FARMINGTON – The former secretary who admitted to stealing $85,000 from the Mineral Area Drug Task Force will spend time in prison.
In February, on the day her trial was scheduled, Deanna Springer-McCord, 41, of Bonne Terre, pleaded guilty to the Class B felony charge of stealing.
For Prosecuting Attorney Wendy Wexler Horn, the agreement made then was simple – it was either Springer-McCord pays $85,000 and spends four months in prison, or she will receive a sentence of 10 years in prison.
On Friday, however, Springer-McCord’s attorney, James Pennoyer, didn’t quite see it that way. Pennoyer told Circuit Court Judge Kenneth W. Pratte that his client was prepared to pay $17,000.
He argued an auditor determined $17,000 was the state’s money and the other $68,000 was federal money, which they would turn over to the federal court when she is sentenced federally May 4.
&#8220That was not the deal,” Horn said.
She said the agreement was that Springer-McCord would pay restitution in full by her sentencing hearing and then Horn would work with the parties involved to make sure the restitution was distributed correctly.
Six members of the Mineral Area Drug Task Force stood behind Horn during the sentencing to show the judge they supported the plea agreement.
After Horn, Wade Stuart, coordinator of the task force, and another task officer addressed the judge, Pennoyer asked, &#8220Everyone from the state is done? It’s my turn?”
Pennoyer said the Probation and Parole’s sentencing assessment report was one of the best &#8220ever passed in front of your honor.” It recommended the judge grant probation.
Pennoyer said Springer-McCord has taken responsibility for her actions, but lives in the real world where it is absolutely impossible to come up with $85,000 in two months.
He argued that Horn didn’t have the authority to demand payment on a federal debt when the federal case is pending.
He asked the judge to place his client on probation, pointing out Springer-McCord had never once been in trouble before.
Pennoyer reminded the judge that the state couldn’t have it both ways. Horn couldn’t sentence Springer-McCord and get the money the task force said they needed.
&#8220It doesn’t work that way,” he said. &#8220… You can’t have it both ways.”
Horn said it was not just about the restitution and the money, it was about how the crime has impacted, not just the task force, but entire communities.
&#8220Had she come up with the restitution, then the deal – the agreement would be different,” she said. &#8220It’s about what she did and what is deserving for the crime.”
The coordinator of the drug task force then stepped up to say that Springer-McCord may have taken more than $85,000. He said there is evidence that the crime started as early as 1998.
After hearing statements from both sides, Judge Pratte asked Horn for her stance on the 120 shock incarceration program which would allow Springer-McCord to be released on five years of supervised probation after she served 120 days in prison.
Horn said she was opposed to the opportunity for Springer-McCord to get probation.
&#8220There’s no information to suggest she even has the ability to pay money like that (the restitution amount),” Horn said.
Judge Pratte said since the state was against it, he was not inclined to consider it. He then sentenced Springer-McCord to 10 years in prison.
The judge told Springer-McCord he thought of it as a violation of public trust similar to how he would have looked at a law enforcement officer committing a crime.
&#8220It was a violation that took all the people’s money for your own use,” he said. &#8220Had you paid as you indicated you would, the outcome might have been different for you.”
After the sentencing, Horn said Springer-McCord had several months while her case was pending to come up with at least part of the restitution. She was not convinced Springer-McCord was even prepared to pay the $17,000 she offered to pay.
Horn said Springer-McCord was in a position of trust and was given the responsibility of handling a large amount of money for this multi-county drug enforcement agency. She said Springer-McCord misused her authority for her own personal gain and because of that, thousands of people in the community have been affected.
&#8220The task force has a hard job and they do a very good job,” Horn said. &#8220(Because of what Springer-McCord did) they’ve been limited in what they can do to serve the community. The impact is extreme. It is not something that should be taken lightly. I think the punishment fits the crime.”
Stuart and the other task force officers were satisfied with the judge’s decision.
&#8220Wendy (Wexler Horn) did a phenomenal job,” Stuart said. &#8220… It was a tragedy for everyone involved but justice was served.”
A Struggling Agency
Last year, the task force initiated 451 investigations with 408 arrests for drug offenses and 52 arrests for other types of offenses such as assault and child endangerment.
Informants made $11,328 worth of drug buys in 2005, not just for meth but other drugs like marijuana, cocaine and prescription drugs. They seized an estimated $342,385 worth of drugs.
As a result of investigations last year, 96 meth labs were destroyed – mostly in St. Francois, Washington and Ste. Genevieve counties.
In addition, 219 ounces of marijuana, 5.5 ounces of cocaine, and 229 ounces of meth, 2,803 pseudoephedrine pills and 237 gallons of anhydrous ammonia were seized.
That’s what the limited amount of money allowed them to do.
Stuart, who has worked for the task force since 1994 and been the coordinator since 1999, said they have been struggling ever since the investigation into the $85,000 theft began.
Stuart said they have been unable to hire a new secretary so he and another officer are now spending most of their time doing administrative duties, rather than investigative work. He said officers have been working long hours and over-time.
He said there has been constant concern that the task force wouldn’t be able to survive. He said this month was the first time in more than a year that they were able to pay their bills on time.
&#8220Things are starting to get better,” he said.
But they still owe St. Francois County $17,000 for salaries.
Not only have they eliminated the secretary position but there is one fewer task force officer.
Currently, they have three task force officers.
&#8220We should have four task officers,” he said. &#8220We currently have three and we are not going to rehire that (fourth) person.”
In addition to those three positions, the task force also has six troopers that are funded and provided by the highway patrol. At one time, they had a total of 12 officers to work with the task force. Now that number, is down to nine.
He said officers have used their own money to purchase toiletries and other things needed around the office.
Not only did they lose the money, Stuart believes their reputation has suffered.
&#8220The task force image received a black eye …” he said.
But the theft hasn’t been their only problem. Officers said they have taken hits in their budget for the past three years.
The task force, as well as other task forces in the state, expects to receive a 30 percent cut in funding next fiscal year, which begins July 1.
The task forces are being told that they are going to be cut 50 percent the following fiscal year. However, Stuart said there is also talk about refunding the grant so that they would actually get more than they received in the 2005-06 fiscal year.
Besides grant funding, the task force receives funding from the Missouri State Highway Patrol and money from membership dues from participating agencies.
Stuart said last year, one of the larger agencies didn’t pay for six months of service. That agency chose not to be a member this year.
Administrative oversight for the task force is provided by its board of trustees. The board is made up of representatives from the local participating agencies.