ELYRIA — A former employee of the Lorain County Emergency Management Agency was sentenced to 18 months in prison, a month after pleading guilty to charges of theft in office.
Alice Webber, 55, of Amherst, pleaded guilty March 7 to two felony counts of theft in office and felony counts of theft and forgery.
She had served as emergency operations manager for the Emergency Management Agency until her resignation last spring. Webber wrote checks to herself from an account the EMA controlled and cashed them.
Wednesday morning, Webber appeared before Judge Christopher Rothgery for sentencing. Prior to the sentencing, Webber’s attorney, John Gill, tried to explain about her actions.
“My client was employed for Lorain County for over 28 years. She was in emergency management helping people in times of emergency,” Gill said. “The incidents which brought about these charges stem from her very serious physical and mental health conditions.”
Webber is the primary caregiver of her four grandchildren, she suffers from narcolepsy and sleep apnea and she has started treatment at Firelands Counseling Center, Gill said.
When given the opportunity to speak, Webber apologized for her actions.
“I would like to say that I’m sorry for the events. I am getting help at Firelands,” she said. “It’s been a blessing to finally get that help that I needed for several years. I’m sincerely sorry for what I did.”
Webber also said she was willing to pay back “whatever I have to” of the $59,600 she stole. She said she wanted to “get a job and be able to do that.”
Gill said his client doesn’t have any money, though, and asked the judge to sentence her to probation.
“After 28 years of working for the county, she has, essentially, no money at this point. Whatever money she does have at this point, she’s willing to turn over for restitution,” Gill said. “I would just ask that the court sentence her to community control sanctions, allow for her to get the physical and mental health treatment that she needs and allow her to get employment so that she can pay back the balance of any restitution after application of what she does have to offer.”
Rothgery asked Webber what happened with the retirement fund she had accrued as a public employee. Webber said she withdrew the money in the account, which was around $190,000, and put it in an individual retirement account.
She said she now has about $21,000 left of that money, which she said she withdrew in August.
“Am I to understand that of the $190,000 you took, none of it went toward restitution, and yet you now have $21,000 left of it?” Rothgery said.
“That’s correct,” Webber said.
She then asked if she could explain.
“When this first happened and the indictment came out, there was confusion as to my vacation and sick time and the amount I was to pay back as restitution,” Webber said. “That’s why it didn’t get paid back right away. Then we did find out what the amount was, and you’re right, I did not (pay any of the restitution).”
Rothgery then sentenced her to 18 months in prison, and she was taken into custody by a sheriff’s deputy.
County Administrator Jim Cordes had said the funds Webber stole were not county funds.
Last year Tom Kelley, Lorain County Emergency Management Agency and Homeland Security director, said the funds were from the county’s Local Emergency Planning Committee, which is responsible for the handling of hazardous chemicals in the county along with the operations of the county’s Technical Response Team.
The committee and group are funded by each jurisdiction — cities, villages and townships — within the county with the exception of the city of Lorain, Kelley said. Each jurisdiction’s share of the funding is based on its population.
Kelley had said the funds were handled by the EMA, which pays for all the equipment, calibrations and upkeep for the response team.
Kelley said he received a call from the bank telling him that it had noticed “something odd with the amount of money in those checks.” He said the checks supposedly were being cashed at a gas station.
Cordes said the checks were cashed with Kelley’s signature on them, but Kelley said he hadn’t signed them.
After Kelley received the call, he immediately reported it to Cordes, who then contacted the Sheriff’s Department. An investigation ensued.
Kelley said Webber resigned from her position the next week.
According to the indictment, Webber wrote the checks from January 2016 until May 31. Cordes said several such checks were written.
The counts of theft in office on the indictment also included stipulations of withholding of retirement benefits for restitution.