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Closure in clerk theft case

Former employee is last suspect sentenced

POSTED: December 14, 2011 4:00 a.m.

The state's cases against three people who pleaded guilty to stealing thousands of dollars from the Dawson County Clerk of Courts office came to an end Tuesday with the final suspect's sentencing.

Northeastern Judicial Circuit Judge Kathlene Gosselin sentenced Donna Jeanette Sheriff to 10 years, with two to be served in state prison and the remainder on probation.

Gosselin initially ordered the sentence to be served at the local jail, but revised it after learning Sheriff, 44, would not be eligible for work release due to a medical condition that requires pain medication.

Sheriff, the former chief deputy clerk, pleaded guilty to felony theft by taking and violating her oath of office in June 2010.

Sentencing was delayed until the theft case against former Clerk of Courts Becky McCord was resolved.

McCord is serving a 24-month term in federal prison on tax evasion and bankruptcy charges.

That sentence will be followed by two years in state custody in connection with counts of theft by taking and violation of oath of office.

Sheriff was McCord's second in command when local law enforcement learned she had written more than $80,000 in unauthorized checks from a clerk of courts account to contract worker Justin Disharoon.

Soon after Sheriff and Disharoon, 24, were arrested in January 2010, authorities began investigating McCord, who was arrested for theft and later resigned.

The two theft cases were unrelated, aside from Sheriff cooperating with authorities in the state's theft case against McCord.

McCord ultimately pleaded guilty to funneling more than $140,000 from the clerk's office, where she had served for more than 17 years.

Dawson County Sheriff's Lt. Col. John Cagle spoke in court Tuesday about Sheriff's involvement in the case against McCord.

"Her cooperation was significant," he said.

Dan Summer, Sheriff's attorney, also pointed to his client's character and reaction to the charges she faced.

"She immediately admitted guilt. She was remorseful," he said.

That humiliation, remorse and self-imposed house arrest "speaks volumes," Summer said.

A tearful Sheriff apologized for her actions.

"I'm sorry. I'm very sorry," she said.

In the sentencing, Gosselin took into consideration Sheriff's actions and attitude toward the crime, which she said was in sharp contrast to McCord and Disharoon.

"Initially, it was going to be a three-year sentence, so I'm persuaded to some extent, Mr. Summer, that you are correct," Gosselin said. "Her attitude is completely different."

Gosselin, however, denied Summer's request for Sheriff to report for her sentence on Jan. 1. She was taken into custody immediately.

In addition to the state time, Sheriff, who was sentenced as a first offender, must undergo drug and alcohol evaluation, waive her 4th Amendment rights and pay $5,000 in restitution to Dawson County.

The state had asked the court to order Sheriff and Disharoon to split $81,775 in restitution.

Last month, Disharoon was sentenced to two years in state prison and must also pay $5,000 to Dawson. He was in court Tuesday for the restitution issue.

Public Defender Rob McNeill argued the county's insurance policy covered the theft and his client should not be required to pay the high restitution when the state allowed McCord to pay $15,000 toward the insurance deductible instead of the entire $140,000.

Gosselin cautioned there was nothing stopping the insurance company from filing suit against the three to recover the losses.

 

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