SKOWHEGAN — A former clerk in the Somerset County District Attorney’s Office will serve 16 months in prison for embezzling more than $90,000 in supervision and restitution fees paid to the office, a crime that prosecutors said burdened some victims, eroded trust and sparked a new payment policy.

Julie Smith, 58, of Skowhegan, pleaded guilty May 6 to a charge of Class B felony theft and was sentenced Friday in Somerset County Superior Court to three years in prison with all but 16 months suspended. She was also sentenced to six months concurrently for a misdemeanor tampering with public records charge and must pay $60,000 in restitution.

“I would like to apologize to the district attorney, my co-workers and the court,” Smith said, wiping away tears. “A lot of trust was placed in me and I failed horribly. I am truly sorry.”

Smith’s remorse, combined with her lack of a criminal record, her willingness to pay back the money she took and medical problems that might be compromised by her time in prison all factored into the sentence, according to Somerset County Superior Court Justice Robert Mullen, who also said that Smith’s crime was aggravated by the fact that she was employed by a public agency whose mission was to help victims of other crimes recover.

“What I find extremely offensive is a situation where a member of the team who is supposed to be protecting the public from harm and prosecuting wrongdoers — one of the ‘good guys’ — instead goes rogue and becomes a member of the opposite team,” Mullen said to Smith. “Victims of crimes who were supposed to be receiving restitution to minimize the impact against them were instead re-victimized by your crime.”

Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin echoed that message, saying that Smith “re-victimized the victims her office was charged with serving,” but that she felt the sentence handed down by Mullen was appropriate.

The state’s priority now is in making sure that victims who did not receive the money they were owed because of Smith’s crime are paid, said Robbin, who is also chief of the office’s Financial Crimes Division.

LOST TRUST, MONEY

As an office clerk, Smith was responsible for collecting restitution — money a judge orders a defendant to pay to the victim of a crime to compensate for losses — and supervision fees, which are collected from defendants who are on probation or being otherwise supervised by the court while not in custody.

Instead of depositing money as she was supposed to, Smith would use one victim’s money to reimburse another or divert cash and checks intended for one account to another so that victims would get partial payments but not get paid in full, Robbin said. She also entered false information into a computer accounting program to cover up her theft.

Bank records showed evidence of Smith taking trips to Disney World and Cancun and eating out at restaurants in Waterville several times a week, according to Robbin, who said the records suggest that she was using the money she took to pay for discretionary expenses.

The district attorney’s office has not yet identified all of the victims of Smith’s theft, but on Friday the court heard from two of them.

One woman had been a victim of domestic violence whose former husband was ordered to pay her $1,000 to repair a window he had broken, she said. Although the man paid the money, the woman said in court Friday that she never got any of it. For three years she called the district attorney’s office asking where the money was, and every time she was told, “We’ll look into it,” she said.

“After three years, I gave up. I left it alone because I figured it wasn’t going to happen,” she said.

For three months between January and March, she covered the broken window with plastic wrap.

“My kids were freezing and the moisture rotted out my home,” the woman said. “Not only did she steal from me, but she stole from my kids as well.”

Lacey Smith, administrative assistant for the Somerset Humane Society, told the court the shelter didn’t get $450 they were owed in restitution because of Julie Smith’s thefts.

“We need all the money we can get to care for these animals,” Lacey Smith said. “The money that was stolen could have gone to spaying and neutering animals or medications.”

In addition to individual victims, all of the taxpayers of Somerset County were victimized by Smith’s crime in having to pay additional taxes to fund her salary, which should have been covered by the money she was taking, said Kennebec and Somerset County District Attorney Maeghan Maloney, who also spoke at Friday’s sentencing.

“It’s really upsetting to me that someone I thought was a great public servant was breaking the public’s trust,” said Maloney, who was elected district attorney after Smith was already employed by the county and said she had never seen any reason to change operations in the office prior to October 2014.

The case prompted the district attorney’s office to stop taking cash payments in early 2015, and Maloney said Friday that they are working on implementing a new computer system — another additional cost for taxpayers — but it could take up to a year before it is in use.

In addition, Maloney said her office has changed other practices to also ensure more checks and balances, including dividing the collection of restitution and supervision fees by three people rather than just one person.

HOW IT HAPPENED

Part of the reason Smith was able to get away with her theft for so long was because it started at around the same time that the district attorney’s office saw a natural increase in supervision fees as the DA’s office began relying more on deferred dispositions as a method of resolving cases. A deferred disposition allows a defendant to have their case dismissed after satisfactorily completing a probationary period.

Maloney said she believes Smith recognized that cash flow was increasing and others would likely not be aware of how much money she should be collecting due to the changes. “It gave her a larger collection of money to steal from without the county noticing,” she said.

Smith’s attorney, Walter Hanstein, said after the sentencing that although he had hoped for a “significantly lower” sentence, Smith also understood the seriousness of her crime.

In court Friday he said she “has already punished herself a great deal over the last year” and is “overwhelmed with shame,” so any sentence would be a relief.

Smith is scheduled to start her sentence Oct. 17 after Mullen granted her time on Friday to deal with medical problems — she has arthritis, anemia and other conditions, according to Hanstein — before she reports to the Somerset County Jail.

Smith declined to comment outside the court Friday.

During her time as an office clerk, Smith was responsible for generating either a hand-written or computer receipt for cash payments and would put the money in one of two bags that she kept in her desk, according to court records.

The money was collected each month by an office manager, who would generate a ledger sheet showing each defendant who had paid and the amount of money they paid for the restitution fees and a similar collection sheet for the supervision fees.

The office manager and county treasurer were responsible for checking that the amount of money deposited in either the bank or at the treasurer’s office matched the ledger sheets, but no one ever compared whether the amount of money collected matched what was recorded in the computer system, according to court records.

Meanwhile, Smith was keeping some of the cash payments, diverting others to the wrong accounts to cover up her theft and falsifying records in the computer system.

In October 2014, a clerk in the office noticed $300 missing from the supervision fees as she was making change for a defendant. She looked the transaction up in the computer system and found a record of it there, but the money was not to be found.

When Office Manager Lisa Davis asked Smith about the missing money, she told her she couldn’t remember where she had put it, then presented Davis with $300 from her desk in different denominations than what was missing.

Davis discovered at the same time that some of the office’s receipt books were missing and that one book showed a discrepancy between what was collected and what was deposited.

Smith initially denied taking any money from the office, but then changed her story saying she was trying to pay off a real estate tax lien, according to the court records. She later told police that she had used it to pay her taxes and for “nothing in particular, just you know, basic living.”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

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Twitter: @rachel_ohm