Disabled 78-year-old woman gets Jacksonville house arrest in embezzlement case

An elderly, disabled woman who had been inflating her paycheck is confined to her home for two years and must pay back the $161,000 she took from a church she worked for. The missing money was discovered after the Terry Road Baptist Church upgraded its accounting system, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. An audit also found that Betty Barnes, 78, had been increasing her paychecks since at least 2006 and was cashing checks that had been marked as voided. Barnes must pay $3,000 within a week and stay on an aggressive repayment schedule; otherwise she could end up in prison.

Barnes pleaded guilty to running a scheme to defraud and to grand theft in Jacksonville. The amount she admitted to taking made the theft charge a Duval County first degree felony – punishable by up to 30 years in prison. Putting a wheelchair-bound 78-year-old in a state prison would likely cost the taxpayers more than Barnes stole. The key now is whether Barnes will be able to make the payments. Her sentence prohibits her from holding a “position of trust” in which she is responsible for handling money. That clause is likely moot, since the chances of Barnes landing a job in that role with these blotches on her record are not good. The flaw in many pleas agreements of this nature is the defendant is essentially set up for failure. The defense team is often backed into a corner because, if the offer is turned down, the alternative is likely prison.

One thing to keep in mind: if you violate your terms of probation in Jacksonville, Florida, you are then exposed to the entire penalty for your crime, not just what the state was offering at the time. For example, let’s say Barnes’ offer if she turned down the Duval County house arrest deal was a year in prison. If she can’t make the payments and is found to violation probation, she could be sentenced to up to 30 years – not just the one year that was on the table. The first instinct is always to avoid prison, and that’s understandable. But, in some Florida criminal cases, it can be beneficial to serve your time and move on. Our Jacksonville Criminal Defense Attorney will work to strike a deal that you can live within and stick to that will decrease your chances of landing back in court.

If you or a loved one needs a criminal defense attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm, PA at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our Duval County Theft Lawyer is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.