Stole over $11,700 in tax money
By Kelly Waters
HONESDALE- On Thursday morning Jeannie Brooks, 37 of Prompton, was sentenced to 45 days to 18 months at the Wayne County Courthouse for charges of theft by unlawful taking of the 1st degree and forgery of a felony 2.
Brooks, a former employee of the Wayne County Tax Claim Bureau, was arrested in October 2012 after being accused of stealing over $11,000 from the Tax Claim Bureau between April 2012 and July 2012.
According to a release from the county commissioners, it said commissioners were "made aware" of "several accounting inconsistencies" in the Tax Claim Office.
It further stated that an "internal investigation" about the transactions showed "questionable postings" and the information was presented to the office of the district attorney.
At the time of the arrest, District Attorney Janine Edwards said the investigation was "ongoing for a few months." She also said "cash and money orders" were allegedly taken.
A release from the DA's office stated that Brooks "stole money there at various time throughout 2012 when it was received from Wayne County residents paying their taxes."
In the summer of 2012, Cheryl Davies, the Tax Claim Director of Wayne County, "noticed that there was a discrepancy in the account of the Tax Claim Bureau. The amount of money that was received by the bureau did not match the amount of money that was deposited into their account."
That, according to Edwards, led to further investigation "and produced numerous discrepancies in Tax Claim Bureau transactions."
Edwards added that "all of the transactions in question" were received by Brooks while she was employed at the office.
How it happened
According to the affidavit filed by Detective Peter Hower all transactions in question were received by Brooks. When Davies questioned Brooks about the transactions in question, Brooks "could not give any explanation" as to where the missing money went.
On Aug. 7, 2012 Attorney Mark Zimmer sent Wayne County Chief Detective Robinson a letter regarding one of his clients. The letter explained that his client "had gone to the Tax Claim Bureau" on April 13, 2012 to "pay the delinquent 2010 taxes" on three properties that she owned.
She was told by the clerk at the tax bureau office, later identified as Jeannie Brooks, that the office "no longer accepted cash." Brooks told her she would "make an exception" this one time.
The client paid $3,400.03 for taxes due on her third property. Sometime thereafter the client received a letter from the Tax Claim Bureau stating that her first property was "scheduled to be sold publicly" on Sept. 10, 2012, to "satisfy the back taxes" they owed, the very same property where payment was made on April 13, 2012.
On Sept. 4, 2012 Detective Hower met with Davies at her office where she explained that "when a property owner makes a tax payment, the employee accepting the payment manually enters the payment information into the tax bureau computer program."
The employee enters the amount paid and lists what type of payment was made (certified check, money order, etc.) When a receipt is printed, the name of the employee who entered the information is listed on it. If a mistake is made on the receipt, the employee "can 'void' the receipt" in the computer program.
A reason is entered as to why the receipt was voided, such as operator error, etc. A second, corrected receipt is then generated with the correct information listed. All payments that are made are eventually "manually entered into a book that tracks every payment."
This process is referred to as a "payment being 'posted.'" A Deposit Report is a computer generated report that shows "all deposits" that were made during a "specified time period." This report is usually "generated daily."
A Receipt Report is a computer generated report that "shows all receipts" that were issued during a "specified time period." That report is usually "generated weekly." Davies told Hower that she "looked into" why the account "did not balance" and found "several discrepancies."
During the course of the investigation Hower received copies of the US Postal Service money orders and copies of the bank records from Brooks' First National Community Bank (FNCB) checking account showing the following information as it relates to the discrepancies:
* April 13, 2012-Brooks accepted $3,400.03 in cash for payment toward taxes due on property control #112433. Receipt #38450 was generated and issued. Davies found "no record" of the deposit being posted. The receipt was "never voided" and the payment "did not show up" on the Receipt Report or Deposit Report. On that same date, Brooks deposited $1,500 cash into her FNCB checking account.
* May 30, 2012-Brooks accepted four money orders. Each money order was for $500 for payment toward "taxes due" on property control #039575. Receipt #39809 was generated issued. Davies found "no record" of the deposits being posted and the receipts were listed on the Receipt Report as "being paid and then voided."
* May 30, 2012-Brooks accepted money order #18955861672 for $728.72 for payment toward taxes due on property control #107800. Receipt #39419 was generated and issued. Davies found "no record" of the deposit being posted. The receipt was "never voided" and the payment "did not show up" on the Receipt Report or the Deposit Report. On June 4, 2012 Brooks deposited the money order into her FNCB account. The 'Pay To' line listed her name and the 'From' line listed the name as Jerry Brooks.
* June 4, 2012-Brooks accepted a money order for $200 for payment toward taxes due on property control #023841. Receipt #39419 was generated and issued. Davies found "no record" of the deposit being posted. The receipt was "never voided" and the payment "did not show up" on the Receipt Report or the Deposit Report. No information was available as to what Brooks did with the money order.
