Woman sent to prison for stealing $366,000

Judge exceeds guidelines with six-year sentence

February 04, 2003|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

A 31-year-old Columbia woman who stole $366,000 from a national temporary staffing company by submitting fake invoices was sentenced Friday to six years in prison.

Tiffany F. Powers' behavior, including the detail and organization of the scheme and the fact that she appeared to function well at her job, was "incompatible" with her claims that she took the money to feed a drug habit, Howard County Circuit Judge James B. Dudley said before imposing a sentence well above state sentencing guidelines, which recommend a range from probation to 6 months.

"When there's an addiction ... you usually have other, telltale signs," he said. Instead, the thefts appeared to be a "willful, deliberate and premeditated -- conscious -- scheme to steal."

Powers pleaded guilty to felony theft by scheme in November.

In nearly 28 months, she stole an average of $13,000 a month from her employer, the Hanover-based Allegis Group, continuing to submit invoices for a made-up catering company even after she was laid off by using the name of a fictitious employee she had created in the system, prosecutors said.

Powers started taking the money three years after she was hired, according to court documents.

During the thefts, which started in November 1999, about 50 percent of the company's employees were laid off, Assistant State's Attorney Lynn Marshall told Dudley.

Company officials blamed the layoffs on the national economy, according to news reports.

At the same time, Powers' bank statements show debit card charges for almost-daily meals at restaurants and a large-screen television purchase, according to court documents.

"This is a case of sheer greed," said Marshall, who asked Dudley to impose a 15-year sentence and suspend all but eight years.

"The defendant was raising her standard of living by stepping on the backs of her co-workers," Marshall said.

But Powers' lawyer, Charles Fuller, maintained that the thefts fed an out-of-control drug habit sparked by a diagnosis of breast cancer in the summer of 2000 -- after Powers started taking money from Allegis.

The addiction started with painkillers and moved on to marijuana and cocaine, Fuller said.

Powers, who is married and has two children, is undergoing drug treatment, he said.

The money did not go toward an "extravagant lifestyle," but rather to buy drugs, said Fuller, who asked Dudley for a probationary sentence.

"She is trying to get her life back together again," he said. "She is in the process of trying to become a productive citizen again as opposed to a drain."

Powers, of the 9400 block of Kilimanjaro Road, worked as a human resources representative in Allegis' Columbia office at the time of the thefts and would submit fake invoices for Powers Catering, prosecutors said.

She had authorization approval while she worked at the company, Marshall has said.

Her dismissal in September 2001 was not related to the thefts, lawyers have said.

On Friday, a sobbing Powers insisted that she "fell into a bad situation" -- drug abuse and depression.

"I am truly sorry," she said. "I couldn't help it."

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