BAR HARBOR, Maine — A former local restaurant owner who stole more than $67,000 from banks and customers through check and credit card fraud, but who has since paid it back, has been ordered to spend 60 days in jail for her crimes.
Having pleaded no contest last fall to two felony theft charges, Jennifer Lozano, 43, on Thursday received an overall sentence of five years with all but 60 days suspended and will have to serve two years of probation upon her release.
As part of a plea deal, prosecutors had agreed to cap the unsuspended part of the sentence at nine months if Lozano paid $67,399 in restitution to people and financial institutions she stole money from. She did so, paying off the final $18,000 she owed in restitution just as the sentencing hearing was about to begin Thursday afternoon in Hancock County Superior Court.
Mary Kellett, assistant Hancock County District attorney, told Justice Ann Murray that Lozano’s illegal behavior occurred in the fall of 2010 and then again about a year later.
Lozano, who owned and operated the Parkside Restaurant on the corner of Main and Mount Desert streets and the adjacent Best of Bar Harbor gift shop, stole money from her customers by double billing their credit cards, the prosecutor said. Lozano took credit card slips from sales at her restaurant during the summer of 2010 and later that year, and ran them through for payment a second time after the restaurant had closed.
Kellett said an investigation revealed that Lozano conducted 1,488 fraudulent duplicate credit card transactions in the fall of 2010. She repaid many customers who complained, and many were repaid by their credit card companies, but she did not repay everyone who lost money through the scheme before police learned about it. As part of the restitution order, Lozano had to repay $15,300 to a credit card company that had lost money through the fraud and to customers whom she had not already repaid.
But Kellett said that restitution amount does not reflect the full scope of the illegal credit card transactions that Lozano made. Investigators believe that not all the double-billed customers complained, and so were not repaid either by Lozano or by their credit card firms.
According to Kellett, Lozano may have stolen as much as $80,000 through the fraudulent credit card charges.
Then in 2011, Lozano set out to steal more money, but this time did it by fraudulently writing and cashing checks between two Ellsworth banks. In that scheme, she wrote several bad checks for several thousand dollars each with one bank account, depositing them in a checking account at a second bank, and then quickly withdrawing the unsupported funds from the second bank.
The bad checks were issued on an account Lozano recently had opened at Maine Savings Bank with $150 and then deposited at Camden National Bank.
Before Camden National realized something was wrong, it submitted all eight fraudulent checks, which totaled $54,000, to Maine Savings Bank, which then returned them all with a notice of “not sufficient funds,” according to court documents.
In all, Lozano stole $52,099.28 from Camden National Bank. She did not withdraw all the $54,000 she allegedly wrote fraudulent checks for, police have said.
Lozano tearfully apologized to Murray on Thursday for the thefts.
“I have authentic and profound apologies and regrets for the choices I made,” Lozano told the judge. “I know I need to be punished.”
Lozano, who has three young sons, suggested to the judge that if she were spared jail time, she could perform community service. She said she found an organization that would arrange community service assignments for her.
Lozano said she wished she knew before she stole the money what she knows now.
“I wish I could have talked to me then because I know how I could have helped me,” she said.
Lozano’s husband, Andre Lozano, and two family friends — Sue Stanley and Wayne Sinclair — also addressed the judge.
Stanley, a neighbor to the Lozanos, told Murray that it is not easy to make ends meet in Bar Harbor with only a few months of income flow. The rent Lozano was paying for the restaurant space was very high, she said.
“Bar Harbor is a tough place to live, and is a tough place to be a seasonal business owner,” Stanley said.
Stanly called a Lozano “great leader” who treated her 30 to 60 employees like family. But as Lozano got in over her head and as her finances spun out of control, she added, Lozano kept it a secret from her family and friends.
“She took that responsibility very much to heart,” Stanley said. “It’s a terrible position to be in when you have that many people you’re responsible for.”
Murray, in response to the statements, said that Lozano helped her case by paying all the required restitution back within the allotted time frame. But, the judge added, that doesn’t diminish the seriousness of her deeds. She said it would be inappropriate not to require Lozano to serve some time behind bars.
“It is one of the most serious offenses in the state of Maine,” Murray said. “Clearly, there was dishonesty all over the place. I don’t think anything justifies it.”
After the proceeding, Lozano’s defense attorney, William Reiff of Mount Desert, said he thought that “under the circumstances,” 60 days in jail was fair.
“She realizes she has to atone for her sins,” Reiff said.
Kellett said that the judge was right — no jail time would have been inappropriate for Lozano’s deeds. Kellett had cited for Murray similar cases where defendants spent more time behind bars, but after the proceeding the prosecutor noted that every case is different.
“Everyone is treated individually,” Kellett said.