jury was deadlocked.
Also known by her maiden name of Wisemiller, Sara was arrested on Aug. 30, 2007, along with her husband, Colin Batterham. At the time, the Batterhams were employed by Surat Singh, owner-operator of the Mammoth Econo Lodge, Sara (then 30) as a manager, and Colin in hotel maintenance. The arrests followed what was called “a lengthy investigation” conducted by MLPD Detective Doug Hornbeck.
In 2008, the Batterhams were charged with creating a fictitious merchant account under Singh’s name, and routed almost $11,000 in transactions to another account registered to the couple. Sara maintained she had an employment agreement with Singh for her and Colin to receive 5% each of the Econo Lodge’s gross monthly revenue, which Singh said had never happened.
Singh denied ever opening a credit card processing account with Innovative Merchant Solutions, saying he only dealt with Chase Merchant Services. Evidence showed that the IMS account was linked to a local bank account registered to Colin Batterham.
Presiding Judge John T. Ball, from Santa Clara County, declared a mistrial on that count and the second deadlocked charge, and remanded Sara into custody. The Mono County District Attorney’s Office, however, opted to make another attempt at the intimidation charge, and Deputy District Attorney Jeremy Ibrahim once again represented the People.
The intimidating the witness count, or Count 5 of the original information, involved dissuading a witness through emails Sara sent to an old family friend, Oklahoma-based attorney Christian Zeaman, when sending fake subpoenas for fake evidence and trying to pass those off as genuine. Stealing his identity and using it to help solidify her case was the background and motive Ibrahim used to explain why she threatened Zeaman to keep him from testifying in court.
Sara previously represented herself, but has since had an attorney, Therese Hankel, appointed to represent her. However, she has yet to waive her right to self-representation. According to the law, a defendant is permitted to have attorney representation or represent themselves, but cannot have both.
In the meantime, deals have been offered to both Batterhams. In Sara’s case, Ibrahim said if she would plead to Count 5, she would serve only concurrent time, and that no additional sentence time would be added. Based on her prior conviction, Sara is looking at a maximum sentence of 6 years, 4 months. If she opts to stand trial on Count 5, she could get an additional 2 years, 8 months if she’s found guilty.
Colin, who was to begin his trial on Monday on charges of embezzlement and conspiracy to commit embezzlement, could plead guilty to a misdemeanor and serve 2 years of probation, which would terminate upon full joint restitution to Singh. Colin’s situation is a bit more precarious than his wife’s, since the Australian citizen was in the U.S. on a green card and has immigration status concerns to consider as a part of any decision he makes.
Hankel requested bail to allow Sara to get what she called “proper mental health treatment.” Ibrahim opposed the request, calling Sara a danger to herself and a flight risk, as well as citing “instances” that have occurred while she’s been in custody and mentioning her prior conviction.
Judge Ball denied Hankel’s request, but did, however, allow a proper physician to treat her and write prescriptions for medication. The court will also consider any subsequent bail motions, should her mental condition improve or change.
Sara will next appear before Judge Ball on Jan. 4, 2012, in Bridgeport. According to the DA’s office, Sara will not be sentenced the same day on the final count if she pleads guilty or no contest on or before Jan. 4. County Probation has yet to file its report and her sentencing will not occur until that happens. If Colin goes to trial, the DA’s office thinks it would likely be sometime in the spring. He will go before Judge Ball on Jan. 4 to either accept or reject the deal presented to him, and address any pre-trial matters that might come up at that time.
The Batterhams still have complaints in process with the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California. Those include a complaint against “Mono County Law Enforcement, et al,” including Ibrahim, Deputy DA Kyle Graham, Det. Hornbeck, Investigator Frank Smith, and Mono District Attorney George Booth, alleging civil rights violations, and an alleged breach of contract suit against Khalsa Resorts (holding company for the Econo Lodge) and Singh.