Former HealthNet workers sentenced
Two former employees of HealthNet, including the accounting director, will spend time behind bars for stealing more than $57,000 from the company.
Accountant Meredith Ann Collier, 41, of Scott Depot, will be incarcerated for one to three years in state prison after pleading guilty to felony embezzlement. Tina Vance, 41, of Scott Depot, was sentenced to six months and one day at South Central Regional Jail for conspiracy.
Their husbands, Mark Vance and John Collier, were also charged in the scheme involving the air services provider from April to December 2011 and were sentenced to probation.
Collier wrote checks from HealthNet's account to herself, her husband, his construction company, her son and to the Vances. She said she first took the money to help with her bills and later obtained money for Tina Vance, who was in financial trouble.
Vance worked for HealthNet as a data entry clerk.
Kanawha Circuit Judge Carrie Webster disregarded prosecutors' recommendation that all four be given probation. She agreed instead with HealthNet President Clinton Burley that the crime demanded a strong punishment.
Burley said the embezzled funds hurt the nonprofit company's ability to provide transportation services to hospitals for those who needed it.
He called all four thieves but aimed his harshest words at Meredith Collier, who had handled HealthNet's finances for little more than a year before he discovered the missing money.
"You have disrespected yourself, your profession, your community and your children," Burley said. "It is inexcusable and today will be the day you are punished."
Webster devoted nearly three and a half hours to the sentencing hearing, probing the defendants for details of the embezzlement and attempting to understand their roles. She said she was frustrated with the different versions of their stories.
She grilled the four, asking repeatedly about how many checks they cashed and what they did with the money.
The two women blamed each other and disputed the amount of money they kept for themselves.
Vance said she believed the checks were bonuses for doing her job ahead of deadlines. But Collier said that once Vance learned of the first unauthorized check, she demanded to benefit from the fraud.
Webster asked Tina Vance, "Some of these checks were for $5,000 and $7,000 - that's a lot of key entries. What did you do with it?"
Vance's responses were unclear and she seemed confused. Later, Webster asked her court-appointed attorney if she was heavily medicated. He said that she was and that she suffered from some neurological disability.
She said of Vance's plea agreement, which resulted in the felony charge being dismissed, "You got a good deal. I don't believe you are as naive as you claim to be."
The judge was also unhappy with answers she got from Meredith Collier.
"What did you do with all this money?" Webster asked her.
"I kept my car from being re-possessed," said Collier, a mother of three. "I paid bills."
But Collier said she accepted full responsibility for the crime, and she turned to face Burley in the courtroom and apologized.
Before working at HealthNet, Collier was director of accounting at St. Francis Hospital.
The judge criticized the husbands, who claimed they were unaware of the embezzlement even though they cashed checks made out to them.
In the long hearing, the judge explored numerous aspects of the two families - including substance abuse concerns, domestic violence issues and medical disabilities. She admitted she was hesitant to jail all of the defendants because of their children.
A Putnam County grand jury recently indicted John Collier for third-offense domestic battery and possession of drugs.
In handing down her sentence, Webster said, "This is not a violent crime, but it does have a devastating effect on its victims.
"This is not winning the lottery - $57,000," Webster said. "But there's no one in this room who would say that one or two of these checks would not enhance their style of living for a month.
"Your life is in shambles," she told Meredith Collier. "You were careless and reckless. Your sorry comes really late."
The judge gave both women 30 days to self report to jail, saying she wanted them to have time to work out arrangements for their children's care.
Contact writer Cheryl Caswell at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4832.