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Former Thunder Valley manager sentenced to federal prison

Carlton will pay more than $200,000 in restitution
By: Scott Thomas Anderson, Editor
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A Thunder Valley Casino manager who pleaded guilty to embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from her company’s tribe was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison today during an emotional court hearing. 

Erika Carlton of Roseville was arrested in 2011 after a joint investigation by the Placer County Sheriff’s Department and U.S. Secret Service determined she had been stealing money from the casino during the course of her five-year tenure as its human resources manager.

Carlton, 38, pleaded guilty in August to a charge of stealing from an Indian tribal government. She walked into the U.S. Federal Courthouse in downtown Sacramento today facing a maximum exposure of 10 years in prison. During her sentencing, prosecutor Kyle Reardon told U.S. District Court Judge Morrison England Jr. evidence suggested Carlton may have embezzled nearly $400,000.

"We can prove at least $236,000," Reardon said, "though there were indications it was closer to $390,000. But we would have been rolling the dice to prove that amount."

He added, "I think the sentence the government is asking for is fair — I've spoken to the tribe, and they've indicated they think it's appropriate."

The sentence Reardon was pushing for was 18 months in federal prison and $236,000 in paid restitution. 

Carlton's attorney, Michelle Spalding, was looking for her client to spend 12 months in custody.

"The history and characteristics of the defendant support the sentence we've requested," Spalding said. "This will have a huge impact on her family. Ms. Carlton has a baby daughter and two teenage sons. She has also taken immediate responsibility, and shown great remorse, for what she's done."

Carlton was then given a chance to speak for herself.

"I have no excuse for what I've done," she told the judge, openly crying. "I'm really sorry. I betrayed my best friend, my employer and my family. I'm completely embarrassed by what I've done."  

Carlton's family members fought back tears from the back of the courtroom. 

While England agreed the fact Carlton has no prior criminal history should be considered, he was not inclined to grant the lower sentence. He noted Carlton was in a position of trust with the tribe and invested a great amount of energy into her thefts. 

"This went on for years," England said emphatically. "This was not an episodic event that happened once or twice and then went away. The amount of time it took to utilize American Express cards, and the systems that were involved to get the cash, well, all of that took a lot  of effort."

England ruled that Carlton will spend 18 months in federal prison and begin paying $236,000 in restitution to Thunder Valley immediately. Unlike the defendants ahead of her on the court calendar, Carlton was not instantly remanded into custody after the sentence was imposed; rather, she will be allowed to self-surrender on a specific day in April.

England also granted a request to recommend Carlton serve her time at a federal prison in Texas near extended family members.