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Ex-court official sentenced
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Forsyth County News

A former Forsyth County Magistrate Court administrator has been sentenced to five years in prison and 15 on probation for taking about $29,000 in court funds.

Laura Hope Moore, 49, of Cumming pleaded guilty July 23 in Forsyth County Superior Court to 27 felony counts of theft by taking.

On Friday, Chief Superior Court Judge Jeffrey S. Bagley handed down Moore's punishment, which also requires her to pay back the money and reimburse the county for the costs of the investigation.

The maximum sentence for each count is 10 years. Moore's sentencing was delayed after her attorney, Rafe Banks III, requested a pre-sentencing investigation regarding her mental state.

Moore and her former boss, Chief Magistrate Barbara Cole, testified during the proceedings.

Cole told Bagley on Friday that Moore's actions were "not the work of a distressed mental patient."

"This was the work of an arrogant selfish criminal who is not sorry she stole, she's sorry she got caught," Cole said.

"She caused an enormous amount of time and county funds to be expended by forensic auditors, court staff, finance department personnel, the Wachovia fraud division and Forsyth County investigators to bring this case here today."

Cole said the thefts, which occurred from May 2004 to June 2006, damaged public trust and confidence in the judicial system.

Moore admitted to the crimes this summer, saying she stamped Cole's signature on checks she wrote to herself and others and then deposited them into her own bank account.

She said Friday her magistrate job was "stressful" and that she lost sleep over it.

Moore held her post for five years and was demoted and then fired in 2006, shortly before the thefts were discovered. She was arrested in October that year.

She said that she became "compulsive" during her tenure as a court employee and was fired for her behavior. She told the judge she squandered the money, as well as her salary and an inheritance.

"I had gotten totally out of control," she said. "I was in a constant rage and I would say it was probably three or four months before I was written up for it."

Moore said she is fully responsible for what happened and doesn't know why she took the money.

"I beg the court for mercy," she said.

In his closing argument, Banks said Moore is now a different person and that rather than committing more than 20 counts of theft, he thinks she committed only one long, continuous count.

"There was no sophisticated attempt to conceal this," said Banks, who also questioned why the thefts went unnoticed for so long.

He asked for a sentence of 15 years on probation and restitution.

Sandra Partridge, Forsyth County chief assistant district attorney, said Moore was able to take the money because Cole "completely trusted" her.

"This is a clear embezzlement ... that's what embezzlers do. They monkey with the books, they change things, they don't give reports on time," Partridge said.

"They move this and they move that. And they say 'this restitution payment was made' when the actual check was deposited in her account, not paid to the victim whose restitution was due."

Partridge said the defense produced no medical evidence of Moore's alleged mental illness.

"It's no excuse for a systematic theft, a systematic breach of trust," Partridge said.

Partridge had asked for a sentence of five years in prison, 30 years probation, 500 hours of community service and restitution, including the cost to the county for the investigation.