The former store manager accused of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from Offen Ace Hardware with her husband spoke at their trial on Monday.
Former store owners Chris and Bill Ruth reported their employee Kristi Chairez, 35, and her husband Adam Chairez, 48, for allegedly stealing $250,000 from Offen Ace Hardware, 1722 9th St., in 2018. Kristi reported was formally charged with theft in December 2018, while Adam faces charges of theft of $100,000 to $1 million and tax evasion.
Jennifer Gersch and Dana Casper, defense attorneys for the Chairs, took Kristi to the stand on Monday to share her side of the story about her relationship with the Ruths, the store takeover process, and accusations of theft and of embezzlement brought against her.
Kristi’s relationship with the Ruths
Kristi met the Ruths in 2004 while working at Taco Bell, a restaurant the couple often visited. Eventually Chris told her to apply to Ace Hardware and she was soon hired as a clerk. She worked at the store for 14 years, rising through the ranks.
Kristi took over day-to-day operations, accounting and management duties as the Ruths planned to retire and turn the business over to her. Kristi tearfully described her relationship with Bill as very close, almost like a father figure to her.
Unlike her close relationship with Bill, Kristi said she wasn’t as close to Chris. During her time on the helm, Kristi accused Chris of not liking her relationship with Bill.
Their relationship was further strained in 2011 when Chris accused Kristi of stealing money that was missing from the cash register, according to Kristi, who quit after the incident. A few weeks later, Bill asked her to come back to work because Chris made a mistake and found the missing money.
Chris testified last week and denied those allegations.
In 2013, the Ruths helped Kristi financially as she earned an accounting degree from Aims Community College, but Kristi testified that she never wanted to go to school and it wasn’t her. idea.
Kristi further claimed that Chris and another employee teased her about not going to school – another accusation which Chris denied.
However, Kristi revealed that when the Ruths offered to pay for her education, she initially decided to pursue medical studies and even submitted a college application indicating her interest in these fields. She testified that she moved into accounting based on Chris’ opinions, statements and ideas, especially since she was the one paying for the school.
Weld County Assistant District Attorney Patrick Costigan questioned Kristi during cross-examination about her claim that she was forced to go to college, and Kristi explained that she felt “influenced”, and not forced, in its decisions.
Costigan said Kristi never had to work with the Ruths for 14 years, rise through the ranks at Ace Hardware, go to school or take on store management duties, but she decided to do it. .
“If you have the opportunity to go to school, why wouldn’t you? Kristi responded at one point, a response that Costigan said showed she hadn’t been pressured into this development in her upbringing.
Kristi said she was serious about taking the next step of owning the store because she loved it – something she couldn’t have done without the trust and help of the Ruths. But Kristi admitted on the stand that she never felt confident enough to run the store because her upbringing didn’t teach her what she needed to know.
Takeover of the store
Kristi asked Bill to show her the ropes as she learned about different aspects of working in the store.
She testified that she learned how to run the business based on what she observed in the Ruths. Observations included the Ruths often reimbursing themselves with store funds if they made purchases for the store with their own money.
After the Ruths retired in 2013, Kristi said there was never an official review of the store or a conversation about how the couple wanted her to run it. During direct examination, she explained that’s why she considered Ace Hardware her store when she took over, because she ran it and made money. But she never officially had the property transferred.
Gersch asked if Kristi should take over the payments formerly paid by the Ruths, to which she replied that she had to pay off two store loans and pay the rent. Additionally, she undertook a major purchase to improve the paint selection, a required update, when she changed roles.
Explain his actions
Loans, upgrades and repair payments are lumped into the theft charges charged for the couple, according to Kristi. Additionally, energy, gas, insurance, advertising, accounting, garbage, monthly taxes, and employee paychecks are also included.
Kristi admitted that she used the store’s funds to pay her cell phone bills. She argued that this was an authorized transaction due to a conversation she had with Bill, who allegedly stated that Ace Hardware used to pay his cell phone bills. She said she followed in his footsteps to pay her and Adam’s bills, since they used their phone for business-related matters.
