A Custer woman who fueled a gambling addiction with more than $150,000 of an elderly woman’s money has paid the money back and now faces a month in jail and a month of community service.
The victim, Maude Krenz, died this year in Lynden at the age of 92, so the money will go to her family.
Lorraine Kay Sterk, 56, served as Krenz’s teller at the Blaine branch of Horizon Bank for many years. According to documents filed in Whatcom County Superior Court, Sterk gained access to several of Krenz’s bank accounts as a co-signer, with the family’s permission, in order to pay Krenz’s bills on her behalf. Krenz was a legally-blind widow in her later years, and Sterk was a trusted family friend who used that trust and her authority as a banker to gain power of attorney to manage the accounts.
The accounts Sterk was entrusted with were worth $181,983 in January 2009. By March 2011, that balance was in the negative. Charging documents comparing bank statements revealed regular transfers from Krenz’s account to Sterk’s account in amounts ranging from $700 to more than $16,000 in a month. Those amounts correspond to similar amounts spent at casinos each month.
From January 1, 2009 to March 30, 2011, $181,895 was withdrawn from the victim’s account. During that same time period, $152,973 was deposited in Sterk’s account, and Sterk spent $177,100 at casinos and gambling establishments.
Lynden police detective Lee Beld interviewed Sterk on July 14, 2011. She denied any wrongdoing, but claimed she transferred thousands of dollars to Krenz’s son as part of an arrangement Krenz wanted kept secret from other family members. After Krenz and her son denied that claim, Beld interviewed Sterk a second time. This time, Sterk admitted to taking money.
“She said that she had done a lot for the victim and felt that she deserved the monies,” the charging documents state. “She also said that she had a gambling problem but had since quit.”
Sterk pled guilty in Whatcom County Superior Court to four counts of second-degree theft on September 12.
She and the victim’s family worked out a plea deal in which she paid the money back, and a civil lawsuit was dismissed.