- Last Updated on Wednesday, 23 February 2011 00:00
- Published on Wednesday, 23 February 2011 00:00
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Former school finance director will serve 2 years and 8 months
It was a fight to the finish with three hours of exhibits, charts, summaries, witnesses examination and cross examination and lots of emotional posturing between Commonwealth’s Attorney Dean Atkins representing Colonial Beach School Board and Mark Gardner, attorney for Barbara Worrell. Atkins and Gardner showcased experts in accounting and psychology as well as the current CB School Board Chairman, family members and friends of Worrell, each attempting to sway Judge Joseph Ellis’ sentencing decision.
In the end, Ellis said “Everybody has a point today. There is no winner. You will go to prison today and the public’s trust is diminished by your acts. ‘Trust, but verify’ is now the watch word for the Colonial Beach School system.”
Then The Honorable Judge Ellis sentenced Barbara Worrell to a total of 70 years, five years for each of the 14 felony charges she pled guilty to on Dec. 17, 2010. Ellis suspended all but two years and eight months, citing the last eight months would be spent on “electronic incarceration” or house arrest. Worrell will remain on supervised probation for an indefinite period of time and probation for the rest of her life.
Atkins’ case against Worrell centered on the initial exposure of her embezzlement discovered by then newly-elected School Board Chairman Tim Trivett. In May of 2009 Trivett came upon a discrepancy in the payroll checks written on the Cafeteria Fund.
“There was a check in the amount of $700.52 marked ‘Void’ that clearly had ‘Barbara Worrell’ written on it” noted Trivett. When Trivett asked Worrell about the check, Trivett reported “At first she said it was nothing – she made an error on the check.”
When asked again “she told me she was an employee of the cafeteria – finance director for the cafeteria – and that was a payroll check for her,” Trivett explained. Trivett then said “I was given a list of every employee and their position. She was not listed as an employee of the cafeteria.”
Trivett further informed the court that “employee and financial records for the cafeteria were maintained in Worrell’s office. After she was terminated, numerous documents were missing – payroll deduction sheets, W-2s.”
Atkins also called James Mitchell, investigator with the Virginia Department of Taxation, who appeared as an expert witness and who had examined CB School’s bank records, disbursement sheets and who had analyzed Worrell’s personal bank records from January 2005 to the end of 2009.
Mitchell noted there were “four particular areas in which money was embezzled.” The four areas include payroll accounts for both School Board employees and cafeteria employees, petty cash fund, flexible spending accounts, and the use of CB School Board credit cards.
One example noted by Mitchell was the payroll register for the week ending 11/25/08 which denoted a net payroll to Worrell of $2,239.99 deposited to an account at People’s Bank. Also on 11/25/08 there was a payroll deposit in the same amount made to a Beacon Credit Union account in Barbara Worrell’s name.
Mitchell also cited an example about the petty cash fund, noting that check No. 2290 was listed on a ledger as a payment of $2,000 to “Blue Cross.” The actual check No. 2290 was made out to and endorsed by “American Express” as a payment on Worrell’s American Express account.
Mitchell further cited a $450.91 School Board credit card charge for a “child’s bed” on 11/4/05 to Walmart, with a delivery address for the purchase listed as Worrell’s Lossing Avenue address.
As to the area of flexible spending accounts, which are pretax dollars set aside for reimbursement of medical expenses, Mitchell noted an “employee deposit” on 9/26/05 of $3,000, but found no corresponding payroll deduction for that year or any of the plan years. Worrell was later able to produce medical expense receipts and received the money from the flexible spending account administrators.
According to Mitchell, “Based on records available, I concluded that $274,793.97 was fraudulently obtained” by Worrell. Mitchell also noted Worrell owes “$44,856.04 in taxes, interest and penalties due on unreported income.
Gardner called Worrell’s brother, Buddy Marks, who testified “She has suffered, she has watched her family suffer, she’s lost her home.” Worrell’s daughter-in-law’s father, Bruce Lee, also testified “She is genuinely remorseful, the shame is there, but she has more concern on others than for herself.” Worrell’s long-time friend Judith Doerr also testified on Worrell’s behalf noting that “The temptation for taking other people’s property” was in all people.
Gardner also called upon Don Jericho, a clinical psychologist who has counseled Worrell every week since mid-October of 2010. Jericho noted Worrell suffers from “an adjustment disorder with depression symptoms related to the charges.” Jericho further stated Worrell may suffer from “a disassociated personality disorder” saying “It’s almost as if she doesn’t know … there’s a certain level of repression going on.”
During Jericho’s testimony, Worrell was holding her head in her hands and, for the first time during the proceeding, quietly cried.
In his summary to the court, Atkins noted that “Mrs. Worrell consciously disguised herself as an honest employee” and stated “she is no more than a common thief” who performed a “conscious, deliberate and repetitive act of stealing.” Atkins then read to the Court an editorial that had been published in The Journal that mirrored public sentiment upon hearing of the guilty plea by Worrell, a trusted long-term school employee who had violated that trust and stolen money from the school.
Gardner summarized to the court that “this 63-year-old woman is more than what has happened here,” and said “she is an excellent candidate for an alternative to incarceration.” Gardner pleaded with Judge Ellis saying that “a wise judge said to me, there can be no justice unless tempered by mercy. I would add compassion,” and asked Judge Ellis to “temper zeal for jail with mercy and compassion.”
Atkins rebutted, saying “I ask the court to not forget she was a public employee embezzling public funds.” Further adding, “This court sees so many people that never had a chance in life and sends them to the penitentiary. You need to send a clear message that whether you come from low income or are highly educated, you are treated the same.”
When asked by Ellis if Worrell had any comments, she stood up and began by saying “I apologize to the court, my family ...” then began crying, sat down and composed herself and finished saying to her family “I hope and pray they can forgive me.”