A Lane County man who had been accused of felony theft pleaded no contest to the charge Monday in Lane County District Court. As part of the plea, he agreed to pay total restitution of $187,975.50 to the company where he had worked.
According to a statement from Lane County Attorney Dale Pike, Earl Norman Steffens entered the plea agreement to repay the money by the day of his sentencing, which has been set for Feb. 17, 2015.
A no contest plea, while technically not an admission of guilt for the commission of a crime, is generally treated by a judge as an admission of guilt, according to law.com. It is often used in cases in which there is also a possible lawsuit for damages, since it can’t be used in a civil suit as an admission of fault. It’s also common in plea bargain where the defendant accepts the sentence in exchange for not contesting the charge, which is often reduced in some manner. It is standard practice for the judge to ask either the attorneys or the defendant if there is a factual basis for the plea before accepting it and finding the defendant guilty.
Steffens was the former general manager of High Lines Services, Inc., which is a subsidiary of Lane Scott Electric, from 2002 to 2012. He was arrested Aug. 22, 2013, after a High Lines employee discovered and reported false invoices to authorities.
“He created false invoices because he was paid a bonus for all the work that was booked,” Pike said. “He used a scheme that included the creation of false or exaggerated invoices to obtain money over the period of 2008 to 2012.”
A plea agreement was reached Monday after Steffens agreed to a no contest plea, in return for one of the two counts of theft being dismissed.
Steffen is to pay $27,957.59 up front, with the balance of $160,000 due to the clerk of the District Court prior to his sentencing date in February.