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A former Delaware County, Pa., court employee who pleaded guilty to charges that she stole more than $450,000 from restitution payments owed to crime victims was sentenced Tuesday to three years in prison and ordered to make full restitution. Joan Frederick, 44, a former employee of the Delaware County Office of Court Financial Services, confessed in April that she used the money to pay her own bills — including her Victoria’s Secret charge account, cable television and numerous credit cards and store charge accounts. In a brief hearing Tuesday, Frederick’s lawyer, Jay. S. Gottlieb, urged the judge to hit Frederick with the lightest sentence possible — 21 months in prison — saying her crimes were “foolish.” But federal Judge J. Curtis Joyner of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania cut him off, saying Frederick’s crimes had stretched over more than three years and were “excessive to say the least.” Joyner said Frederick must have been confronted with the illegality of her conduct every time she forged a check. Pounding his fist on his desk for emphasis, the judge said that Frederick committed the same crime “over and over and over again.” Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony J. Wzorek urged the judge to stiffen the sentence because Frederick’s crimes caused a “disruption of governmental function.” Although the sentencing guidelines called for a prison term in the range of 21 to 27 months, Wzorek pressed for a term in the range of 33 to 41 months. Frederick’s crimes, he said, forced Delaware County to spend hundreds of hours auditing the crime victims’ fund and many more hours installing a new system and training new employees to ensure that no more thefts occur. In a victim impact statement, Michael W. Raith, the director of Delaware County’s Office of Court Financial Services, said his office “has been turned upside down” by Frederick’s crimes. And the way Frederick spent the money only made matters worse, Wzorek said, since she “basically wasted” it on shopping, vacations and paying bills. Wzorek also said Frederick’s crimes had eroded public confidence in the courts. “Court personnel who cause people to question the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary undermine the rule of law and disrupt the functioning of the courts,” Wzorek wrote in a sentencing memo filed last week. Joyner agreed, saying Frederick’s sentence had to be increased to reflect the harm she inflicted on county government. Frederick, who had worked for the county for 10 years, was suspended in March 2000 after the FBI and the state attorney general’s office launched a probe into the misuse of the funds. Just before she was sentenced Tuesday, Frederick offered an apology to the county and to her friends and family. “I was trusted in the county. I apologize. They treated me like family. I don’t know what happened. I lost faith in myself. I just don’t know what to say other than I’m so sorry to them,” she said. “I know I put my family and friends through a lot of embarrassment. I know they have to pay for what I have done,” she said. According to the indictment, Frederick’s job included writing the checks sent to crime victims when convicted criminals made restitution payments to the county. The indictment said that between November 1996 and February 2000, Frederick made out 100 checks in the names of real and fictitious restitution victims and then forged the names of the recipients and deposited them in her own and her family members’ accounts at Sovereign Bank. After depositing the money in family members’ accounts, the indictment said, Frederick would withdraw the money for her own use by signing the family members’ names. In a separate scheme, the indictment said, Frederick issued checks from the Office of Court Financial Services’ bank account to pay her and her family’s credit card bills and other expenses. Between May 1997 and February 2000, the indictment said, Frederick diverted more than $177,000 from crime victims to pay her own bills, including her electric, phone and cable television bills and numerous credit cards and store charge accounts. Authorities said the scheme went undetected for years because Frederick often stole money from crime victims who had died. In addition to her three-year prison term, Joyner ordered Frederick to make full restitution of the entire $455,471.84 that she stole. Joyner ordered Frederick to surrender in 30 days to begin serving her sentence after Gottlieb told the judge that Frederick suffers from Lyme disease and still has another week of treatments and further tests to complete to make sure she is cured.

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