2015-02-17 / Front Page

Lawson, Indicted On Five Counts Of Theft, Released Until Trial Date

by Michael Stanley
Staff Writer


Former Owen County Auditor Angie Lawson speaks during a county retreat held in 2012, a year in which she allegedly stole $80,847.03 in county monies. (File Photo) Former Owen County Auditor Angie Lawson speaks during a county retreat held in 2012, a year in which she allegedly stole $80,847.03 in county monies. (File Photo) Former Owen County Auditor Angie Lawson, 56, of Gosport, was indicted by a grand jury last week and taken into federal custody Friday morning on five counts of theft, stemming from her alleged illegal use of Walmart credit cards issued to the County from 2010 through 2014. She faces up to 50 years in federal prison, a maximum of 10 years on each count.

From the period March 1, 2010, through December 31, 2014, Lawson allegedly stole nearly $310,000 and used it to pay personal expenses that included food, alcohol, gift cards, toys, jewelry and vacations.

Lawson’s initial pre-trial conference was held Friday at the United States Attorney’s Office at the Courthouse in Terre Haute. She was later released on her own recognizance pending an April 13, 2015 trial date.


The indictment of Angie Lawson was formally announced at the United States Attorney’s Office at the Courthouse in Terre Haute during a press conference Friday afternoon. Pictured left to right: Indiana State Police Public Information Officer Joe Watts, special state prosecutor Robert Cline of Morgan County, Assistant U.S. Attorney Bradley Blackington, Indiana State Board of Accounts Examiner Paul Joyce, and U.S. Postal Inspector Ken Miller. (Staff Photo) The indictment of Angie Lawson was formally announced at the United States Attorney’s Office at the Courthouse in Terre Haute during a press conference Friday afternoon. Pictured left to right: Indiana State Police Public Information Officer Joe Watts, special state prosecutor Robert Cline of Morgan County, Assistant U.S. Attorney Bradley Blackington, Indiana State Board of Accounts Examiner Paul Joyce, and U.S. Postal Inspector Ken Miller. (Staff Photo) The case will be prosecuted by Assistant U.S. District Attorney and Senior Litigation Counsel Bradley Blackington, who noted that money was siphoned out of various county funds to cover the credit card invoices.

“She was brought into federal court for an initial appearance at 1:00 this afternoon and we agreed to release her on conditions of pre-trial release,” Blackington said during Friday’s press conference. “There is a court order that’s issued, they’re fairly standard – Don’t commit any more crimes, stay in the southern district of Indiana, unless you receive permission from the probation office. In order to detain somebody in federal court, we need to either prove a risk of flight, or a danger to the community. At this point, we didn’t have any evidence she is a risk of flight or there was a danger of violence.”

When asked to comment on Lawson’s arrest, county attorney Richard Lorenz said, “I believe that I can safely say on behalf of all the Owen County officials, that we are pleased that the investigatory stage of the matters with a former auditor have been completed, and that the indictment and prosecution has commenced. We hope that the prosecution will progress swiftly. Unfortunately the effects of actions of the former auditor will take some time to cure regardless of the criminal prosecution.”

Blackington noted that should Lawson plead guilty, she would receive a reduction in sentencing guidelines for accepting responsibility.

“When these cases go through, I’m always prepared to go to trial... if that is the case, let’s bring it on,” he added.

While Lawson served as county auditor for two terms, 2005 through 2008, and from 2009 through 2012, Blackington explained the federal statute of limitation only goes back five years. County records indicate Walmart credit card invoices dating back to 2000.

“Even though we might not be able to charge a theft that may have happened in 2009, there is a concept in sentencing called relevant conduct. At sentencing time, the conduct that occurred before the statute of limitations can be brought into evidence at sentencing,” he said. “If we were able to prove that she stole more money at an earlier date, that amount of loss could be brought into evidence. So they don’t get away scot-free for that type of earlier theft.”

Lawson had the authority to authorize public expenditures on behalf of Owen County during her time serving as auditor from 2005 through 2012, and as chief deputy auditor from January 2013, through August 14, 2014. Additionally, she served as an at-large member of the Owen County Council from January 2013 through December 2014.

