The shamed Baltimore City public school teacher charged with eleven theft crimes almost a year ago has now pled guilty to one count of felony theft scheme. This past week in the Circuit Court in downtown Baltimore a special statewide prosecutor announced the state would only pursue one of the counts in exchange for the guilty plea. The ex-principal will now avoid what would have been a lopsided trial, as the prosecutor had ample evidence connecting the defendant to almost $50,000 of missing school activity funds. The defendant, who is currently out on bail, was not sentenced at the plea hearing. Rather, sentencing has been set for early October on the one felony count that carries a maximum jail sentence of fifteen years. There is also the possibility of hefty fines and mandatory restitution for the charge, which is classified as theft scheme with a value of $10,000 to $100,000. This offense does not carry a minimum mandatory jail sentence, unlike the embezzlement count that was dropped.
There is no final word yet on what the exact sentence will be, but the defense will likely put forth its best argument to keep the former educator out of jail. While it is unlikely the defendant will leave court in October without some sort of jail sentence, it is possible that the she will avoid a department of corrections sentence, or even a lengthy stay at the city jail. The defense could request that any jail sentence be served on weekends, but the judge may find the facts of the case too disturbing to allow this kind of break. The ex-principal was in a position of trust and authority, and was a public employee to boot. She admitted to a course of illegal conduct that spanned many months, thus this was far from an isolated incident. And the bottom line is that she stole from students and from parents who donated their hard earned money to the school. These funds were intended to provide extra curricular activities for their children, but instead went to their principal’s pocket. As non-violent crimes go, this is one of the worst. It’s not so much the total value of the theft, but the breach of trust that will be so troubling to the judge.
Regardless of the jail sentence handed down in October the former educator is now faces the permanent branding of a convicted felon. The defense may file a motion to modify within 90 days of sentencing, which would ask the judge to consider striking the guilty finding and imposing a probation before judgment. In this type of case the judge would either deny it outright, or hold it sub curia until the defendant has successfully completed her entire sentence. This means jail plus a violation free term of probation. Modification would probably be a long shot, but if the judge strikes the conviction down the road the defendant would be eligible to have the case expunged. We will follow the sentencing hearing over at the circuit court, and may post a follow up article in early October about the outcome. As always stay tuned to the Blog for updates about this case, and other criminal topics of interest in and around Maryland.
Benjamin Herbst is a Maryland theft attorney who handles cases in all state and federal jurisdictions. Contact Benjamin for a free consultation about your case anytime at 410-207-2598.