Jury deliberating former Erie trustee's theft case
Daily Times-Call, The (Longmont, CO)
Author: Pierrette J. Shields, Longmont Times-Call
BOULDER — Prosecutor Michael Foote told a jury on Tuesday that a former Erie trustee manipulated her clients to steal from them and pay her own salary at her now-closed adoption agency in Boulder.
Foote's comments came during the closing arguments in Lisa Novak's theft and fraud trial in Boulder District Court.
The case was turned over to jurors Tuesday afternoon after prosecutors and Novak's defense attorney, Lance Goff, made their final comments on the charges.
Novak is accused of stealing thousands of dollars from clients who hired the Claar Foundation to arrange international adoptions from 2006 until the agency closed in 2007. According to prosecutors, the clients paid fees up front for adoptions that did not happen.
She is charged with eight felony theft counts, one felony check fraud count and one misdemeanor theft count.
Goff argued that fee payment did not guarantee adoptions but covered the foundation's services toward that end. Contractually, he said, clients knew the risks they were taking and accepted them by paying the fees.
Foote told the jury that the case is a sad one on many levels, but particularly for clients.
"All they wanted to do was bring a child in their family, and instead they had to deal with Ms. Novak, who was deceptive and manipulative the whole way," he said.
Prosecutors believe the Claar Foundation was struggling financially and became reliant on new fees from new clients to pay for services rendered to other clients, but the scheme fell apart.
"She did what she did because everything was collapsing and someone was going to have to pay, and we knew for sure she wasn't going to be one of them," said prosecutor Bruce Langer, who said Novak tried to use contracts to shield her from theft accusations. He said contracts do not waive one's right to be protected from theft.
Goff said the clients were not paying to buy children but were instead paying fees for the Claar Foundation to operate overall. He said contracts and discussions spelled out the risks and the possibility that the adoptions would not be successful.
He also told jurors that one angry client rallied others to claim that Novak stole from them, although their adoptions failed for any number of reasons, including changing political situations in countries where the children lived or clients' failure to maintain their own obligations in their contracts with the Claar Foundation.
"Adoption agencies do not buy children in exchange for payment of a fee," Goff said. "Instead, they develop relationships and programs in order for children to be made available to them for placement," he said.