Monday, February 27, 2012

Bookkeeper stole $58,000, must pay back $18,000

Sentenced to 6 years deferred adjudication

Waco – Stephanie Wyatt is a dowdy, morbidly obese woman who admitted she stole something like $58,000 worth of cash, merchandise and services by forging credit slips and checks her employer trusted her to manage for the business.

The owners are afraid to total the losses, they say, which included a $10,000 levy with interest and penalties from the IRS because they say they had not a clear picture of their true income due to the machinations of Ms. Wyatt.

One thing she allegedly bought with the funds she admitted stealing from her employer was lap band surgery to help control her weight.

She also bought such items as cowboy boots for her male friends, gift certificates from Wal-Mart, and forged checks to pay herself more than the rate for which she had agreed to perform her services.

Before 19th District Judge Ralph Strother passed sentence on her for embezzling the funds under the terms of a plea agreement in which he accepted a guilty plea to the lesser charge of stealing $18,279.87 and not the $58,000 the owners of Sign of the Times said they could prove she took, co-founder and company CEO Darlene J. Nobles addressed her in the first person in a victim impact statement.

She told her that “I did not donate the $57,000 to you.”

Mrs. Nobles said that she could have used the $30,000 Judge Strother waived in restitution to provide activities for deaf people she could help obtain employment for the first time in their lives.

On the other hand, she said, “Thank you, Stephanie, for what you did. As a result of what you did, we have grown...My other employees are now making three times what you made.”

She also acknowledged that the shame of the admitted embezzlement is something Ms. Wyatt will have to live with for the rest of her life.

“I will do my best to keep the whispers going.”

Judge Strother addressed the open court in remarks about his arrival at a sentence of 6 years deferred adjudication and restitution of the $18,279.87.

“I realize this is not an agreed-upon figure and not everyone is happy with it.” He explained that with the assistance of probation officers, investigators, and officers of the Court, “This is the best I came up with.”

One got the feeling sitting in the gallery and listening to his tone that he was definitely making an effort at putting things mildly.

Before the court session opened, Ms. Nobles approached a young man who was filling in for the early morning hearing, a prosecutor unfamiliar with the case. As she asked specific questions as to how she could apply to make a victim impact statement, he became more curt and abrupt with each rejoinder.

Finally, in frustration, he said, “I don't know! I'm just over here working the hearing. I have to see if I can find someone...”

He hadn't planned on all this, and it showed.

As he tried to walk away with Mrs. Nobles following on his heels to the barrier that marks the well of the Court, she stopped him several times.

Thus detained, he became more voluble, saying, “The judge determined the figure...They don't want to just set someone up to fail by putting them on probation!”

He tried to effect his escape once again before sheagain detained him.

He waved a pink folder, showed Ms. Nobles some of the leaves bradded into it. “I don't know! They had a hearing. That's what the judge decided!”

He threw up his hands in frustration, then fled into Judge Strother's chambers. Someone slammed the door.

Mrs. Nobles' company, Sign of the Times, is a sign language interpretation service that helps persons disabled by deafness – most of whom are mute and unable to talk - in their dealings with those who deliver medical, legal, educational, and other professional services.

The certified interpreters employed by Darlene Nobles deliver a conceptually accurate interpretation of what is said to those who are unable to hear spoken language, then respond with a similarly accurate interpretation of the visual lingo the clients use to answer the questions of doctors, lawyers, social workers, intake clerks at local hospitals and clinics, judges, prospective employers, and teachers.

A group of them who attended the hearing gathered at a restaurant in the lobby of One Liberty Place, located across 6th Street from the Courthouse, where they had breakfast on their way to the office.

They explained that sign language is not a spoken, or auditory, language, but a visual form of communication, one in which there are more than one dialect and many semantic differences than the basics of spoken language.

It's all part of the accommodations provision of the Federal Americans With Disabilities Act, a guarantee that the disabled will be given access to public places, to apply for jobs, get benefits and receive medical services in spite of their difficulties.

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