Monday, October 25, 2010

Midland, Texas School secretary to plead guilty

A former Midland Freshman High School secretary plans to plead guilty this week to charges she embezzled more than $60,000 from the school’s activity fund, her defense attorneys said in court filings.Anette Brewer Fitzhugh, 50, “accepts full responsibility for her conduct giving rise to her plea of guilty” to charges of embezzlement and bank fraud, defense attorney Daniel W. Hurley of Lubbock said in court documuents. Hurley said Fitzhugh will likely plead guilty by Thursday.Fitzhugh was arrested in August in connection with accounting irregularities in the school activity fund that came to light last school year. Fitzhugh, who had worked for the school district between August 2006 and May 2010, was accused of sending herself at least 49 checks from the activity fund’s bank account.Though Fitzhugh was authorized to sign checks, police said the checks also required the signature of another school official before they could be issued. Fitzhugh reportedly forged the signatures of the school’s principal or assistant principal on about 15 of the stolen checks.She reportedly issued the rest of the checks to herself and persuaded school officials to sign the checks by claiming they would be sent to a vendor, detectives said. In all, Fitzhugh reportedly stole about $61,874 between December 2007 and June 2010, police said.Fitzhugh resigned her position, said Woodrow Bailey, a school district spokesman.In court filings last week, Hurley and co-defense counsel Brian Carney explained to U.S. District Judge Rob Junell that “a problem has arisen” during plea negotiations regarding two counts of Fitzhugh’s four-count indictment. In addition to bank fraud and embezzlement charges, Fitzhugh also was indicted on two counts of aggravated identity theft, charges that stemmed from the forged signatures on the checks.Court documents suggest that Fitzhugh is reluctant to plead guilty to those two charges in part because of a 2009 case in which Junell acquitted an Odessa man of aggravated identity theft who had stolen checks from a local woman and issued them around the Permian Basin. In that case, Dana Edward Means, a 39-year-old with a long history of stealing checks, pleaded guilty to bank fraud but challenged the additional charges of aggravated identity theft in his indictment.Prosecutors claimed the stolen checks qualified as a “means of identification” and should be considered an “access device” under the identity theft statute. But Junell disagreed, ruling that even “though a stolen check usually includes both the name and checking account number upon which the check is drawn, the Court finds that this type of transaction was not intended by Congress as an ‘access device’ or a ‘means of identification.’ ”Junell’s ruling spared Means an additional, mandatory two-year prison sentence that would have run consecutively to his six-year sentence for bank fraud. The stakes appear to be just as high for Fitzhugh.Embezzlement carries a possible penalty of up to 10 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine. The maximum penalty for bank fraud, meanwhile, is 30 years imprisonment and a $1 million fine.Fitzhugh remains free on $10,000 bond.

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