“In the scope of her employment, Lawson possessed the authority to make public expenditures on behalf of Owen County through a credit card account at Walmart,” the indictment read. “During her time in office, Lawson had access to separate credit cards which were issued to various authorized buyers. Over the period March 1, 2010 through December 31, 2014, Lawson allegedly stole nearly $310,000 and used it to pay personal expenses that included food, alcohol, gift cards, toys, jewelry and vacations.”

Alleged loss totals include:

•2010 – $36,720.18
•2011 – $56,376.04
•2012 – $80,847.03
•2013 – $79,240.51
•2014 – $56,415.04

Blackington admitted that it will be difficult, if not nearly impossible, to recoup all of the monies stolen from Owen County.

“We will try to do it, we have a financial litigation unit in our office that will try to do it. However, I think another message that is important is pushing for a sentence of imprisonment,” he said. “While we’d like to get as much money back for Owen County as we possibly can, we also want to send a message to other custodians of the public’s trust in township or county government that if they steal money, they’ll go to federal prison.”

Indiana State Police Public Information Officer Joe Watts said Friday was a good day for law enforcement, the state and federal coalition working the case, and Owen County taxpayers.

“Someone who chose to violate the sanctity of public office is now behind bars,” he said. “The message we’d like to send on behalf of (ISP) Superintendent Douglas Carter is we’d like to maintain that partnership with our federal law enforcement partners. We want to continuously strive to make sure our persons who hold public office are held accountable, to a higher standard, accountable for the taxpayers’ money. If you choose to do this ill-will of taking money or committing crimes in public office, we will investigate you, we will track you down and we will make an arrest if possible.”

Indiana State Board of Accounts Examiner Paul Joyce said the annual audit of Owen County was based on higher numbers than those that would be spent on smaller purchases.

“It’s really a big lack of controls that exist within a lot of the communities and the smaller you get, the less controls you have, where people are looking over what’s actually being spent in that county itself,” Joyce said. “It’s not something where we go into an audit and pull every claim or expense to look at them, we’re doing it all on a test basis and then relying upon the controls within a county, and relying upon other people who actually see things going on in the county to say there’s something maybe out of whack here.”

Joyce claimed the bond Lawson had during her tenure as auditor should cover $300,000, however, she was only bonded for $15,000 for the years of 2006 through 2010 and for $30,000 during the years of 2011 and 2012, totaling just $135,000.

“The attorney general will file a claim against the county auditor, they will file a civil claim outside of the process that occurred (Friday),” Joyce added. “They’ll go through a civil proceeding to collect money on that.”

The County, though, does have theft insurance and has received a $50,000 payment for period covering March 2014 through March 2015. Additional claims are pending.

U.S. Postal Inspector Ken Miller also spoke during Friday’s press conference.

“This case is about public trust and deceitful actions that an individual took to steal from law abiding and trusting citizens of Owen County,” he noted. “This was not a crime of opportunity, but a calculated effort by the defendant to conceal her criminal activity, with what she thought was the anonymity of the U.S. Mail. She carefully planned and executed her scheme. What she did not plan for was the cooperation, diligence and communication of local, state and federal investigators for the sake of Owen County, Indiana. This arrest should also be a wake up call for those who would entertain thoughts of criminal activity against the American public and the citizens of Indiana.”

Joyce said because of this case and a similar case in Center Township, the Indiana General Assembly will consider a bill during the 2015 session that aims to better control county-issued credit cards.

“(It) will require all government entities, prior to opening a credit card account or a bank account, get a form from the board of accounts, that they have to bring to the financial institution or to the credit card companies that will then be filled out,” he explained. “It will contain the credit card information, what account information and who opened those accounts. Then we’ll know exactly what accounts are opened up. That is one thing that came from this case. I’m not seeing opposition to it, but I’d hate to predict what the House or Senate is going to do. But at least it is making people aware that it is going on and the legislature is addressing, or trying to address situations like this.”

The collaborative investigation included the United States Postal Inspection Service, Indiana State Police, Indiana State Board of Accounts and special prosecutor Robert Cline of Morgan County.

An indictment is only a charge and is not evidence of guilt. A defendant is presumed innocent and is entitled to a fair trial at which the government must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

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