Vicki Kunz
Vicki Kunz ( vicki kunz )

A former University of Colorado employee's willingness to pull nearly $72,000 from her retirement fund to pay back CU for the money she stole kept her out of prison Friday when a judge agreed to sentence her to two years in the Boulder County Jail's work release program.

Vicki Lynn Kunz, 55, also must serve seven years of probation for using a CU credit card over an eight-year period to buy groceries, electronics and other items for her personal use. If Kunz, who has found another job while free on bond, cannot serve a work-release sentence because her job doesn't qualify for the program or for any other reason, she will have to serve 180 days of straight jail time.

"Your honor, I screwed up," a choked-up Kunz said during her sentencing hearing Friday. "I really did screw up. I would like to apologize to everyone for what I did. I needed help a long time ago."

Kunz pleaded guilty in February to tax evasion, theft, forgery and embezzlement of public property after she was arrested in June of last year for making hundreds of unauthorized purchases on a CU credit card. She used the card between 2000 and 2008 at retail stores such as King Soopers, Target, Lowe's and Office Depot on purchases totaling $71,569.

Kunz also used the director of graduate studies' signature stamp to forge official function forms authorizing the purchase of supplies and food for new student organizations or training sessions for teaching assistants.

She resigned from her job as graduate adviser with the computer science department in 2008 after an auditor contacted her about the allegations, according to an arrest affidavit. Kunz's arrest prompted CU's computer science department to enact tougher reporting policies designed to prevent such an incident from happening again.

The department also no longer allows signature stamps on any financial forms, requiring employees to submit purchase forms detailing the items being bought and the business purpose for the purchases. The new process requires two levels of reviewers to approve the items being bought.

Before Kunz was arrested, CU began implementing an electronic financial reporting and approval process across the university system. It aims to eliminate the cumbersome paper reporting process, according to Ken McConnellogue, spokesman for the CU system.

Kunz's theft from CU wasn't the first time she committed such a crime, Deputy District Attorney Michael Foote said. She stole a significant amount of money from a previous employer in the early 1990s and went to prison for a short period of time before leaving and getting a job at CU, he said.

"The amount of money she took and her criminal history -- those things would justify a long work release sentence," Foote said.

Boulder County District Court Judge Maria Berkenkotter agreed and said the fact that Kunz did this twice is "really troubling." Still, she said, Kunz has paid back the money and seems to be genuine about getting help.

"She appeared to take this case seriously and is going to therapy," Berkenkotter said. "She has managed to find employment, which is not easy in this economy, and has the support of family and friends."

Kunz was not taken immediately into custody while she waits for space to open up in the jail's work-release program.