Crime at the Co-op


Happy customers buy kale at the Ashland Food Co-op

Happy customers buy kale at the Ashland Food Co-op

“Did you hear about the embezzlement at the Co-op?” I asked James, who came back from taking care of his dad on Wednesday night.

“I heard about it at the Buffalo Co-op,” James said. “When I was checking out. I said I’m a member of the Ashland Co-op and they said they were planning to review their safety measures because of what happened. What happened?”

I wish I could answer that.

The Ashland Food Co-op is one of the most popular stores in our town of some 20,000 people. It sells a wide range of organic produce and products. There’s a juice bar and an excellent cafeteria-style restaurant where you can buy the world’s best caprese sandwich. You can sit at tables inside or out or hang out in the small patch of grass in front of the Co-op that’s encircled by a rock wall kids love to climb on.

They also offer community classes at a space down the street.

But my favorite thing about the Co-op is the “Basic Pricing,” which is available to both members and non-members. Two hundred of the most popular organic items–from bananas to whole wheat flour–are sold almost at cost, which means they are cheaper than conventional grocery store products.

James and I found out about Ashland thanks to the Co-op: When we were considering where to move, we got a directory of the some 200 independent food cooperatives in the country and Ashland was one of them. Before that, I had never heard of this town.

AshlandCoopLogoOne of the employees has been embezzling money. She’s believed to have taken about $12,595 since January.

But it’s not just any employee.

Her name is Corina.

Though she was barely showing when I was already as big as a brick house, she was a couple months more pregnant than I. Super friendly, with a smile for everyone, Corina always chatted as you checked out.

Hesperus, my 10-year-old, remembers Corina’s story about choosing her son’s name.

She and her partner knew they were having a boy and they were on a road trip together. They passed a road sign with a place name and they both got goosebumps. They instantly knew that’s what they would name their little boy. I had tears in my eyes when she told us about it.

We’re members of the Co-op, which means we’re one of the some 6,000 people who own shares in the store. I feel so badly for Corina. I can’t help wondering if she was taking the money (which she would sneak out of the till when she rang up coupons without anything being detected) because she–like so many of us–has been having trouble making ends meet.

I have no idea. But she has a tiny baby who needs his mother. I don’t want her to go to jail.

“She brought it upon herself,” my friend L. pointed out when I told her about it.

Maybe that’s true. But wasn’t this crime a call for help? If we take Corina away from her baby and put her in prison, we’ll just be committing another crime. She needs an intervention, maybe. She needs support. She needs treatment. But she won’t get the kind of help that will heal her and keep her from committing other crimes in prison.

What do you think? Should the Co-op press charges? Should this young woman be prosecuted for stealing money? Why do you think she committed this crime?

Related posts:
I Go To Jail
When Your Husband is in Jail

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on Friday, April 2nd, 2010 at 8:22 am and is filed under News from Ashland, Oregon.
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21 thoughts on “Crime at the Co-op”

  1. I love the fact that you chose to live in Ashland because of its co-op.

    This is a very sad story, and it is true that so many Americans are going through hard times right now. Still, stealing money … I just asked my husband and we had a quick but fierce argument. He says, “Sometimes people are in a deep crisis and that needs to be taken into consideration.” Still, I don’t think that would excuse this behavior. She loses her job, because the co-op can no longer trust her. I agree that her going to jail is not going to help. Could she return the money and say she is sorry? That works for celebrities. You could start a campaign to get people to contribute a few dollars? That would draw even more attention to your town, which like promotion, doesn’t it? I do hope you can find a way to avoid prosecution ….
    .-= Alexandra´s last blog ..Green Room Available This Weekend! =-.

  2. I find jail problematic in lots of instances. I too feel for this woman and her baby if she truly was in need.

  3. It’s too bad that she felt compelled to take the money. And it’s too bad that she didn’t realize that she could have asked for help. What a sad situation. I hope that there is some way some good can come of it. Keep us posted.
    .-= Kristen´s last blog ..Authentic Red Chile Enchiladas =-.

  4. I honestly don’t know. This is too loaded with problems. If she goes to jail (but will she?) her child is without his mother; if she is excused, that’d enabling her to do it again. I just don’t know. I wonder if she ever reached out to anyone or any public service for help.
    .-= sheryl´s last blog ..Can You Use An Extra Thousand? =-.

