News

Woman busted in Freeland burglary gets prison term

COUPEVILLE — One of two people arrested in connection with a string of burglaries in Freeland last month broke down in tears as she apologized in court to a Freeland business woman for breaking into her shop and stealing her identity.

A handcuffed Shari Lueken appeared before Judge Alan Hancock in Island County Superior Court Monday.

“I am sorry for what I did,” Lueken said to Dori Hallberg, the owner of Island Tea Company.

The Burlington woman pled guilty to charges of second-degree identity theft and second-degree possession of stolen property.

The Island County Prosecutor’s Office dropped a second-degree burglary charge in exchange for an exceptional sentence of

14 months in prison.

Lueken, along with her alleged accomplice Jason Ashlock, was arrested March 14 after buying gas with the credit card that was stolen from Hallberg’s shop

March 3. The Island Tea Company was one of many shops burglarized in Freeland in early March.

A surveillance video from a Coupeville gas station showed Ashlock and Lueken buying gas with the credit card. The evidence led police to the couple’s Burlington apartment, where officers discovered drug paraphernalia and stolen property.

Police found a cash register stolen from the WAIF Thrift Store and a computer monitor from Second Chance thrift store.

Lueken later told an officer that she needed cash because she owed money to a drug dealer in Oak Harbor.

She also told the officer that the couple had come to Freeland to break into her parents’ home. When they couldn’t get inside her parents’ home, they decided to break into businesses in Freeland.

Island County prosecutors charged the pair on March 19.

Both were charged with second-degree identity theft, second-degree possession of stolen property and second-degree burglary.

Lueken’s burglary charge was dropped because she agreed that she would go to prison for longer than the sentence that could come from conviction on the possession and identity theft charges.

“This is an agreed recommendation to an exceptional sentence,” deputy prosecutor Eric Ohme said.

“She has agreed to do actually more time, which is a prison sentence,” he added.

Lueken was also ordered to pay restitution to Hallberg, the Island Tea Company and the BookBay. The amount will be determined at a later time.

Hallberg, who was present during the hearing, addressed Lueken before the judge passed his ruling.

“For nearly 10 years, I have owned and grown my small

business. It took seven years to make some kind of a profit,” she said.

Hallberg added that when Lueken stole from her, she not only robbed Hallberg, but also the employees whose hours she had to cut.

The loss also hurt the community that won’t get donations and even Hallberg’s son, she said.

“Most was earmarked for my son’s college books, supplies and groceries,” she said. “My son is your age, by the way.”

Hallberg also said Lueken took advantage of the open and friendly business people in Freeland.

“Shari, you are no stranger to my business,” Hallberg said. Hallberg had seen Lueken in her shop before the break-ins occurred, scoping out the store. After the young woman tried to peak into a back room, Hallberg had become suspicious.

“You were treated with respect (in Freeland stores),” Hallberg said. “You returned the favor by stealing from them.”

Hallberg said the crime will be something that she will never forget. But she added that she may be able to eventually forgive Lueken, if she changes her life for the better.

Hancock asked her if she had anything to say before the judgement.

“I just want to say I am sorry,” Lueken said.

Then she turned around to Hallberg, who was sitting behind her in the court room, and made her tearful apology.

Hancock said he was glad to hear Lueken apologize for her actions.

“Your crimes had devastating effects on businesses,” he said.

On Tuesday morning, Ashlock plead guilty to possession of stolen property in the second degree and also burglary in the second degree. The agreed recommendation was for 33 months in prison and that is what the court ordered. Ashlock said told the judge indicated that he wanted to pursue drug treatment while in prison.business. It took seven years to make some kind of a profit,” she said.

Hallberg added that when Lueken stole from her, she not only robbed Hallberg, but also the employees whose hours she had to cut.

The loss also hurt the community that won’t get donations and even Hallberg’s son, she said.

“Most was earmarked for my son’s college books, supplies and groceries,” she said. “My son is your age, by the way.”

Hallberg also said Lueken took advantage of the open and friendly business people in Freeland.

“Shari, you are no stranger to my business,” Hallberg said. Hallberg had seen Lueken in her shop before the break-ins occurred, scoping out the store. After the young woman tried to peek into a back room, Hallberg had become suspicious.

“You were treated with respect (in Freeland stores),” Hallberg said. “You returned the favor by stealing from them.”

Hallberg said the crime will be something that she will never forget. But she added that she may be able to eventually forgive Lueken, if she changes her life for the better.

Hancock asked her if she had anything to say before the judgement.

“I just want to say I am sorry,” Lueken said.

Then she turned around to Hallberg, who was sitting behind her in the court room, and made her tearful apology.

Hancock said he was glad to hear Lueken apologize for her actions.

“Your crimes had devastating effects on businesses,” he said.

On Tuesday morning, Ashlock pled guilty to possession of stolen property in the second degree and also burglary in the second degree, Ohme said.

He will serve 33 months in prison.

Ashlock told the judge that he wanted to pursue drug treatment while in prison, Ohme said.

Michaela Marx Wheatley can be reached at 221-5300 or mmarx

wheatley@southwhidbeyrecord.com.

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