The methamphetamine residue left in the YMCA Learning Center for children is cleaned up, but the restitution amount to be paid at the end of the case remains messy.
Autumn Heinz pleaded guilty in January to charges related to smoking meth in the facility's laundry room and employee bathroom, which effectively dispersed the meth residue throughout the building. As a result, "it was a complete and total gut of that building," said Heather Foster, CEO of the YMCA in Missoula.
Heinz's "drug den," as officials described it, was uncovered April 10, 2018, and after testing was believed to have affected 72 children. Her sentencing was set for Monday, although a few line items in the total restitution claim — approximately $474,000 — from the YMCA prompted Missoula District Court Judge Robert "Dusty" Deschamps on Monday to hold off on the final sentencing until parties could review the claim.
Deschamps questioned replacement bananas for those exposed and $7,000 in legal fees in an unsuccessful attempt to obtain insurance coverage.
Deschamps wasn't particularly sure the legal costs could be part of the restitution, while the bananas seemed to give him some serious pause.
"It seems that some of these expenses are questionable, in my mind," Deschamps said. "I see stuff like that and it makes me wonder, is all this legit?"
Foster made clear early on that she wanted the families to have first consideration in how sentencing played out.
"For us, we're most concerned about the families," Foster said.
She also defended items Deschamps had picked out of the restitution claim, like $50 for metal serving spoons. Due to the intense nature of cleaning methamphetamine from certain metal items, the YMCA could choose to spend $100 per item to clean them or buy a whole new set of spoons for $50, Foster said.
"For us it's not about the money, it's about acknowledging what happened and it's about justice," Foster said.
Heinz leaned back and sat silently with her gaze lowered at the hearing Monday, but was sometimes emotional when a parent spoke about the incident's impact on their family life.
Robin Hammond, Heinz's defense attorney, asked for three weeks' time to review the receipts turned in by YMCA, saying there was no "obvious correlation" between some of the line items and the receipts turned in by the YMCA.
Hammond also homed in on the bid to reconstruct the building after remediation efforts. That contract went to the YMCA Learning Center's landlord, and the final cost of the construction component was more than $5,000 over the initial contracted amount after changes in the initial work order.
Foster contended the YMCA conducted a fair bidding process, and the landlord's outfit, Paffhausen Wayne & Sons Construction, offered the best rate. The job expanded after testing showed additional items, such as doors, also tested positive for methamphetamine. Additionally, Foster said, Paffhausen waived administrative fees on the project's final price tag.
Several parents who showed up to the hearing were audibly disappointed about the prospect of the case close being delayed further.
One who gave a victim's statement to the court said being called to pick up her 9-month-old son because a drug den had been discovered gave her stress that continues to affect her.
"It has been 11 months and I still feel like I am constantly reliving that day over and over," Cassie Sullivan said. "I have new worries I didn't have before. I have new anxiety I didn't have before."
Deschamps paused the hearing to ask Sullivan if she had sought counseling or communicated with prosecutors about getting restitution to pay for it. She hadn't, she told him, and she didn't think she needed to at this point.
"You shouldn't have to bear this burden yourself," Deschamps said, adding she ought to have a conversation with prosecutors or a crime victim advocate to see what's available. Through her attorney, Heinz had agreed to cover any counseling costs that fell on the families.
Deschamps openly questioned Heinz's ability to pay the restitution amount —which totals more than a half-million dollars after including administrative fees toward the county attorney's office — "unless she wins the lottery or has a rich uncle or something."
Heinz's defense will get more than the requested three weeks to review the restitution claims. Deschamps scheduled to wrap things up on April 22, the next available hearing date.