A former accountant at a Cumming law firm pleaded guilty Friday to embezzling thousands from the business.
Sharon Samples, 50, received a sentence of 30 years, nearly all of which will be served on probation, for seven counts of theft by taking.
Forsyth County Superior Court Chief Judge Jeffrey Bagley granted her non-negotiated plea and sentenced her to serve up to 12 months in jail while she awaits placement into a state women’s probation detention center for a 60- to 100-day stay.
Samples must then serve the remainder of her sentence on probation, perform 120 hours of community service and pay back the remainder of what she took from the firm.
That amount will be determined in a restitution hearing, since Samples and the prosecution disagreed on what she owed.
Samples was accused of taking nearly $242,000 from the law firm Lipscomb, Johnson, Sleister, Dailey & Smith between July 2008 and August 2010.
She was arrested in July 2011 after staff realized money was missing and an accounting firm conducted a forensic audit.
During her plea Samples said she had directly paid herself more than she earned, used checks for the firm’s bills to pay her own and electronically used the firm’s account to pay bills.
According to Samples, the money went to support a family member, her family’s home mortgage and other financial issues that arose after she was no longer allowed to work overtime at the firm.
Samples said she never added up the pieces she was stealing and she was “shocked to find out it was as much as it was.”
“I’m very sorry,” she said.
Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Scalia said the missing money caused the firm to furlough its employees one day a week, thinking the financial issues were a product of the economy.
“She was the one in charge of paying other employees less money,” Scalia said, “yet she was stealing from the firm.”
The state also had evidence that Samples had embezzled from a former employer who had decided not to press charges, according to Scalia.
Attorney Emory Lipscomb said the financial burden created hard times for the firm, however, he asked that Samples not be incarcerated but instead have a lengthy probation.
“I think this woman is a very capable person. She could do a lot of work for society,” Lipscomb said. “She should pay for what she has done in terms of performing worthwhile community service.”
He also confirmed that Samples had in the past two days repaid $170,000, which was the amount she felt she owed.
Scalia called the repayment just before the plea a “Hail Mary” in an attempt to avoid serving jail time.
She recommended a 30-year sentence, with three years to serve in prison, which Scalia said would be like the outcome for similar cases.
“Justice and fairness in sentences demands that she goes to prison,” Scalia said.
Samples said the repayment was not a last effort for leniency, but a product of selling her family’s Echols Road home.
The sale closed two weeks ago after being on the market since shortly after arrest and making several reductions in price to get the money to repay the firm, she said.
“I told Emory [Lipscomb] and Coy [Johnson] from the beginning that I intended to pay them back,” she said.
Her husband, who attended the hearing, said he also drained his retirement fund to help repay the money.
Samples said she’s seen the “burden” and the “grief” she caused her husband and three children and asked not to be jailed so she could continue to work and help support the family.
Bagley said he was “shocked” that Lipscomb sought no time in jail for Samples after the financial issues the firm suffered from her actions, though he thought the money repaid may have eased that sting.
“You continued stealing knowing that it was putting a hardship on the law firm and other people,” Bagley told Samples. “That shows a callous disregard.”