An Augusta woman who claims the federal prison sentence she received is longer than promised is making her case at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston on Wednesday.

A three-judge panel is expected to hear an attorney for Joann C. Rittall, 46, argue that Rittall got 63 months in prison on the basis of her health treatment needs — she has anorexia nervosa, a severe eating disorder — and that she should have been given a shorter term in prison or probation instead.

During sentencing, the judge, U.S. District Court Judge John A. Woodcock Jr., said, “This defendant actually, by all the medical records — and I carefully reviewed them — does well when she is hospitalized. She actually bears a greater risk of physical problems when she’s left to her own devices. So when she’s hospitalized, she gains weight, and she is overseen, and she’s controlled by other people, and she doesn’t have the same risk that she has when she is out of the hospital and has an incentive, at least in the run up to this sentence, to manipulate the system.”

Attorney Kerry Anne Haberlin is representing Rittall, who is serving her sentence at the Carswell Federal Medical Center in Fort Worth, Texas.

On Aug. 15, 2013, in U.S. District Court in Bangor, Rittall pleaded guilty to false claims against the government and identity theft and waived her right to appeal a sentence of 46 months or less.

Rittall admitted stealing personal data from individuals — many of them fellow Alcoholics Anonymous members, according to court documents — and using it to fraudulently file income tax returns without their knowledge and claiming refunds in their names for tax years 2008-2012.

However, shortly after that guilty plea took place, Rittall was charged with theft, which led to an enhanced sentence.

In a written brief, Rittall’s attorney writes: “One year and 5 months was an unreasonably steep price to pay for the alleged theft of less than $5 of sleep aid.”

In a transcript from Nov. 19, 2015 — a sentencing hearing delayed more than two years because of Rittall’s health — Woodock described the fraud scheme where Rittall offered to help people file income tax returns and claims for the circuit breaker programs in 2005. Then, using their personal information, she filed fraudulent tax returns for the next six years for the 27 people plus herself and had the refunds put into her account or ones she could access.

The judge noted Rittall became personally acquainted with many of them through AA meetings she participated in.

The judge calculated the total from the fraudulent returns at more than $435,000 and said the government paid out almost $239,000. Woodcock said there was no suggestion Rittall would ever be able to repay the restitution even though she has been receiving Social Security disability payments and food stamps.

Woodcock noted: “The defendant’s fraudulent conduct was not aberrational. Instead, it is consistent with a deplorable history of thefts, frauds that continued even after she pleaded guilty to this offense.”

He also said, “She’s had anorexia since she was in her early teens. She’s been in prison, she knows what prison is, and she knew what the risk was, but she went ahead and committed this elaborate fraud, stealing nearly a quarter of a million dollars from her fellow citizens.”

She began her prison sentence in late 2015, and her release date is July 1, 2020, according to a federal Bureau of Prisons website.

The government’s brief, by Assistant U.S. Attorney Margaret McGaughey, says the 63-month sentence, the minimum guideline sentence, was reasonable and that Woodcock “appropriately considered Rittall’s need for medical treatment.”

Both documents say Rittall developed anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder, at age 14 and was treated several times at inpatient mental health facilities.

Along with a host of other medical problems, including alcohol and substance abuse, and various tumors, Rittall’s weight was listed at 69 pounds while she was awaiting sentencing.

Several health care providers reported concerns she was sabotaging her own health — through the use of laxatives, inducing vomiting and refusing food or drink — to avoid prison.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

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