A former North Coast Journal bookkeeper accused of embezzling more than $60,000 took the witness stand Thursday to deny stealing any money during the 10 years she worked for the weekly publication.

Carmen Marie England, under questioning by her attorney Michael Robinson, also said it was untrue she was the only person with access to the Journal’s financial records. Journal co-owners Judy Hodgson and Carolyn Fernandez had access, she said, along with whoever else was working in the front office.

England said when she received a call from a Eureka Police Department detective about discrepancies in the Journal’s accounting, she assumed the culprit was the general manager.

Then she went for an interview with EPD Detective Amber Cosetti and learned she was the suspected thief.

“I told her I didn’t do it,” England said. Later in the interview, the detective asked if she had any remorse.

“For what?” she told the officer. “I didn’t do anything.”

England said her only misgivings about Journal financial dealings involved Hodgson asking her to write checks to family members or to Fieldbrook Winery, which Hodgson owns. One $4,000 check to the winery was designated as payment for a computer, she said. An $8,000 check to Hodgson’s son-in-law was listed as for moving expenses when the Journal moved its office from Arcata to Eureka, England testified.

England also contradicted Hodgson’s statement saying there was no petty cash in the office, claiming there was a cash drawer and some employees were dipping into the drawer “for some things it shouldn’t be used for,” such as dinners out.

Thursday was the second day of England’s preliminary hearing before Judge Kelly Neel. Defense attorney Robinson has sought throughout the hearing to point the finger at other Journal employees, although England was the only bookkeeper.

Earlier Thursday, self-employed bookkeeper and accounting consultant Katherine Almy, hired by the Journal to review its financial records, testified she saw a clear pattern of embezzlement during the years England worked there.

“Cash would go missing and it was made up for in a couple of different ways,” Almy testified under questioning by Deputy District Attorney Steven Steward. First, she said, instead of listing credit card deposits individually, the record would show all credit card deposits for the month “in one lump sum.”

When Almy went through the records and added up individual deposits, the amount would be different than the lump sum recorded.

“Very often it would match the exact amount of the cash that was missing,” she said.

The second tactic of the thief, Almy said, was to inflate the amount paid for postage.

Charges for metered postage would generally be for $200, 10 to 15 times each month.

Checking postal records, she found that “sometimes there would be more of those charges than actually happened.”

Almy said this pattern “was very consistent for a number of years,” and those years coincided with England’s time at the Journal.

“Could it have been a mistake?” prosecutor Steward asked.

“I can tell the difference between mistakes and deliberate changes.”

Almy also said she was confident the changes were made by just one person, though she couldn’t say who that was.

The theft “ended abruptly” in March 2016, Almy testified, which was just a few weeks before England resigned to take another job.

Almy’s first estimate of the amount of money stolen was from 2007, when it was just $100. Over the years it increased, peaking at more than $14,000 in 2014.

The Journal’s general manager, who Robinson apparently suspects, didn’t start working at the Journal until November 2012.

England was expected to continue testifying this morning. The defense is also expected to call its own financial expert to the stand.


Disclaimer: Many people who work at the Outpost previously worked at the Journal at one time or another.