A Phelps woman who stole more than a million dollars from her Seneca Falls employer is getting out of prison two months into a two-year sentence — and her victim is not happy about it.
Mike Gelder, the president of Finger Lakes Conveyors, learned recently that Karen Owens will be released from a federal prison in Danbury, Conn., on Tuesday. She was sent there earlier this year after pleading guilty to wire fraud.
“There is no question that Karen Owens being released from prison after serving less than two months for stealing over a million dollars is a miscarriage of justice,” Gelder said in a statement sent by his attorney, Laura Myers.
Owens was finance director for Finger Lakes Conveyors from 2003-17. Starting in 2011, she wrote nearly 400 checks — payable to herself — from the company’s bank account and deposited them into a personal account. Owens also wrote about 160 checks payable to another bank for credit-card accounts belonging to her and her husband.
Myers said Owens stole about $1.4 million from the company but could only be prosecuted for $750,000 due to the statute of limitations. Gelder owned Finger Lakes Conveyors at the time and remains company president after selling the business.
In January, Owens was sentenced by federal Judge Frank Geraci Jr. to two years in prison and ordered to pay more than $600,000 in restitution. However, she will be released early largely due to the settlement of a class-action lawsuit filed against the Connecticut prison. Plaintiffs claimed the prison did not have adequate measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 for medically vulnerable inmates.
The Times learned of Owens’ upcoming release in an email from Myers.
“My client, Michael Gelder, is obviously distraught that Karen Owens spent less than two months in prison for stealing a million dollars from his business, effectively ruining his family business and devastating him personally,” Myers wrote.
Myers believes inmates are being released from prison early due to concerns about COVID and what she called minor medical issues, including a history of high blood pressure. Myers said according to Owens’ personal statement, that is the condition that qualified her for release.
The attorney who represented Owens, assistant federal public defender Sonya Zoghlin, referred questions about Owens’ release to the federal Bureau of Prisons. Zoghlin provided documentation to the Times on memos from then-Attorney General William Barr to the Bureau of Prisons, prioritizing the use of home confinement for some inmates.
The CARES Act gave the bureau more authority to place inmates on home confinement earlier in their sentence. While Danbury was singled out as a facility with particularly high COVID rates, it is not the only facility using home confinement more often.
In the notification Gelder received from the Danbury prison, Owens will be placed in a halfway house for an undisclosed amount of time. She can then return home and wear an ankle monitor.
“We think the more appropriate action here would be for Ms. Owens to be vaccinated — and to serve the time that she was sentenced to by Judge Geraci,” Myers said.
The Bureau of Prisons did not respond to an email from the Times.