Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Cops: Hobby Lobby worker made false claims in past

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By Howard Pankratz The Denver Post

A woman who claimed she was sexually assaulted while employed at two Denver area businesses and may have authored almost 100 derogatory letters about herself sent to those employers has been arrested on suspicion of false reporting.

Lori Anne Koehler, 37, was taken into custody about 8:50 a.m. today after an extensive investigation by authorities in Broomfield and Aurora and by investigators for both Hobby Lobby and Family Dollar stores.

Koehler told police that on Feb. 20, a man entered the Hobby Lobby store at 5101 W. 120th Ave., bound her to store shelving and sexually assaulted her.

But in a four-page arrest warrant, investigators said they believe Koehler staged the robbery and sexual assault.

Further, they suspect that over a three-year period Koehler authored between 60 and 70 anonymous letters to employees of Family Dollar — where she was employed between March 2006 and July 2007 — and 30 anonymous letters to Hobby Lobby employees after she became store manager of Hobby Lobby's Broomfield store.

Attempts to reach Koehler today were unsuccessful.

Before she was terminated by Family Dollar stores in July 2007, she claimed that she had been raped by another Family Dollar employee. She said the alleged rapist warned her that he had "connections" and "could get rid of people" and would have her and her kids killed if she told anyone.

During an investigation by Family Dollar and the Aurora Police Department of the allegations, Koehler received a package which she told Family Dollar was offensive.

In the package were condoms, rope and lubricants, according to the arrest-warrant affidavit by Broomfield Detective Kurt Wederquist.

But Wederquist said a post office videotape showed Koehler mailing the package to herself.
Koehler told police she sent the package to herself because "nothing was being done" about the 60 or 70 letters that had been sent to employees of Family Dollar stores.

The anonymous letters accused Koehler of "loose morals" and of having sexual relationships with Family Dollar employees.

A Family Dollar loss-prevention specialist told Broomfield Police that Koehler had no credibility and doubted that the alleged rape involving Koehler's male co-worker at Family Dollar ever took place.

Prior to Broomfield officers finding Koehler on the floor of the Hobby Lobby store tied by her left hand to a stock shelf, Hobby Lobby had been investigating more than 30 letters sent since January to Hobby Lobby corporate headquarters and Hobby Lobby stores across Colorado.

Wederquist said the overall theme of the letters focused "on the author's anger and concern" with Koehler being promoted to store manager at the Hobby Lobby in Broomfield.

"The letters contain derogatory language about Koehler and often accuse her of having sexual relationships with employees and having low morals," wrote Wederquist in the affidavit.

The letters to Hobby Lobby prompted an ongoing investigation by Broomfield Police and Hobby Lobby's Organized Retail Crime Division, in which store and district managers were interviewed.
Broomfield police became suspicious of Koehler's rape story when they compared the empty condom wrappers and zip ties found next to the woman in the Hobby Lobby store with unopened condoms and a condom box and zip ties found in Koehler's Ford Expedition, which was parked outside the Broomfield store.

Wederquist said the unopened condoms and condom box in the Expedition had dates and lot numbers on the packaging that matched the date and lot number on both condom wrappers found on the floor next to Koehler inside the store. He said the zip ties found in the store were consistent with the zip ties found in the vehicle.

Wederquist said when he confronted Koehler with the information, she said: "(Expletive!) There is no way!"

Koehler told a St. Anthony Hospital North nurse who specializes in treatment of sexual-assault victims that she was confronted by an armed man who raped her.

Both Aurora and Broomfield police said that Koehler seemed hesitant to spell out the details of the assaults and during interviews would cover her face with her hands.

Howard Pankratz: 303-954-1939 or hpankratz@denverpost.com