However, Monday’s testimony also revealed that Kristi had paid for another employee, a family member, and her daughter’s cell phone bills with store funds in 2015. She justified this action because the daughter of the employee was helping in the store but was underage and could not be placed on payroll.
Another conversation between Bill and Kristi was about credit card payments. As Kristi tried to buy the store, she said she was struggling financially with the debt — Costigan later pointed out the debt was over $50,000.
There were $81,561 in checks and electronic payments to several credit card companies from Ace Hardware funds. However, she said Bill told her to do whatever she needed to do to get rid of her debt so she could become a landlord, indicating that she should use the store’s funds to pay off her credit card debt. credit.
Costigan addressed Bill’s “permission” to pay off credit card debt using store funds. He asked if she thought Bill would do this without knowing the couple’s high amount of debt.
Kristi admitted that some of her credit card payments were for personal use, such as payments to Coach and Rue 21. But she continued to claim that she had Bill’s consent to pay off her debt using the funds. of the shop.
In total, Kristi testified that she put $26,000 in checks into store improvements and investments. She explained that the many payments made to her name or her husband’s name were reimbursements for the purchase of items for the business or for improvements to the business.
In addition, the defense addressed the alleged incompatibilities of the QuickBooks accounting software system.
Kristi spent time on the stand justifying payments made to people appearing as mismatches in the program. This included a payment to his brother to advertise Ace Hardware on his tractor-trailer. She wrote the check for herself because she didn’t want to add it as a seller since it was a one-time transaction.
A few payments to vendors for the purchase of equipment turned out to be inconsistent, but Kristi testified she didn’t know why. Gersch asked if she had been taught to use QuickBooks in her Aims education and she said no.
Other mysterious transactions discussed include a Zales Jewelry ring bought on eBay for $411, which she said she returned. Kristi said eBay returned her funds to her by splitting them between her personal account and her store account, but she reimbursed the store for that return. She also explained that the store’s account was on eBay since she occasionally purchased items for Ace Hardware from the website.
Kristi’s job was to pay monthly taxes to the city, for which she was accused of missing payments for a few months. However, Gersch clarified that Kristi never missed a payment, as she would pay two checks the following month.
Police reported that Kristi and Adam falsely reported their income on their 2014 to 2018 tax returns — a factor briefly mentioned by Costigan, who argued Kristi neglected to include the extra income generated on her tax return. But Kristi said the Chairez couple’s only income came from Ace Hardware.
Costigan said that extra income included funding her husband’s side business using Ace funds — a focus of Casper’s direct review, staying on the topic of payments made to Adam and his side business. showing photographic evidence of improvement projects.
Adam spent his time and money renovating the store’s interior and exterior, and he performed routine maintenance from 2013 to 2018, according to Kristi. She justified a transaction, a payment made to a Weld County landscaping store, as authorized because it was used to complete home improvement projects that Adam was involved in.
On cross-examination, Kristi admitted that at least two payments made to Adam’s business involved work not involving Ace Hardware, but the rest were for her work at the store. Approximately $119,769 in checks were issued to Kristi with no journal entries or journal entries, indicating the expense was for Adam’s personal business.
Overall, Kristi issued 212 checks from the Ace Hardware funds, more than $131,000 in checks for herself and $7,600 in checks for Adam, according to Costigan. In total, Kristi spent over $260,000 of Chris and Bill’s money, but Kristi maintained that it was her money since she was the one working.
Additional losses listed by prosecutors included:
- $21,987 in checks entered into the accounting software as a single expense, but the check was made payable to Kristi or her family;
- $11,059 in checks and electronic payments for Kristi’s personal expenses and purchases;
- $10,000 in cash losses on the register;
- $8,667 in checks issued to pay Kristi’s house bill;
- $5,818 in material losses.
Kristi remains on the stand for cross-examination at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday morning.