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Parks employee terminated in theft investigation

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By Lou Elliott Jones

An employee with the Levy County Parks and Recreation Department has been terminated and arrested on a felony charge of swindling the county out of $5,797.63 between May 2009 and December 2012. 

Pamela Sheppard Owens, 58, of Gulf Hammock, has admitted to county officials and a sheriff’s investigator that she took monies collected by county workers at Shell Mound, Henry Beck and Blue Springs county parks and sent to her office, altered the receipts for the cash to lower the reported revenues and pocketed the difference. 

If convicted she would also forfeit any pension in which she was vested from the state. Any contributions she made to the pension fund will be returned to her. 

The discrepancies were discovered by Matt Weldon the Parks and Recreation Department director, who took his concerns to the finance department in the County Clerk’s Office. With their help and the help of an auditor, according to a Levy County Sheriff’s Office report, they uncovered altered receipts and compared them with copies of the receipts held at the parks by workers. A shortage was also found in the department’s petty cash boxes. 

County Coordinator Fred Moody, who filed the sworn complaint on March 7 against Owens, met with Owens along with Human Resources Coordinator Jacqueline Martin and Weldon. On Tuesday, Moody said Owens admitted to taking money and has made restitution to the county for $5,797.63, the amount documented for the 3 ½ year period. 

On Feb. 15, Sgt. Mike Narayan of the Sheriff’s Office interviewed Owens and recorded the interview where she admitted the theft and described how she carried out the scheme. Owens disputed taking over $5,000 claiming the total was closer to $2,000, but said she did not keep documentation of all the money she took, according to Narayan’s report. 

“She said she kept saying year after year she was going to stop. She said her husband became ill, the family fell upon hard times thus her reason for taking the money,” Narayan said in the report. 

Assistant State Attorney William Ezzell filed a charge of fraud by swindle to obtain property under $20,000 on March 14. 

Owens was arrested on March 25 and is free on a $20,000 bond. She was due to be arraigned before Criminal Circuit Judge Stanley H. Griffis III on Wednesday. 

Under Florida law any public employee convicted of a felony involving a breach of public trust — which includes fraud, embezzling and theft   committed prior to retirement “shall forfeit all rights and benefits under any public retirement system of which he or she is a member, except for the return of his or her accumulated contributions as of the date of termination.”

The law further states that the clerk of court where the person is convicted must furnish a notice of the court proceedings to the state Commission on Ethics whether the person is found guilty by a judge or jury or please nolo contentre (no contest) to the charge. The employers, in this case Levy County, is also required to report the termination to the Commission on Ethics. 

The Commission on Ethics is then required to file the notice with the appropriate governing body of the public retirement system which then holds a hearing and determines whether to revoke the pension. A decision by the board can be challenged in the 1st District Court of Appeal.