Victims waiting years for restitution payments have renewed hope with legislation

By Erinn Taylor

STEVENS POINT, Wis. (WSAW) - Jen Joten’s three-season room has not been functional in any season for years.

“When I bought the house; when I was a single mom, I bought it intentionally so that I could watch my children play outside in the backyard,” she said.

In 2018, Joten hired Ray Marchel of Marchel’s Enterprises LLC to fix a leak in the room.

“Things just kind of kept snowballing from there,” she said.

In addition to fixing the leak, Joten paid Marchel for brickwork repairs to her Stevens Point home.

“Fifteen-thousand dollars for the brickwork, which was pretty on par with what needed to be done for the masonry,” she explained, “and we also paid him an additional $2,500 towards our three-season room.”

That work was never completed, and the money was never returned.

“We astronomically increased essentially what is our mortgages, and the value of our home decreased significantly,” Joten said. “And we still have repairs to do.”

In 2020, Marchel was convicted of theft by a contractor in Portage County. He was also ordered to pay Joten $15,000 in restitution.

“That order was about 604 days ago,” Joten said, “and we haven’t received anything.”

Joten is not alone. Marchel has been convicted in similar cases in four Wisconsin counties and ordered to pay restitution in each.

“There was a little bit of restitution collected for one victim,” Joten said. “Then that stopped completely. Some of us have never received anything.”

Marchel is currently serving his time in state prison. There, he’s participating in a work-release program, but that money is not going to his victims.

In the Wisconsin Prison System, there are other fees that a working inmate must pay before restitution.

“It would go to room and board of the prisoner, including food and clothing, necessary travel expenses to and from work, the crime victim and witness assistance surcharge, the DNA analysis surcharge, the prisoner’s dependents,” Representative Katrina Shankland listed the charges that are prioritized ahead of restitution.

Representative Shankland introduced Assembly Bill 1151 in March.

The bipartisan legislation would re-order where an inmate’s earnings go, prioritizing restitution and child support.

“What we want to do is make sure this never happens again,” Rep. Shankland said. “Where we have victims across the state who are unable to recoup their loses through restitution, even though the restitution is court-ordered.”

“Everyone thinks you get an order and suddenly you get a check,” Joten said. “That’s not what happens. Most people never see it. Most people give up.”

She says she’s not giving up, even as she moves forward without the restitution she’s owed.

“I’m working extra weekends through my employer, and we fix what we can, when we can,” Joten said. “We do the best we can.”