* May 29, 2012 or May 30, 2012-Brooks accepted two money orders. The first money order was for $500 for "payment toward taxes due" on property control #022548. The second money order was for $400 for payment toward taxes due on the "same property." Receipt #39673 was generated and issued. It was listed on the receipt report as "being voided." The payment "did not show" on the Deposit Report.
* June 15, 2012-Brooks accepted two money orders. The first was for $300 and the second was $1,000. Both money orders were for payment toward taxes due on property control #100505 and #023942. Receipt #39870 was generated and issued. Davies found "no record" of the deposits being posted. The receipts were "never voided" and the payments "did not show" on the Receipt Report or the Deposit Report.
* June 25, 2012-Brooks accepted four money orders totaling $1,942.63 as payment toward taxes due on property control #022868. Receipt #40081 was generated and issued. Davies found "no record" of the deposit being posted. It was also "never voided and the payment did not show up" on either the Receipt Report or Deposit Report.
* June 28, 2012-Brooks accepted three money orders. The first was for $404 for payment toward taxes due on property control #007640. Receipt #40245 was "generated and issued." The second was for $457 for "payment toward taxes due" on property control #007629. Receipt #40244 was "generated and issued." The third was for $455 payment toward taxes due on property control #007630. Receipt #40246 was generated and issued. There was "no record" of the deposits "being posted." The receipts were "never voided" and the payments didn't show on the Receipt or Deposit Reports.
* June 29, 2012-Brooks accepted $1,251.36 in cash as payment toward property control #101069. Receipt #40297 was generated and issued. Brooks then "voided the receipt" and listed "OE" (operator error) as the reason for the void. Later that day she created receipt #40420, which indicated that $251.36 in cash and Western Union money orders #14-501177229 and #14-501177230, each for $500, were "used as payment" toward payment toward taxes due on property control#101069. Davies found "no record" of the deposit being posted. These two money orders were actually provided on June 25, 2012 as payment toward taxes due on property control #022868.
In total, Brooks fraudulently received $11,787.35. Her actions resulted in the "initiation of a public tax sale procedure" against the taxpayer's property. As a result, the taxpayer "incurred in excess" of $50 in attorney fees.
Originally Brooks was charged: two offenses, totaling 32 counts, of forgery listed as a felony 2; 17 counts of theft by unlawful taking listed as a felony 3; and 10 counts of tampering with public records or information listed as a misdemeanor 2.
According to Edwards, there was a "plea agreement," where all other charges were dropped "in exchange for the plea on theft by unlawful taking of the 1st degree and forgery of a felony 2."
Brooks plead guilty to theft by unlawful taking of the 1st degree and forgery of a felony 2 on Jan. 22. The tax claim office and one of the taxpayers submitted victim impact statements. Restitution was filed Wednesday afternoon and Brooks paid the $11,787.35 "in full" at that time.
"I thought a lot about what I might say, but I forgot everything," said a tearful Brooks when she addressed the court Thursday. "But I was going to say I'm sorry for taking the money and betraying people and causing a lot of heartache. I know I can't replace any of it because of my actions."
Members of the Wayne County Tax Claim Bureau as well as some of the victims were present. Brooks asked permission to address them directly and it was granted.
"I'm sorry for what I've done, taking the money and the lies" she said. "I can't take away the pain I've caused but I am truly sorry."
She asked the court to consider her daughter when determining her sentence saying, "she has a great need for me." It was later found that her daughter has mental health issues.
Brooks' attorney, Bill Peters, then addressed the court.
"I believe my client is very remorseful," he began. "She's been in an internal prison cell once this was going on and she has a history of mental health issues. I'm not saying what she did was right, but she's been working mental health counselors and drug and alcohol counselors to get help. The restitution was paid so that means something. Due to all the circumstances, I ask that you make an exception for no jail time."
Peters recommended a probationary sentence or even house arrest, adding that it will allow Brooks to "deal with her own mental health issues" as well as "helping her daughter."
"You're well-educated and you were a value to the county," said Judge Raymond Hamill, who was the presiding judge for Brooks' sentencing. "You have a long history of mental health issues and you plead guilty to theft by unlawful taking of the 1st degree and forgery of a felony 2, so I will take that all into consideration."
He added that she took a polygraph that showed she "didn't recall anything" from the thefts, which he said "concerns the court." Peters said that once she was told what happened, "she could recollect" the incidents.
Hamill explained that around "90 percent" of the people he sees who get sentenced, have "similar circumstances" at home, but said that if he allowed her no jail time because of a need at home, it "would not be" the "just and fair thing."
For the charge of theft by unlawful taking of the 1st degree Brooks was sentenced to "no less than 15 days and no more than 6 months." For the charge of forgery of a felony 2 she was sentenced to "no less than 30 days and no more than 12 months," making her total sentence "45 days to 18 months."
Along with being incarcerated Brooks has to pay for the prosecution, continue mental health help, get a full-time job, get random alcohol and substance testing, have a DNA sample taken and pay the cost of $250, pay $50 a month for the supervision fee and to complete 100 hours of community service within six months.