Detroit Free Press

Grand Rapids, Michigan woman punished and humiliated, and now exonerated

August 18, 2006

GRAND RAPIDS — Accused of stealing money from work, Lisa Hansen has maintained her innocence.

She said after leaving her receptionist job at a Panopoulos salon last Sept. 3, she had placed a bag containing $80 in cash and $345 in checks that belonged to the company in the night depository of a Huntington National bank branch, just as she was supposed to do.

Several days later, her manager told her that the money was missing. He fired her but promised that the company wouldn’t press charges if she returned the cash and the checks.

The Grand Rapids woman said she did nothing wrong. She was subsequently arrested, jailed and punished.

Then, on Aug. 9, a bank worker found the money — right where Hansen had said she’d left it nearly a year earlier. Huntington officials will say only that the bag had become lodged and hidden within the depository.

A Grand Rapids police detective called the woman to give her the news — and to apologize on behalf of the department.

“I cried,” Hansen, 25, told the Grand Rapids Press for a report published Friday. “It was all that emotional buildup for a year that I just let go.

“I was hurt more than anything. It was embarrassing. I hid it from my family and most of my friends.”

The police seemed to have a solid case. Not only was the money missing, a Huntington security investigator told police that the Columbus, Ohio-based bank’s 15 surveillance cameras at that branch showed no one had stopped at the night depository at the time Hansen had said she was there.

The investigator said, “it was unlikely anyone could have avoided detection.”

Hansen also failed a lie-detector test administered by a Michigan State Police sergeant.

Her court-appointed lawyer recommended that she plead guilty to a misdemeanor embezzlement charge to avoid a trial and possible jail sentence. Grand Rapids
District Judge David Buter refused to accept Hansen’s plea after he asked her to explain what she’d done to make her guilty.

The charge was dropped after she performed 40 hours of community service in a court-diversion program, but her name was not cleared.

Hansen’s current attorney, Gerald R. Stahl, said the case exposes flaws in the bank’s security system and cracks in the judicial system.

Huntington officials should have checked the area around the box more thoroughly, he said. He also wondered why Hansen’s image was not picked up by the bank’s

He questioned the lie-detector test, saying the polygraph operator badgered her before accusing her of lying.

On Tuesday, Stahl filed a claim with the bank, saying it was negligent. He wants
Huntington to pay Hansen for lost wages for the last year, though he didn’t specify an amount. He also cited mental anguish.

If the bank doesn’t settle, he will file a lawsuit, he said. He doesn’t plan to take action against police or Panopoulos salons.

Huntington spokesman Mike Lindley declined to comment about the matter, other than to say the bag of money was found in a depository “mechanism.” He did not elaborate.

The manager of the Panopoulos salon, Carol Latham, who pushed for criminal charges, also declined to comment.

Hansen’s community service involved filing papers at Kent County Friend of the Court every Friday for a month.

Kent County Prosecutor William Forsyth offered to repay her $400 fee for entering the diversion program and pay her $10 per hour for her 40 hours of community service.

After completing her community service, Hansen moved to Florida to attend college but she recently returned to Grand Rapids after her mother was diagnosed with cancer.

“This has been a huge burden to bear for a year. It feels wonderful that it doesn’t need to be my burden anymore,” she said of her exoneration.

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