A former Jackson County court administrator who admitted to embezzling tens of thousands of dollars for gambling and other personal use was sentenced Wednesday to two years in federal prison and ordered to pay $139,536.
Teresa L. York, 59, pleaded guilty in November to one count of mail fraud. That allegation stemmed from a $41,874 check mailed in December 2011 to pay the county court’s monthly credit card bill. A portion of the payment covered items that York, the court’s top nonjudicial official, had purchased for personal use.
However, federal prosecutors argued that York embezzled much more from January 2009 to June 2012.
York, who became court administrator in 2003, used court credit cards to buy gift cards, gasoline, clothing and meals, prosecutors said.
Senior U.S. District Judge Howard Sachs ruled Wednesday that York also defrauded the court by funneling a contract worth more than $64,000 to her boyfriend, who did little work for the money.
“The fact that I wrongly took money from an organization that has been so much a part of my life is inexcusable,” York said during the hearing. “There is no doubt I lost my way. I am so very sorry.”
Authorities launched an investigation in the spring of 2012 after county officials said they had “concerns regarding the expenditures of court funds.”
That investigation roiled the court and caused “disharmony” among the county’s 35 judges because the investigation had to be conducted in secret, Marco Roldan, the county’s presiding judge, testified.
“It made it very difficult,” Roldan said. “Not knowing what happened, we had to look everywhere.”
York’s thefts also hit the court during very lean budget times, he said.
Prosecutors noted that York continued her scheme up until the time she was caught.
“She lavished public money on personal luxuries and secretly enriched her boyfriend,” U.S. Attorney Tammy Dickinson said in a written statement. “Now she is being held accountable for breaking the laws she was sworn to uphold.”
York suffered from bipolar affective disorder, depression, severe anxiety disorder and pathological gambling disorder, according to court documents filed by her attorney.
She has received psychiatric treatment, said Larry C. Pace, an assistant federal public defender.
Pace asked for a sentence of probation to allow York to make progress on her restitution and continue medical treatment.
“She did serve the court honorably for many, many, many years,” Pace said. “We’re here for a very small slice of it.”
But federal prosecutors pushed Sachs for a prison sentence.
“She betrayed the trust of the judges who had hired her and trusted her,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Kate Mahoney wrote in a sentencing memo. “York betrayed the many employees she supervised, and for whom she should have set an example. York betrayed the public, which rightfully expects that its tax dollars will not be used by government employees to unjustly enrich themselves or their loved ones, nor to support their gambling.”
York had an annual salary of more than $109,000. She was placed on administrative leave in June 2012 and resigned the next month.
As administrator, York managed the court’s nonjudicial functions, including human resources, records systems and information and technology.
She continues to receive pensions worth about $2,000 a month from the state and the county, prosecutors noted.
She was the administrator in 2007, when prosecutors charged a court purchasing clerk with stealing more than $200,000 worth of computers and electronic equipment. At the time, York said it was the worst violation of trust she had seen.
Sachs said prison would be an appropriate warning to other public officials that they should not expect a lenient sentence if they steal.
“The public has been victimized and the crime does deserve significant punishment,” Sachs said.
The Star’s Mark Morris contributed to this report.