A Stuart woman was sentenced Monday to a total of 25 years and $1,000 fine after pleading guilty to embezzling more than $11,000 from a school organization.
Patrick County Circuit Court Judge Martin Clark also ordered Stephanie Lawless Lemons to make restitution of $11,340 plus interest, serve 45 days active time in the Patrick County Jail, and pay court costs.
Lemons paid $3,000 towards that balance on Monday, and must make monthly payments of $150 until the balance is repaid.
Lemons was indicted in March, 2017 on five counts of embezzlement of $500 or more from the Patrick Springs Primary School (PSPS) PTO in connection with alleged offenses occurred between Oct. 1, 2012, and Sept. 30, 2016.
She pleaded guilty in January.
She testified that she was serving as treasurer of the organization when some of the incidents occurred. She said she also had served in other positions during her tenure with the parent-teacher organization.
She said she wrote checks made out to ‘Cash’ and/or to herself, and then used the proceeds to pay medical bills and the mortgage on her home.
“When were you going to stop,” Clark asked during Lemons’ testimony Monday.
Lemons’ defense attorney Chris Corbett said at the onset of the investigation into the incidents, Lemons wrote a letter to the PTO, expressing remorse for her actions.
“First let me say how sorry I am. I made a STUPID mistake,” Corbett read from the letter, adding it also stated that Lemons would repay the funds and resign her position with the organization. Corbett said he advised her not to make any repayments until after her case was decided.
Lemons testified that her opinion of herself is “not very high,” and when she’s out in public, others often turn and walk away.
Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Andrew Hines described the embezzlement as a “double whammy,” because it hurt youngsters and the goodwill of the community, which donates funds to PTOs and similar organizations.
Before handing down the sentence, Clark said Lemons has no criminal history and had been productive, with a “pretty good work history” in the financial sector. “She made the decision to leave the workplace to be a full-time mom. She seems remorseful and sad about what she’s done,” he said.
Among the negatives cited, Clark said it would be years before the community is repaid for the loss, and that Lemons would serve active time.
“Once is stupid. Twice is stupid. More is a pattern,” he said of the repeated offenses. “I have never been and I am not now” trying to send a message through the sentences he imposes, Clark said. “I sentence people to punish” them.
“If there isn’t a punishment for her, it becomes an interest free loan,” he said before sentencing Lemons to five years on each of the five counts, for a total of 25 years, all suspended except 45 days. The remaining time will be suspended contingent on five years good behavior.
Lemons also must pay a $200 fine per incident, for a total of $1,000; court costs, and five years probation.