An Alvord woman pleaded guilty this week to stealing more than $100,000 from the adult probation department in Wise County.
Sandra Nell Campbell, 46, received a 10-year sentence, probated for 10 years.
Because she paid $20,000 in restitution up front, she avoided any jail time, according to the plea agreement.
Investigators said Campbell, who was employed by the probation department, stole approximately $125,035 over an approximately three-and-a-half-year period beginning in June of 2008 and continuing until January of this year.
Campbell was responsible for taking the fees paid by people placed on probation and depositing the funds in the bank.
District Attorney Greg Lowery said the thefts were discovered when a probationer called the probation office in Decatur to make sure her payment had been credited properly. Campbell was not in the office that day.
“They called (Campbell) at home and said, ‘Hey, we want to make sure this is credited properly,’ and (Campbell) said, ‘I forgot to make the deposit. I’ve got the money in a bag here at home,’” Lowery said.
Based on that information, the probation department and county auditor’s office began looking into past deposits to see if money was missing. The research took four to five months, and it turned out that more than $125,000 had not been deposited as it should have been.
County Auditor Ann McCuiston said it appears Campbell would take the cash payments and leave the cashier’s checks and money orders. Those cashier’s checks and money orders were later located in the trunk of Campbell’s vehicle.
McCuiston said not every deposit was stolen, but money was stolen “at random.”
Investigators were able to recover some of the funds from the cashier’s checks and money orders, but $90,433.14 was unaccounted for. After the initial payment of $20,000, Campbell will be required to pay back the remaining $70,433.14 in monthly payments over the 10-year period of her probation. The first payment is due in January.
Campbell’s attorney, Barry Green, said he advised his client not to talk about the case, but said she was “incredibly embarrassed, sad and remorseful.”
“She readily admitted her guilt and has taken huge measures to repay the county,” he said in a written statement. “She’ll be paying in a lot of ways for a long time, and she wants to do whatever she can to right her wrong. I’ve worried about her throughout this process.”
When asked why she stole the money, Green replied, “I don’t have a good answer. It just snowballed over the years.”
Lowery said he could only speculate on the reasons, but he described what he says is a typical situation in these types of theft cases.
“Generally… in these types of crimes, money is tight,” he said. “For whatever reason, they say, ‘I’ll take this $300, and I’ll pay it back.’ They do it, and they may pay it back, and they may not. The next time they fall behind, they do it again. Before long, they can’t pay it back.”
While Lowery originally wanted the punishment to include a 30-day stay in county jail, he said ultimately what was most important was that she was convicted.
“If I’m dealing with a public official, I want the conviction so they don’t have the opportunity to go back and work for somebody else in the public sector,” he said. “But beyond that, she got what anyone else would have gotten.”
Campbell had no previous convictions.
Since the theft was discovered, several changes have been implemented to avoid a similar situation in the future. The county auditor’s office will now be in charge of auditing procedures for the probation department. Cash is no longer accepted. And all deposits must now first go to the county treasurer’s office rather than being deposited directly.
Campbell was originally scheduled to appear in court Monday, but the appearance was delayed a couple of days when it was discovered that another judge would need to hear the case. Since Campbell worked for the 271st District Court, Judge John Fostel would need to recuse himself. Judge Jerry Woodlock heard the case instead.