Douglas County embezzler sentenced to prison

Kurt Hildebrand / The Record-Courier
Rena Petri

A former Douglas County case manager who admitted stealing public funds during the coronavirus outbreak was sentenced to 1-3 years in prison on Tuesday.

Rena Petri, 43, was taken into custody to serve her sentence on two counts of theft.

“This crime occurred during a public health crisis related to COVID,” District Judge Tod Young said.

The judge pointed out the $4,400 Petri admitted stealing was meant to help people suffering in the outbreak to pay their rent.

“You used these funds for a lark, for frivolity” he said. “When you used funds designed to prevent a public crisis for something else that is a crime of moral turpitude.”

Young acknowledged that people who had stolen more had been put on probation.

“This was gross selfishness and thievery and deserves incarceration,” he said.

Petri worked for the county from 2018 through June 2021. 

Petri said the theft ruined her future, affecting the community and everyone around her, but that she helped people while working for the county.

“I did a lot of good while I was here,” she said.

However, Young pointed out that she was paid to do that good.

Community Services Director Scott Morgan raised the specter of Tiregate is the victim impact statement on behalf of the county.

“I’ve been director of the department for 29 years and I’ve never had an employee theft,” he said. “I’ve had people ask why we’re spending so much because it was so little. I’ve had people ask why we let someone steal my taxes. And they’re both right. I’m not violated. We all are.”

Petri was the only person indicted by a special grand jury after the county received a tip on the Douglas County Fraud, Waste, and Abuse Hotline established in the wake of Tiregate.

The county didn’t negotiate with her and she was due to go to trial in September. As the jury was lining up for selection on Sept. 25, she entered a guilty plea to the two counts.

The former Sacramento resident later claimed that she appeared in Minden and was told by her attorney that she would be entering guilty pleas. When she appeared for sentencing late last month, she expressed concern that she admitted the second theft charge to get the case over with.

On Tuesday, Young questioned her closely to determine that she wanted to go forward with sentencing on her second guilty plea.

While working for the county, Petri was in charge of the rent relief program during the pandemic. She filled out one voucher for her son who lived in California at the time, falsifying the document so the money would go to her. She filled out a second voucher listing her roommate as a landlord, which prosecutor Erik Levin said not only wasn’t true, but was impossible because the actual landlord prohibited subleasing.

Levin listed some of the items Petri had purchased while taking the $4,400 from the county, including $821 for liquor, $828 on sushi and a trip to Las Vegas, including $227 eating out over three days. 

During that time there was no indication Petri was in any financial distress, he said.

“She placed several people in the middle of a criminal investigation,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if she stole $4 million, $4,000 or $4, she stole the public’s trust in the institution.”

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