  5. A very similar thing happened to a friend of mine who owns a small business. One of her two employees stole a similar amount of money. My friend found out about the missing money after the embezzler’s baby was born and was gutted on a number of levels. In the end she HAD to report it to the cops because she had to explain the loss to the IRS. Heart wrenching.
    .-= Melanie´s last blog ..How to Repair or Embellish Sweaters with Needle Felting =-.

  6. Oh this is so sad. The saddest part of this story is that we as a community do not have better options than “go to jail” to deal with it. I remember hearing of how there is a tribe in Africa that would handle “crimes” by sitting the perpetrator in the middle of the circle of the tribe, each member would go around the circle and tell the person something that they loved about them- a good memory, or something special that they contribute to the community. That’s powerful healing. I love how you wrote of good memories of her. Its not ok what she did, but there just has to be a better way to handle this.

  7. Give me a break! The co-op pays a living wage and provides health insurance to its employees. We are not talking about a ghetto-living $4/hr min. wage employee. This woman did not steal pocket change. She stole 4k a month! Because theft often goes on for a long time before being discovered, chances are, she stole a lot more than 12k! Why do people assume she is

  8. That money came out of everyone’s pocket. It came out of our bonus pool, our profit sharing check, our patronage refunds, our co-op. We all lost money to Corine. She may have been taking it out of a till but that ended up taking money away from all of us too. She took money away from my kids. She took food off our table.

    The Co-op is rated as one of the top 20 places to work in Oregon. Suffering on her part is a relative matter between security and greed. She stole to afford herself MORE of her share, not because her share was inadequate. I have no pity for the greedy. She had no thought for anyone else. She should have thought about her child. I don’t break the law because my children need me. She didn’t seem to think about that either. I think that losing her good job, respect and dignity are punishment enough. Scrap jail. Put her back into the job force so she can nickel and dime it for the rest of her life. She’ll regret having thrown away such a good thing for the rest of her life.

  9. Yeah, I think my take upon hearing that shocking news was “Wow, I totally misjudged her character” rather than feeling that her situation must have been desperate. No matter why she did it, she does have a young baby and the whole thing is really, really sad.

  10. This is very sad! Unfortunately it is not uncommon. I worked at the Boise Consumer coop for 11 years and this happened there as well, but with a man. I believe he stole much more than this woman did and did do some prison time. The mother in me really does not want to see this woman go to jail and the business woman in me knows that the Co-op needs to let everyone know that this is not ok. I can tell you one thing, I bet she is not getting much support from the community and feeling like an outcast…… not good for a new mother! So Sad!

  11. Wow, very sad story. I feel that she should lose her job, but prison time? No. Maybe someone should take the time to plan an intervention (family and friends) to see if they can get her help.

  12. Susan and Employees Thoughts–I was at the Co-op yesterday and I asked about whether the stakeholders (myself included since I’m a member) would be paying for the money that was taken. The employee I spoke to said, “No. We have insurance.” So I guess the insurance will reimburse any money that Corina is not able to and it won’t come out of bonuses and profit sharing?

    That said, I totally understand the anger towards Corina. I feel betrayed and angry too — at her, at myself (I don’t know why but I do), and at the whole situation.

    I visited my friend in jail on Saturday. One thing he said was that prison doesn’t help you be a better person, it helps you be a better criminal. That’s the opposite of what our justice system should be doing. I really hope Corina can get some help, and I hope she stays out of the prison system (there’s only one prison in the state of Oregon and, apparently, it is a truly awful place for women. Much worse than for men.)

  13. Many, many years ago, I was responsible for having a fellow manager arrested for stealing from the cash register. He’d been doing it for years and used it to fund his lavish lifestyle. That felt justified. This does not. Am I right? I don’t know. It’s just hard to feel the need to punish a soon-to-be-mother for trying to make ends meet. Thank you for sharing this story and your thoughts about it.
    .-= Jesaka Long´s last blog ..Go Local or Go Bust: The New Freelance Landscape? =-.

  14. Yep! This is a good person/Mother who did something very bad… Love repairs more than anything. So before you holler for her to go to Jail..Think of all the mercies in your life!

  15. Whether or not Corina stole for financial reasons, to me does not seem to be the real issue …there are deeper soul needs that are hidden, often even from the individual who commits the crime. These needs are not addressed by prison. Everyone suffers from the fragmentation and isolation of our society. We no longer care for each other the way we did in tribal culture. I liked reading Amanda’s comment about the African tribal healing ritual.

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