By Patrick Winderl
A former manager of the TownHouse Inns in Havre wasfound guilty Wednesday night of stealing $17,000 from the hotel while he was employed there.
A jury found Robert L. Field, 33, guilty of theft by common scheme after deliberating for just over three hours.
Field sat stone-faced during most of the trial but broke into tears as the verdict was read. After District Judge John Warner released Field pending sentencing, he sat down next to a wall and began weeping uncontrollably. Great Falls defense attorney Antonia Marra attempted to console him.
"I don't understand. I didn't do anything wrong," he said as he wept. "I didn't do anything wrong."
Field was charged Oct. 9 with stealing $20, 895 from the TownHouse Inns between June 18, 2001, and May 10, 2002. Prosecutors later amended that figure to about $17,000.
According to the criminal complaint, Field pocketed cash from the hotel and altered deposit slips to conceal the thefts. Field was suspended as manager on May 15, 2002, for removing accounting paperwork from the hotel.
The hotel's operations manager contacted Havre police on May 31, 2002, when she suspected Field had failed to deposit more than $13,000 of the hotel's money, the charging document said.
The complaint said that on May 10, Field stole $627.50 from the hotel by claiming he refunded payments to six unsatisfied customers. Four of the people testified during the trial that they never received a refund.
Deputy Hill County Attorney Cyndee Peterson called numerous witnesses earlier in the week, including current employees of the TownHouse Inns and Havre Police Lt. George Tate.
Tate testified he spent more than 100 hours working the case, and that the evidence left no doubt that Field stole the money.
Hotel employees said they found evidence that Field had been changing deposit slips and direct-billing accounts, and one testified that on one occasion he had seen Field with more than $600 in his wallet.
The employees conceded under cross examination by Marra that they had made accounting mistakes at work and that they never saw Field steal money.
During a intense closing argument that lasted the better part of an hour, Peterson called Field "a manipulative thief." She urged the jury to "vote their conscience" and "use common sense" during deliberation.
"This case is all about trust and deception," she said. "The defendant deprived the TownHouse of their property through manipulation. He and he alone is responsible for the thefts."
Marra spent more than an hour dissecting the state's case during her closing, claiming Field was the victim of corporate politics. She said the evidence was "incomplete and inconclusive" and reminded the jury of the testimony of an expert forensic accountant who said the evidence did not provide ample proof that a crime actually occurred.
Marra said the criminal allegations from TownHouse Inns were the result of a complaint Field had filed for wrongful termination. The corporation was scared it had fired Field without cause and wanted to ensure it didn't lose a civil lawsuit, she said.
"Bob Field is guilty only of lousy accounting, not of theft," she said. "He was a hard worker and he was good to his employees. My client was fired and he refused to sign the release, so TownHouse Inns used the theft charge to protect themselves from a lawsuit.
"In the end, he was an overworked employee who couldn't be all things to all people, and couldn't do all things correctly," Marra said.
After three days of trial, the jury announced at 6:23 p.m. Wednesday it had arrived at a unanimous verdict. Field, accompanied by his wife and attorney, entered the courtroom in silence.
Marra said she was unsure what verdict would be returned.
"I don't guess," she said. "You just never know until it has been read."
Field said he felt nervous, but displayed no emotion as Warner took his seat. Field leaned forward in his chair at the defendant's table, hands clasped at his chin as the jury entered the room.
Peterson listened impassively as the court recorder read the verdict, and left the courtroom immediately. She said today that financial cases are difficult to try.
"I'm obviously pleased with the verdict," she said. "It was a confusing case for the jury. There was a lot of information thrown at them and they worked hard to sort through it. I'm just thankful they were really focused."
Following the verdict, Marra told Field she would review the trial's transcript, but did not say she would appeal the case.
Field was released until sentencing on April 14.