2015-07-21 / Front Page

Former Auditor Wants To Plead Guilty, Avoid Possible Jail Time

by Michael Stanley
Staff Writer

Angie Lawson, former county auditor, deputy auditor, and county councilwoman has filed paperwork to plead guilty to stealing from Owen County taxpayers.

Lawson, 57, was arrested at her Dillman Road home west of Gosport and formally indicated on five counts of theft in February by a grand jury in the United States District Court of the Southern District of Indiana.

She allegedly used the $310,000 she stole from March 1, 2010 through December 31, 2014 to purchase personal items ranging from vacations, jewelry, toys and gift cards to food and alcohol.

Released on her own recognizance in February, Lawson’s initial April 13 trial date was postponed until Tuesday, July 14, until the petition to plea led to the court vacating the trial date.

According to Tim Horty of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Lawson’s plea will not be official until the court schedules a hearing and formally accepts the plea. Horty noted that the court typically doesn’t need long to accept a petition to plead guilty.

According to the petition filed June 11, 2015 by Terre Haute attorney Jessie A. Cook, Angela Monika Lawson, 57, Gosport, has received a copy of the indictment, read and discussed the document with Cook and understands every accusation made against her.

The petition further states no government representative at the state, federal or local level has promised or suggested she would receive a lighter sentence, probation or form of leniency if she pleads guilty.

“I hope to receive probation, but am prepared to accept any punishment permitted by law which the court may see fit to impose,” she attested. “However, I respectfully request the court consider in mitigation of punishment at the time of sentencing the fact that by voluntarily pleading guilty, I have saved the government and the court the expense and inconvenience of a trial. I understand that before it imposes sentence, the court will address me personally and ask me if I wish to make a statement on my behalf and to present any information in mitigation of punishment.”

Lawson notes she wishes to plead guilty as charged to counts one through five of the indictment. She also requested and consented to a presentence investigation by the probation officers of the United States district courts prior to the entry of her formal plea.

During a press conference held in February, Assistant U.S. District Attorney and Senior Litigation Counsel Bradley Blackington said 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 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.”

The court has not yet accepted or rejected Lawson’s request, and no future court date has been set.

If convicted, Lawson faces up to 10 years in prison on each of the five counts.

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