- Associated Press - Friday, February 17, 2017

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - A high-ranking official at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola has pleaded guilty to a federal charge of wire fraud linked to the theft or misuse of as much as $160,000 from a fund meant to improve recreational opportunities for prison employees and their families.

The Advocate reports (https://bit.ly/2m3OYJo ) 46-year-old former Col. Shirley Whittington, who headed the maximum-security prison’s Emergency Medical Services department, entered the plea Wednesday before U.S. District Judge James Brady in Baton Rouge.

A sentencing date has not been set.

Whittington was charged in a bill of information Feb. 9. She resigned in September from her post at Angola amid a probe into the missing money; she had served as treasurer of the nonprofit Angola Employee Recreation Committee since it was set up in 2006.

The recreation committee, known among Angola employees as the “B-Line Rec Fund,” takes in money from annual dues from the families who work at the prison and live on the grounds. It also brings in money from sales of food and drinks at the prison’s rodeo and from greens fees from Angola’s Prison View golf course.

An audit by the state’s legislative auditor found that Whittington spent at least $70,000 of the committee’s money on personal items over a nine-year period, including more than $27,000 on items bought through Amazon and PayPal.

It also found that she routinely withdrew cash from the committee’s accounts with an ATM card, to the tune of more than $17,000 over a four-year period.

A second employee, former Lt. Col. Debbie Leonard, who served as the recreation committee’s president, also has been accused of helping herself to some agency funds. The audit said that in addition to the other spending, Leonard and Whittington had shorted the fund of at least $73,307.

In court documents, Whittington admits that the “loss” she is responsible for is “at least $40,001.” That amount will be used by federal probation officers when they calculate a recommended sentencing range for the judge.

Both Leonard and Whittington face state theft charges. District Attorney Sam D’Aquilla said Thursday he will likely drop the case against Whittington because it relates to the same misconduct to which she pleaded guilty in federal court.

Leonard has not been charged by federal authorities, and D’Aquilla said he plans to leave his office’s charge against her in place for the time being. Leonard’s lawyer, Fred Crifasi, had no comment Thursday.

Whittington’s lawyer, Michael Hesse, did not immediately return a call for comment.


Information from: The Advocate, https://theadvocate.com

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