Gibbons sentenced former clerk to 30 days in jail | RecordCourier.com
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Gibbons sentenced former clerk to 30 days in jail

by Merrie Leininger

Judge Michael Gibbons, sentenced a former East Fork Justice Court clerk to 30 days in jail, saying he felt a statement had to be sent regarding embezzlement of public funds.

“A message had to be sent to those who do this type of crime that they will do some jail time,” Gibbons said Monday, adding the case was difficult to sentence.

Mary Teresa Fry, 46, of Minden, pleaded guilty in January to unlawful use of public funds. She took $17,705.71 from bail money and fines turned into the court between August 1996 and June 1998.

After she completes her term in Douglas County Jail, Gibbons ordered Fry to serve 90 days on house arrest and then serve on probation for three years. If she violates probation, she can go to prison for at least one year and up to three years.

Probation conditions include: mental health and gambling counseling; Fry is not allowed to enter a casino or gamble; she must complete 150 hours of community service or donate $1,500 to the public library within one year of her release; and she is subject to search and seizure without a warrant.

Before her sentencing, Fry told the court she wanted to apologize.

“I’d like to just say I’m sorry and ashamed of what I’ve done. I want to say I’m sorry to my family, ex-coworkers and former friends for betraying their trust and all the pain I’ve caused. And last, but not least, I want to apologize to every person in Douglas County,” she said.

Fry worked in the clerk’s office from 1996 until she was placed on unpaid leave in the summer of 1998.

Fry’s attorney, William Cole, asked for leniency in her jail sentence by allowing her to serve weekends or not start right away so she could work out conditions with her new employer. He said in the summer, Fry has been doing manual labor at a local golf course in order to pay back her parents who paid the $17,700 restitution for her.

Gibbons denied the request, but said he would listen to the argument again after she talked with her employer.

Gibbons said the case was difficult because Fry had committed such a large crime against the people of Douglas County in contrast with the fact she was obviously ashamed and had paid back all of the money.

“This was a crime motivated by a (gambling) addiction, not greed, and she has family support, so she is likely to make it on probation. But this case involves public money and, even though it didn’t happen, there was a possibility of causing harm to those people who paid their fines and possibly wouldn’t get credit for it,” Gibbons said.

The fact that Fry had served honorably in the military and had no criminal record were some of the reasons he gave for the sentence.

n Changes. Since the Fry case began, the courts have changed the process in which bail is taken by the clerks.

Vicki Owen, chief deputy Justice Court clerk, said there were safeguards in place at the time Fry was taking money, but that the clerks still aren’t sure how she got away with it for so long.

“If we knew how she covered it up, it wouldn’t have happened,” Owen said. “There were some safeguards in place at the time and that’s how she was caught.”

The main change the clerks have implemented is they no longer accept cash bail, it has to be in check form, Owen said. She said there also is no longer just one person who handles all the bail money, which was Fry’s job.

Owen said she discovered Fry’s embezzlement when she was looking over a file.

“I was reviewing a file she had worked on and noticed there was no receipt, there was no money, and we started looking more into it,” Owen.

County Clerk-Treasurer Barbara Reed, who is in charge of the District Court clerk’s office and was in charge of the Justice Court clerks until 1997, and hired Fry, said changes have also taken place in the District Court clerk’s office.

“We have made some administrative changes regarding who can use key passwords,” Reed said.

Reed didn’t want to comment on an on-going case involving a district court clerk, but said she was happy with Fry’s sentence.

“I think the judge did the right thing. I know it was a difficult case and a difficult decision, but he did the right thing for the citizens of Douglas County and for the clerks,” she said.

n New case. Officials are now investigating a similar case involving a District Court clerk.

Diana Daley, 48, has been charged in connection with skimming money from filing fees and copying services between the last months of 1997 and early 1998. Daley has not been arrested in connection with those charges. District Attorney Scott Doyle said arraignments are being made to allow her to surrender.

n Fair practice. Doyle said there is no reason for the judges to remove themselves from the cases involving court clerks.

“We would have to show actual facts that the judge couldn’t sentence the case impartially and there was no indication of any kind, so there was no cause for us to file that sort of a motion,” Doyle said.

Situations that would call for that would be if a judge was overseeing a case involving a family member or of a business associate with whom he had financial ties.