Crime

‘She chose the money.’ Former Kentucky county official sentenced in $161,000 theft.

A former Jackson County treasurer who stole $161,000 by writing checks to herself from county accounts has been sentenced to three years and nine months in prison.

The sentence for Beth N. Sallee also includes repaying $161,808 to the county.

“Rather than serve them, Ms. Sallee stole from them,” U.S. District Judge Claria Horn Boom said of Jackson County residents.

Boom sentenced Sallee Tuesday in federal court in London.

Sallee was treasurer for Jackson County from 2006 until 2016 and worked in the sheriff’s office before that.

The charges against her grew from reviews by the Kentucky auditor’s office that concluded Sallee wrote herself checks from county funds and also took money from a federal program designed to help the county prepare for emergencies.

Sallee illegally wrote herself more than 100 checks over a four-year period, forging the names of other county employees on them to defeat a safeguard requiring two signatures on checks, prosecutors said in a sentencing memorandum.

Sallee removed pages from public ledgers to try to hide the improper checks and used white-out to obscure numbers on the remaining pages, according to prosecutors.

She also asked employees at the Jackson County Bank to remove check images from records that auditors planned to review.

The thefts hurt the budget of the small, rural county and played a role in a tax increase.

Sallee told Boom that she had a history of depression and anxiety; was diagnosed in 2016 with bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder; and has a daughter with epilepsy.

Sallee said she was heavily medicated at times, affecting her ability to make decisions. She said she didn’t know where the money went.

In an emotional statement, Sallee apologized for hurting her family and the county.

“I am honest in telling you I did not intend on making these horrible decisions that I did,” she said.

Sallee said she has gotten threatening letters in her mailbox.

Sallee pleaded guilty to mail fraud and identity theft. The advisory sentence range on the fraud charge was 27 to 33 months in prison, and the identity-theft charge carried a mandatory two-year sentence on top of the sentence on the other charge.

The total sentence range under advisory guidelines was 51 to 57 months in prison.

But Sallee’s attorney, David S. Hoskins, asked Boom to impose a sentence of no more than 30 months.

Hoskins argued that the identity theft Sallee committed was not the same as the type of identity theft that victimizes individuals and ruins their finances and credit.

Hoskins also said Sallee will face added potential shame because many people in the county know her, unlike in a more populous place.

“She’ll live with this the rest of her life,” Hoskins said.

However, prosecutor Jessica C. Harvey advocated for a higher sentence for Sallee, saying her crime had damaged public trust in government.

“She knew that it was wrong, and time and again — over a hundred times — she chose the money,” Harvey said.

Harvey said a sentence in the guideline range was needed to reassure taxpayers that conduct like Sallee’s would not go unpunished, and deter other officials from similar crimes.

Boom said she chose to impose a sentence slightly under the guideline range for reasons that included Sallee’s strong work history, her efforts to further her education as a physical therapist after losing her county job, her vow to make full restitution and her devotion to her three children.

Boom said the sentence also had to promote respect for the law among public officials, however.

“It was a serious crime and that debt is paid by taking your liberty,” the judge said.

Sallee was treasurer during a period when audits found significant problems in the county’s bookkeeping and finances.

Then-Sheriff Denny Peyman arrested Judge-Executive William O. Smith and Sallee in January 2014 on forgery and other charges based on a state audit.

A prosecutor dismissed the charges, and Peyman faced critical audits of his own before leaving office.

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