Wednesday, March 26, 2008

4 to 20 Years for Theft?

OK, I realize that what she did was a crime and she broke the public's trust etc. However, I do feel that 4 to 20 is a bit harsh for what she did. Yes she stole a huge amount of money and even though she was ordered to pay restitution she will never be able to pay it all back but, 4 years in jail? I am sure that the space could be better used for someone who is a danger to society and deserves to be locked away. 4 years of house arrest or something along those lines maybe but not 4 years in a state prison.

Ridley woman craps out, gets jail in swindle           
By Marlene DiGiacomo
mdigiacomo@delcotimes.com         
Carol Ackley, a former Ridley School District employee, was sentenced to 4 to 20 years in jail for stealing more than $570,000 from the district.

MEDIA COURTHOUSE - Carol Ackley gambled - and lost.
Ackley, 57, of the 300 block of Seventh Avenue, who ripped off the Ridley School District to the tune of more than half a million dollars to feed her gambling habit, lost more than money.

In the end she forfeited her freedom, devastated her family, and left a black mark on the district where both she and her husband earned their livelihood.

Dressed in prison red and remaining shackled, Ackley was sentenced Tuesday by Judge James Nilon to four to 20 years in a state prison to be followed by eight years probation. She has also turned over her pension benefits and other money to cover part of the restitution, which Deputy District Attorney Gregory Hurchalla expressed doubts she can ever fully repay.

Ackley was employed with the district for the past seven years and "used her position of trust" handling retired teachers' health insurance checks to steal $573,792.71, according to Hurchalla.

Ridley Superintendent Dr. Nicholas Ignatuk testified that none of the retired personnel lost any money since the district was reimbursed by its insurance carrier. He said the money involved monthly checks from retirees for payment of health benefits maintained by the district until they reached 65.

He added that during the time she stole the funds, the district lost more than $60,000 in interest on the money, which Nilon also ordered her to repay.

Defense attorney Kevin Wray argued that she had a serious gambling addiction and "needed a fix" by promptly depositing the stolen loot in slot machines from Chester to Las Vegas.

Wray also attempted to blame the auditors for not picking up on the losses over the seven-year period and noted that the district was insured.

Nilon said he was not impressed by that argument. The judge also explained that Ackley was not a "poverty-stricken" person who lacked education. He pointed out she held an associate degree in business from Temple and also had been employed previously for a bank.

Nilon termed it a "carefully set-up plan to bilk money" from the district.
Hurchalla pointed to testimony from Ignatuk that the records indicated no money was taken by her during the time when the auditors were around examining the books.

He said that proved she was not an "out-of-control gambler;" but "when the auditors are gone, it's off to Vegas we go."

Hurchalla also showed her tax returns, which in the year 2007 showed she had taken a "$75,000 hit" in gambling losses.
Ackley buried her head and sobs could be heard as her son Michael Harrison was on the stand and he began crying. "There's a hole in my heart right now," said Harrison. "She should get treatment - whatever she needs to help her."

Ackley also apologized to the township and to her family.
"Yes, it is an addiction. I was humiliated and I was ashamed ... I didn't know where to turn," she said.
The stocky Ackley, who stands just 4 feet 11 inches tall, pleaded guilty in January to charges including seven counts of theft by deception, unlawful use of a computer and forgery.

Herbert Ackley also was called to the stand by Wray. He said he and his wife of 20 years did everything together, including hitting the casinos.

Herbert Ackley, who also was employed with the district as a painter, denied knowing his spouse had taken the money. He did, however, acknowledge he was just a machine away during all of the gambling excursions, which included traveling to Nevada and spending time at pricey hotels and restaurants.

He said he was "shocked" when he found out last December about the stolen money, adding that his wife's arrest forced the family to put Christmas on hold.

"My head has been spinning ever since," said Ackley. He also expressed hope that she would receive treatment rather than imprisonment.

On cross-examination, Hurchalla questioned Ackley as to how he could be enjoying the perks of all the casino trips when the two earned about $70,000 yearly for a family of five. Ackley denied knowing the exact amount of his wife's salary.

He said he thought she was winning and he didn't have "a clue" she was using district money for their enjoyment.
Hurchalla asked Ackley whether he knew the rooms and fancy steak house dinners were being paid for by Ridley taxpayers.
"Not mine," Ackley responded.
Hurchalla told the court that during her stealing spree, she ripped off $80,000 a year.
The prosecutor indicated that her husband was not just along for the ride and suggested he may have had more knowledge of what was going on than he admitted.

Hurchalla added that Ackley was crafty in manipulating funds so that even the auditors did not detect a problem until just last year when a Wachovia banking official spotted an irregularity and the scheme began to unravel.

"She used her prior banking experience, as well as her intimate knowledge of the Ridley Township district to engage in a very clever scheme," said Hurchalla.          

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