Returning a “not guilty” verdict after 45 minutes of deliberating Thursday morning, jurors weren’t convinced of the felony theft case leveled against a former Neches Brewing Company marketing manager accused of embezzling thousands of dollars.
“We’re very happy that the jury came back in approximately 45 minutes and found her not guilty,” said Jason Nicks, Chelsea Fountain’s defense attorney. “She’s excited to have her life back, as her name has been tarnished over the last two years for something that she did not do.”
The prosecution’s testimony focused on Fountain’s clock ins and outs and how she would alter her hours to reflect more than the owner, Tyler Blount, said she worked.
However, Fountain told jurors her marketing role required her to work “at all hours,” answering inquiries from customers and Blount; communicating with bands and caterers; and also responding to impromptu issues at the brewery.
According to a probable cause affidavit penned by Port Neches Police Department Officer Scott Thompson, Blount reported Feb. 24, 2020, that his marketing manager stole $14,289.71 from the business by various means. A Jefferson County grand jury agreed there was enough incriminating evidence to indict Fountain and did so Sept. 2, 2020.
Fountain’s trial began almost two years later on March 8, and, as the only witness called by the prosecution Tuesday morning, Blount told the court Fountain was one of his first hires after opening his business in 2016.
After two years watching her bartend, Blount promoted her to marketing manager, a role that gave her administrative access to the business’ payroll data. From this position of power, the charging document alleges, Fountain adjusted her own hours enough to make $10,511.27 in ill-gotten gains. The affidavit goes on to say Fountain also adjusted coworkers’ timesheets to reflect more hours than they actually worked, resulting in $3,778.44 worth of fabricated work.
Fountain would claim to work on holidays that Blount contests, he told the court. The calendar would she’s out when payroll said she was working, Blount alleged. She claimed to work on her birthday after asking for time off; she purportedly worked an eight-hour shift the day Imelda flooded the brewery, as well as on holidays when they weren’t open for eight hours.
“If she clocked in at like, let’s say, 9:02 in the morning, clocked out at 3:13 in the afternoon,” Blount testified. “About seven days later, or right before the next pay period, she would go in and modify her hours. A lot of times she would just do 9 (a.m.) to 5 (p.m.).
“We opened up from 5 to 10 (p.m.) on Christmas Day, and we normally just have one bartender. And I looked on Christmas Day, and it showed that she had modified her time from 9 (a.m.) to 5 (p.m.).”
Blount went on to tell the court Fountain managed “two to three” events for the brewery, organizing requisite vendors for the occasion. However, three witnesses called by the defense claimed Fountain managed and worked several events, as many as 15 by one vendor’s account.
“The crime here is how the business is being run by the owner,” Nicks said in his closing testimony, saying Chelsea was the victim of Blount’s vendetta.
Blount’s so-called vindictive action, Nicks argued, was the product of a “rivalry” that’s been brewing between two Mid-County establishments. According to Nicks’ arguments in court, a Nederland brewery named a beer after Fountain’s family member, and the defendant posted on social media about it – much to the ire of Blount.
“She always maintained her innocence, and she was found to be innocent today,” said Nicks. “And I couldn’t be more thrilled.”
Written By: Scott McLendon for The Examiner Photo: stock