Former TCAT employee sentenced after $247K theftKelsey O'Connor
June 24, 2015
A former TCAT employee admitted Wednesday to stealing nearly $250,000 from the company to fuel a gambling addiction and was sentenced to 90 days in jail.
Pamela Johnson, 55, of Cortland, faced second- and fourth-degree larceny charges, and 65 counts of first-degree falsifying business records.
For stealing $247,785.05 from Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit, Tompkins County Judge John Rowley sentenced Johnson to pay restitution, 90 days in jail, 90 days of house arrest and five years of probation.
The felony Johnson pleaded guilty to, second-degree grand larceny, carries a maximum sentence of 15 years.
Rowley said of the sentence he issued: "I think it's lenient. I'm not even sure it's appropriate."
Johnson has already paid the restitution, about $247,000, though there is some dispute on whether she should pay additional fees to cover the cost of TCAT's audit and lawyer fees, which would be $29,898 and $7,200, respectively.
On Wednesday, in front of a packed courtroom, Johnson admitted to the theft, and said she was "deeply, deeply sorry" for her actions that devastated TCAT, herself and her family, she said.
Assistant District Attorney Dan Johnson — no relation — said in court that it's great TCAT got the money back, but it does not undo everything Johnson did. The thefts went on for years and Johnson never confessed, never felt bad and never turned herself in. She was caught, Johnson said in court.
The district attorney's office recommended 30 days in jail and five years of probation for Johnson.
Thefts began in 2010
The sentencing comes more than a year after a TCAT audit found that Johnson had stolen $247,785.05 between August 2010 and March 2014 by manipulating accounts and creating falsified vendor accounts.
Johnson began working at TCAT in 2009 as an accounts assistant.
Beginning in August 2010, Johnson made checks payable to an account called Johnson Ted Design, or JTD, which was a business owned by her ex-husband, and cashed them herself.
TCAT had no legitimate business dealings with a company called JTD, Johnson confirmed in court Wednesday.
In March 2014, an audit made TCAT employees question the checks. They found that there had been no checks issued to JTD before 2010, according to statements in the court documents.
When Johnson was asked by an employee what the invoices for JTD were, she said the charge might be for oil testing, cleaning of sludge or CEET emission testing, according to a statement. When an employee tried to call the phone number listed on the invoice, it went to a bar in Cortland.
Johnson was arrested by Ithaca police on April 2, 2014.
"Let's look at the person being sentenced," said Frank Policelli, Johnson's attorney.
For the past 15 months, Johnson has lost everything, he said, an expense of the disease — the gambling addiction — she is suffering from. He said she had even lost about 100 pounds since the arrest.
Johnson wept as Policelli told the judge that she had lost her family, her home and everything she had ever worked for as a result of her addiction and the arrest.
Addressing the court, Johnson apologized to everyone at TCAT. She said her addiction to gambling is "a very deep sickness," but she was seeking treatment. She said she is almost a year sober from gambling. She also said she made a purposeful error to get caught.
She told the court she had to send out more than 3,000 applications to get a job and now lives in a rented house with her son.
"If I could take it all back, I would, but I can't," Johnson said.
Policelli said six months in jail would be more than necessary. He asked Rowley to take jail off the table and instead agree to house arrest.
In the end, Rowley sentenced Johnson to 90 days in county jail and 90 days' house arrest, combined with five years of probation.
Alice Eccleston, acting general manager for human resources at TCAT, said Johnson's theft was not a crime against an individual, but against a whole community.
"This will take years and years to repair," Eccleston said.