GREEN RIVER — Following months of claiming innocence in a fraudulent scam that resulted in nearly $150,000 in loans written under other people’s identities, a Green River woman changed her plea today and now faces prison time for her crime.
Erica Elmore, 33, was sentenced to 3-5 years in the Wyoming Women’s Center in Lusk for writing fraudulent loans from the EZ Cash store in Rock Springs between 2016 and 2017.
Elmore changed her plea to guilty on three of five counts charged against her, including one that was amended from forgery to theft. The other two counts were subsequently dismissed under the plea agreement.
Judge Nena James also ordered Elmore to pay back $88,678 in restitution along with other court costs for her plea. She will share $6,050 in costs with Kerrin Palmen, who also pleaded guilty to forgery back in May.
Testimony from Palmen, EZ Cash Regional Manager Kayla Grammer, and former friend Andrea Nelson outlined the sequence of events that led to the discovery of money missing from the store.
Grammer said she became suspicious of fraudulent activity back in 2017 when she began noticing that daily bank deposits were being missed and “bad debt was growing fast.” She also became aware that Elmore had written more than $5,000 in personal checks against that business.
Grammer told the court she and manager Tom Cramer “started pulling files and found $8,500 in signature loans” on file which was “just way risky” for a company that size.
Grammer also said a signature comparison showed many of the loans matched Elmore’s handwriting and that a number of loans distributed from EZ Cash were beyond the company’s guidelines.
Grammer said EZ Cash put Elmore on supervised probation after their findings because she was honest about her discretions, and she was experiencing financial difficulty after her mother passed away and raising two children as a single mother.
Palmen described how Elmore “gave me the idea how to forge” and later showed her how foreign currency from Zimbabwe could be “re-evaluated” to create enough money to pay back all the loans.
Nelson testified that even when Elmore told her about writing fraudulent loans in her, her husband, and her son’s names, she didn’t want to notify authorities because she was assured by Elmore that she would pay Nelson back and “I didn’t want her to get into trouble.”
“She told me there would be millions and millions of dollars in foreign currency, and that everyone was going to be rich,” Nelsons said.
Elmore told the court that she started taking out loans in a friend’s name after her mother passed away and she was having difficulty paying bills. She said the friend knew about her actions, but when the loan payment came due, she didn’t have the money to pay her friend back.
“And it just spiraled out of hand after that,” Elmore said.
Lance Flores had the opportunity to address the court during the victims’ impact portion of the proceedings. Elmore wrote $30,000 in fraudulent loans in his name according to his testimony.
“I was there for her when her mother died,” Flores said. “My best friend looked me right in the face and said ‘I didn’t do this.’ I’m angry, depressed and disappointed,” he said.
Flores’ situation has since been rectified, but he said he spent six months “worrying every day about how I was going to pay that money back.”
Prosecuting attorney Hillary McKinney argued that probation was not sufficient for Elmore given the fact that she already had a similar conviction from a previous job, and that she ignored a second chance from her EZ Cash supervisors.
“We’re talking about a huge amount of cash,” McKinney said. “She could have ruined those people most close to her.” McKinney recommended 3-10 years in prison for Elmore’s crimes.
Defense attorney James Phillips argued that Elmore’s traumatic and “heinous” upbringing, anger management issues and lack of vocational opportunities would be better handled if she were allowed to work on them through a probation period.
But James did not agree. While she empathized with the situation Elmore faces, she also reminded the court that Elmore has had a number of chances to rectify her life.
“This is a situation where there is nothing more the justice system can do,” James told Elmore. “Supervised probation didn’t work the first time. You kept doing what you were doing. This is a big tragedy for the people in the gallery. And its a terrible tragedy for Miss Elmore. But she made these choices.”
James granted Elmore one week to find care for her children before she must report to the Sweetwater County Detention Center on August 12. Elmore will have the opportunity to appeal her conviction if she chooses.