Woman avoids jail time in theft

A woman who recently pleaded guilty to overcharging Brownstown Central Community School Corp. nearly $8,000 in mileage reimbursements for five years will not serve any jail time.

Sherrie Ellen Fee, 49, of Medora was ordered to repay the money and spend a year on probation by Jackson Circuit Judge Richard W. Poynter. That sentence follows on the heels of a plea agreement in which Fee agreed to plead guilty to one count of theft, a Class 6 felony.

Poynter reduced that felony count to a Class A misdemeanor conviction and ordered Fee to spend a year in jail. He then suspended that sentence and ordered her to pay the school corporation $7,825.96 within 30 days of the sentencing hearing, which was conducted Wednesday. The state agreed to dismiss four additional theft charges as part of the plea agreement.

The charges stem from an investigation at the request of school officials in November 2015. They were concerned about irregularities in Fee’s mileage reimbursement forms that came to light when she filed for a change of address.

Court documents show the corporation had agreed to pay Fee mileage for taking her daughter, who has special needs, to Bedford for schooling twice a day. That was five years ago.

At the time, Fee told school officials she would be driving her daughter to Bedford for school each morning from their home west of Medora, returning home and making the return trip in the afternoon to pick her up.

The investigation showed she actually traveled to Bedford, delivered her daughter to school and then went to work at a Bedford store.

State mileage reimbursement ranged between 55 and 57 cents per mile driven, which meant Fee collected an average of $52.62 per day while only driving half that amount.

This continued for five years, meaning at the end, she had filed for between $25,000 and $30,000 in that time while only driving half that amount.

According to court documents, school officials estimated the amount illegally claimed at $10,821.79.

A Level 6 felony charge of theft would have allowed Poynter to sentence Fee to six months to 2½ years in prison, but the law also gives judges the discretion to reduce the theft charge to a Class A misdemeanor depending upon extenuating circumstances, including prior convictions.

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Aaron Piper is a photographer and reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at apiper@tribtown.com or 812-523-7057.