BRENTWOOD — A former payroll administrator at the Rockingham County jail was sentenced to two to six years in state prison for embezzling about $37,000 by altering her husband’s time sheets while he worked as a corrections officer.
Ann Marie Nelson, 55, of Chester, pleaded guilty on Monday to two counts of theft by deception in Rockingham County Superior Court and wept as she was being taken into custody on Monday.
“I just want to apologize to the county for what I’ve done,” Nelson said in court Tuesday, while asking a judge for leniency.
Nelson padded her husband’s paycheck with an additional 102 hours of overtime that he never worked, prosecutors said. Keith Nelson, the husband, was not charged in the case. Prosecutors said he had no knowledge of the scheme.
Ann Marie Nelson admitted thefts dating back to July 2012, but prosecutors revealed on Monday that they discovered another 47.2 hours of overtime not included in the indictments.
Reimbursement of that money is being pursued through a civil lawsuit filed by the county against Nelson.
Nelson’s pattern of theft was discovered by another employee last May, leading to an audit.
“She made very deliberate choices,” Senior Assistant Attorney General James Boffetti said. “She knew the system at the jail was lax and knew that she could do it and not get caught.”
Boffetti, who is overseeing prosecutors in Rockingham County, said that Nelson also lied to investigators when she sat down for an interview with them, claiming she did not remember details about the thefts.
Boffetti argued in court Monday for Nelson to serve a 3-to-6-year prison term, saying her theft of taxpayer money was a betrayal of the public’s trust.
“This defendant needs to understand that does a great deal to destroy the trust in government and public employees. And that conduct needs to be punished,” Boffetti said.
Defense lawyer Gerard LaFlamme said that Nelson’s behavior was an aberration and she may have committed the thefts due to financial trouble.
Nelson wanted to plead guilty from the outset of the case, and made no effort to fight the civil lawsuit or lien on her home, according to LaFlamme.
He argued that his client should receive a deferred prison sentence and 100 hours of community service.
Nelson was ordered to pay $27,000 as a partial restitution payment to the county on Monday.
“You have a very good person in front of you who made a terrible mistake,” said LaFlamme, who told the judge he knew the Nelson family his entire life and considered them personal friends.
Judge Marguerite Wageling said she did not believe Nelson had a memory lapse when she spoke with investigators. Wageling also noted she was troubled that Nelson repeatedly carried out the thefts over a span of time.
“What you did strikes at very core of people who are public servants,” Wageling said. “You made a mockery of that.”