COEUR d'ALENE - The former Coeur d'Alene finance employee who pleaded guilty to stealing $365,000 from the city was sentenced to more than three years in prison Monday.
Sheryl Lynn Carroll, 52, will voluntarily surrender in the next four to six weeks to begin serving the 40 month sentence ordered by U.S. District Judge Edward J. Lodge. She was also ordered to pay $365,000 in restitution, and will serve three years supervised probation and work 100 community service hours upon her release from prison.
"This type of crime is committed over and over," Lodge told Carroll, who dabbed her eye with tissue at times during the sentencing, which included impact statements read by her former coworkers. "You had to have thought about the consequences as it was happening, if you got caught."
The sentence nearly matched the high-end of what the pre-sentence report recommended, which was a term between 33 and 41 months.
The judge, along with the U.S. attorney's office and Carroll's former colleagues, said Carroll shattered the public's trust when she stole money over several years from her desk inside City Hall. City officials said Carroll's actions destroyed morale for employees still there.
"We worked hard to build trust as civil servants," Wendy Gabriel, city administrator, told the court. "The defendant, all by herself, took it away."
Carroll was terminated by the city in July after city staff noticed financial irregularities while Carroll was away on vacation. She had been hired in 2002 and stole around $365,000 through 120 fraudulent transfers from 2007 to 2012 as she worked as a payroll coordinator in the city's finance department, according to court reports.
The three vendors Carroll used to defraud the city, according to the court records, are the Voluntary Employee Benefit Association, International Association of Fire Fighters and United Heritage Mutual insurance company. The accounts were a part of "payroll deductions and employee benefits."
Carroll wired $5,000 into her account every month as she committed the thefts, while covering her tracks by making the city's books balance. Carroll had also been convicted in 1983 in Oregon for stealing from the real estate company for which she had worked, and the pre-sentence report referred to at least one incident where Carroll abused trust as a volunteer for Woodland Middle School, though the specific nature of that incident was unclear during sentencing.
"Nobody but the defendant created this situation," Assistant U.S. Attorney Traci Whelan said, adding that how Carroll spent the money remained "unknown and unexplained."
A choked up Carroll didn't say why she stole the money, but told the court she was seeking help through counseling and faith.
"I am healing from that brokenness that brought me to this place, she said.
"I am very, very sorry for the wrong I did the city of Coeur d'Alene and my fellow employees," she said. "I ask for your forgiveness - everyone that I hurt."
Friends and family of Carroll hugged after the sentence, and some talked with city staff outside the courtroom. Although statute allows 20 years for each of the counts against Carroll, Whelan recommended the judge follow the pre-sentence report. Defense attorney Gary Amendola recommended less jail time than what the report suggested.
Lodge said considering the trust issue was paramount in issuing the sentence.
"The trust that's lost," he said. "It just couldn't be any clearer than what we've heard today."
Carroll pleaded guilty to six counts of wire fraud Nov. 5.
City employees described the devastating feeling of being lied to by a person who they considered a friend, and who carried herself as a religious person. What compounded that was the aftermath of the public not trusting city workers after news of the thefts broke. Some people called for the resignation of top city administration in online discussions.
"I've never seen an action lead to a lower morale than her crime," Mayor Sandi Bloem said, calling it a crime against "thousands of people. She stole with a smile."
"I believe Sheryl is nothing more than a career criminal," an emotional Vonnie Jensen, who worked with Carroll in the finance department, told the court. "She got caught. She didn't surrender."
City staff and the attorney's office said Carroll tried to lie her way through the crime after other employees discovered the financial irregularities. City staff then investigated the entire method behind the "complex" thefts, and implemented safeguards to prevent them from happening again.
In a press release late Monday, Gabriel called the sentencing "fair and just."
"Carroll committed a crime and in the process violated the trust of the public and of her co-workers. She absolutely deserves this punishment," Gabriel said.