Thursday, August 8, 2013

Former Belgrade, Montana School District clerk sentenced for embezzlement

A former clerk for the Belgrade School District was sentenced Wednesday for embezzling nearly $49,000 from the district over the course of a year and a half.
Della Little, 50, was sentenced to two years with the Montana Department of Corrections with a recommendation for incarceration, as well as eight years probation. Little was sentenced by Gallatin County District Court Judge John Brown.
Little was also ordered to pay $41,822 in restitution to the Belgrade School District, an amount that was agreed upon after several restitution hearings earlier this summer.
Prosecutors say that Little, while employed as an accounts payable and accounts receivable clerk, used a school district credit card that had been issued in her name to make cash advances. All told, Little stole $48,848.61 between May 2009 and September 2010.
“Ms. Little’s actions compromised the public’s trust in the school district in these difficult financial times,” Brown said during the sentencing hearing.
Brown also said Little’s theft forced the school district to put in additional safeguards that cost the district time and money.
“Ms. Little has called into question the honesty and competency of all the employees (of the district),” Brown said.
The Department of Corrections has a variety of options how to handle those sentenced to its control, from prison to probation, but the recommendation of the sentencing judge is typically a significant factor.
Little was charged with embezzlement in February 2012. She pleaded guilty to the charge earlier this year.
“These monies are dedicated to children and were intentionally taken from them,” Belgrade Schools Superintendent Candy Lubansky said during testimony. “Ms. Little took the money very intentionally over time and was found out, but may not have been and could have kept going. And that’s pretty frustrating.”
Lubansky said the district has had to change policies and practices in how it monitors employees.
District Clerk Jay Bates said district employees felt like they were under suspicion for crimes they didn’t commit.
“It’s just been terrible, really,” Bates said. “People just don’t trust the administration office.”
Defense attorney Suzanne Marshall noted that Little had no prior criminal history and has complied with all court orders since being charged.
“She has tried to turn her life around, take responsibility,” Marshall said.
Marshall requested an entirely suspended sentence, saying probation conditions would be sufficient punishment for Little, who has shown remorse for her actions.
“(Little) found herself in a dire financial situation and made very, very poor choices,” Marshall said.

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