CLEVELAND, Ohio – A judge has sentenced a former Maple Heights high school secretary to spend 18 months in jail for stealing more than $ 40,000 of school money intended for the class of 2018.
Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Rick Bell told Karla Hopkins, 51, that she made her theft worse by liquidating her public employee pension shortly after the district discovered the theft . This decision prevented the state from seizing the money to reimburse the district.
Hopkins pleaded guilty in June to one count of office theft, a third degree felony. She risked probation to three years in prison.
Hopkins stole the money between July 2017 and June 2018 from programs that included Class of 2018 dues, directory fees, automotive technology, student council, flag drill crews, and fines for books and identity badges, according to prosecutors.
Cuyahoga County Assistant District Attorney James Gutierrez has asked Bell to impose 9 and 12 months in jail.
“She stole children, Your Honor,” Gutierrez said. “I don’t know why she did this.”
Defense attorney Bret Jordan told Bell that Hopkins, who had no criminal history, lost a bout with mental health issues and a gambling addiction when she started stealing money. She completed an eight-week inpatient treatment program after her arrest and enrolled in a job development program that aligned her with a new job she was supposed to start on Tuesday. She also gave Jordan $ 5,000 to start repaying the money she stole, the lawyer said.
Jordan said that if Bell sentenced Hopkins to jail, it would be more difficult for her to reimburse the district because she would lose her job and have a harder time finding work after she was released from prison. Jordan said she could fall into “a free fall” if she didn’t continue to receive mental health and spiritual counseling that would help her get her life back on track.
Reverend Cynthia Rogers of the Open Door Baptist Missionary Church told Bell that Hopkins repeatedly expressed remorse and desire for change during spiritual counseling sessions.
Hopkins repeatedly apologized in court on Tuesday.
“I want to reimburse the students in the city of Maple Heights,” she said. “I am very sorry for the schools in the city of Maple Heights for not living up to the trust they have placed in me. I had a lot of friends there. I am so sorry for all of them.
Bell quickly asked Hopkins about her pension and how much money she had withdrawn after her arrest. She finally said she took it all off.
Ohio law requires that any money left in the public retirement account of a person convicted of theft in office be paid for restitution. Hopkins told Bell she didn’t know the law and took the money out to pay her bills because she lost her job.
“You knew you had stolen money,” Bell said. “You didn’t use that money to pay the restitution you knew you owed.”
Bell told Hopkins that she made her situation worse by withdrawing money from her account.
“I understand and am grateful that you are embarking on a journey to improve yourself,” the judge said. “But I think even your pastor would agree that there must be consequences for your actions.”
Hopkins’ conviction comes a day after another public employee who stole nearly $ 250,000 over 20 years in the village of Chagrin Falls was released on probation.
Debbie Bosworth, a clerk in the village’s utilities and construction services, has argued indisputably 22 counts, including second degree felony theft in office fees. She admitted to stealing more than $ 20,000 a year as residents paid their water bills in cash. Bosworth resigned from the village shortly after village authorities caught her in 2019 and began paying back the stolen money before she was charged. She also kept her pension intact and allowed prosecutors to seize more than $ 200,000.
Common Pleas Judge Hollie Gallagher sentenced Bosworth to two years probation.