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Golden Gate woman pleads to embezzling from adoption agency
By LESLIE WILLIAMS
Monday, October 13, 2008
A Golden Gate woman accused of embezzling more than $50,000 from an adoption agency where she works faces prison time.
Lataysha Jean Stewart, 32, 2005 Sunnyland Lane, No. 4, was arrested in January 2007 and charged with fraud to obtain property valued at more than $50,000, a first-degree felony. The lesser charge to which she pleaded Monday is a second-degree felony, with a maximum sentence of 15 years.
However, as part of the plea deal, state prosecutors say they’ll argue for no more than five years in prison.
Authorities say that Stewart illegally deposited roughly $52,000 into a personal bank account between March and October 2006, while she worked at the nonprofit child adoption agency Love a Child. At the time, Stewart was a bookkeeper at Love a Child under Executive Director Sandra Smith.
Records on file with the Collier County Clerk of Courts office include several different “personnel action forms,” with boxes filled out to indicate salary changes or monetary bonuses for Stewart. Each form bore a signature reading “Sandra Smith.”
Kathy Wilson, who works with the state attorney’s Economic Crimes Unit, said investigators determined those forms and signatures were “counterfeit.”
Stewart was not sentenced Monday, and the case is scheduled to return to court Jan. 5 for a formal sentencing. Defense attorney Giovanna Upson said she will work in the meantime on collecting more information, which she said could “mitigate” the sentence.
“We will continue to seek some records we think were relevant,” said Upson, a public defender. “We believe it’s necessary to get some more facts about what was going on at the business.”
Upson said Stewart planned to begin repaying the money immediately, but said she had not come to an agreement on the exact amount with Smith and Love a Child.
Collier County Judge Elizabeth Krier said she could not order Stewart to pay restitution until she is sentenced, but agreed to modify a no contact order held by Love a Child so Stewart could begin mailing monthly $500 checks to the agency. If ordered to repay the full $52,000 to the company, it would take Stewart more than 100 months to do so at that rate.