Broken Arrow Woman Sentenced For Theft From Nonprofit School

Saturday, December 9th 2006, 2:52 pm
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) A federal judge sentenced a Broken Arrow woman to prison Friday and ordered that she repay her former employer, a nonprofit school for special needs children, the money that she stole from the school.

U.S. District Judge Joe Heaton said that the scheme of 40-year-old Shelly Jo Webster was ``relatively far-reaching and long-lasting.'' Heaton sentenced Webster to one year and eight months in prison and said she must pay back nearly $84,000 to The Little Light House.

She must report to prison by January 22nd.

The school, which serves infant and preschool children with vision and developmental disabilities, said it spent more than $18,000 in attorney and accountant fees on the case. In a victim impact statement, the school said it worked for more than five months to identify and reconstruct its accounting records, which Webster had falsified to try and cover up the theft.

Webster acknowledged August 4th that she had committed wire fraud while she worked as the school's finance director. She said she had transferred money from the school's bank account to a personal credit union account from July 2003 to November 2004.

The theft caused a shortage of funds at the school and some of its staff members voluntarily accepted a 2 1/2-month delay in their paychecks as a result, Little Light House Associate Executive Director Jean Winfrey told Heaton.

``To learn that an entrusted and befriended LLH staff member had knowingly taken the limited funds available for providing tuition-free services to the children with special needs and their families for her own personal gain ... was psychologically and emotionally devastating to the staff,'' the school's victim impact statement said.

Webster's scheme also led to the school having tax problems with the federal and state governments. The school had to pay more than $5,200 to the Internal Revenue Service and Oklahoma Tax Commission, even though those two agencies waived about $30,000 in penalties, the statement said.

Webster apologized in court Friday and her attorney, Stephen Knorr, said that Webster suffers from bipolar disorder. Heaton said that Webster's health issues did not excuse her conduct.