Merrillville court clerk stole thousands in bond money
BY TERESA AUCH SCHULTZ email@example.com February 11, 2014 4:58PM
Updated: February 12, 2014 2:02AM
The theft of more than $175,000 from Merrillville wasn’t the first time the former town employee stole from the public, federal attorneys say in a new court filing.
According to the government’s sentencing memorandum filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Hammond, Virlissa Crenshaw worked at the School City of East Chicago before she took a job as clerk for the Merrillville Town Court.
The State Board of Accounts discovered during an audit 10 years ago that showed she stole $18,000 worth of book rental and gym fees that were supposed to go to the East Chicago school district, according to the filing.
Then, in Merrillville, Crenshaw pleaded guilty in 2012 to stealing $176,763 in bail bonds that Merrillville Town Court defendants had paid, starting at least in 2008. The overall loss is believed to be more than $300,000, though, because Crenshaw tried to cover her tracks with what was essentially a Ponzi scheme — using bond money from other defendants to pay back the defendants she stole from. Crenshaw, who also pleaded guilty to filing a false income tax return, is set to be sentenced Feb. 24 in federal court.
Lake County Judge George Paras, who hired Crenshaw when he was the Merrillville judge, could not be reached for comment.
Prosecutors argue in the new filing that not only did Crenshaw steal from a public body more than once but she also essentially made an unknown number of criminal cases disappear. At the time, Merrillville would scan bond receipts into a computer system, an act that would generate a docket number for the case and register the case within the court system.
However, because Crenshaw was turning over receipts for the bond payments she was taking, the criminal cases — made up of misdemeanors, such as battery and driving while intoxicated — were never charged. Those charges came with a two-year statute of limitations, meaning many of them couldn’t be tried once Crenshaw’s criminal activity came to light because too much time had passed, the filing says.
The government is asking that Crenshaw serve 30 to 37 months in prison, noting that she committed her crime just after a former Merrillville employee, Rosemary Barath, was sentenced to nine months of home confinement and no prison time for stealing $300,000 from the town.
“Undeterred by Ms. Barath’s prosecution, Ms. Crenshaw’s criminal conduct occurred at best while Ms. Barath’s case was pending, and at worst, after Ms. Barath had received no actual jail time for her theft,” the government’s filing says.
The government is asking that Crenshaw also pay $176,763 in restitution to the town and $55,203 to the IRS.