SKOWHEGAN — A former clerk at the Somerset County District Attorney’s Office pleaded guilty Friday to a felony theft charge involving what the prosecutor said was more than $90,000 in supervision and restitution fees paid to the office.

Julie Smith, 58, originally pleaded not guilty to the charge after she was indicted in September. She changed her plea Friday before Superior Court Justice Robert Mullen, who asked Smith if she understood what the charges were against her.

“Is that what happened?” Mullen asked her after the charges of embezzlement and concealment were read by Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin.

“Yes, your honor,” Smith replied.

Smith also pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of tampering with public records — the office’s accounting database — to conceal her embezzlement. That charge is punishable by up to 364 days in jail.

The theft of $91,345 in fees paid to the district attorney’s office occurred from April 2010 to Oct. 9, 2014, and spurred a change in the way the district attorney offices in both Somerset and Kennebec counties accept payment.

In detailing the aggravating and the mitigating factors of the theft charge, a class B felony punishable by a maximum of 10 years in prison, Robbin told the judge the state was seeking a prison term of three years, with all but 18 months suspended, followed by three years of probation upon her release. The state also is seeking full restitution of $91,345.

Mullen, noting that Smith has continuing medical problems, agreed to postpone sentencing until she and her doctors have determined what her treatment will be. Sentencing could come later this month or in June, and the situation is to be reviewed on a day-to-day basis, the judge said.

The prosecutor in the case is an assistant attorney general because the Somerset County District Attorney’s Office is named as the victim in the indictment.

In the victim impact statement, Somerset County District Attorney Maeghan Maloney said when fees for supervision and restitution are stolen, the county has to increase taxes, and that creates a domino effect for every town in the county. Smith was given a position of trust, breached that trust and should suffer the highest penalty possible, Maloney said.

“When Somerset County increases taxes every single person in the county is affected — every elderly person living on a fixed income and every child whose parents both have to work in order to keep a roof over their head and food on the table,” Maloney wrote to Mullen. “This is the harm Julie Smith caused.”

Compounding the harm, Maloney wrote, is the fact that Smith was victimizing people who already had been the victim of a crime. The money she stole was money defendants paid to compensate victims for their medical bills, mental health treatment, personal items, car repair and home repair.

“She knew these people had already been harmed once but still she decided her family vacation to Disney World was more important than giving the victims the money they need to pay their bills and replace their stolen items,” Maloney wrote. “She should be ordered to pay back every penny she took. Anything less allows her to profit from her crime.”

Smith told investigators she used the stolen money to pay her taxes and spent it on “nothing in particular, just, you know, basic living,” according to a sentencing memorandum by from the attorney general’s office.

Smith’s lawyer, Woody Hanstein, of Farmington, said the amount has been exaggerated by the prosecution and restitution should be closer to $69,000, not $91,000.

Either way, the theft exceeds the threshold of a class B felony crime and the sentencing guidelines that come with it. Paying the money back will be another matter, Hanstein said outside the courtroom.

“The practical matter is her ability to pay a lot of money, so we’re looking into that and some other considerations,” he said. “One of things the court will need to look at is her ability to pay restitution. To have a court order that says a pauper needs to pay a million dollars doesn’t do anything, and the law is meant to guard against that. When we get closer to sentencing, we’ll try to sort those things out.”

Smith pleaded not guilty to the charges following her indictment by a Somerset County Grand jury in September.

Smith, who had worked at the district attorney’s office since 2009, resigned after the investigation began in October 2014.

Officials began investigating following the apparent loss of $300 in supervision fees in October 2014. An audit determined that receipt books were missing. Smith did not follow routine procedure and paper-clip the money together to prevent the bills getting mixed with other money and did not place a sticky note on the money indicating who paid and how much, authorities said.

The investigation into the missing money in part led Maloney, who is also district attorney in Kennebec County, to tell employees to stop taking cash and personal check payments at her office. The district attorney’s offices in the two counties now accept only cashier’s checks and money orders.

A search warrant executed by state police included the Smiths’ home on Blackwell Hill Road in Madison, three motor vehicles registered to Julie and Mike Smith, Smith’s cellphone and any bags, purses or containers in Smith’s possession.

“She’s done the right thing,” Hanstein said of the change of plea. “She made a mistake and she’s owned up to it, but she’s dealing with some serious medical issues.”

Hanstein would not elaborate on his client’s medical problems.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow

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