By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter
CHEHALIS – The 35-year-old married mother of two and former county employee was dressed in black as she tearfully received hugs from arriving supporters in the hall outside the courtroom.
She knew prosecutors would be asking the judge to sentence her to 10 years in prison for stealing tens of thousands of dollars from an association in which she served as treasurer.
April K. Kelley knew her attorney would request a special sentence available for first time offenders, which could amount to 90 days in jail.
Seven rows of benches behind her were filled, when Kelley sat before Judge Andrew Toynbee this afternoon in Lewis County Superior Court.
“I’m not proud of what I did by any means, but I’m proud of how I handled it,” Kelly said as she stood reading from a piece of paper. “What I did was a terrible thing; I wake up every morning shocked that it happened.”
Kelley worked at the Lewis County Department of Public Health & Social Services, and in that capacity, served as treasurer for the Association of County Human Services. When a new treasurer took over last year, the books were reviewed and money was missing. She was arrested in September after an investigation conducted by the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office.
She pleaded guilty last month to eight counts of first-degree theft, committed over a less than four-year period ending in the spring of 2014.
The standard sentencing range for her crimes was 22 to 29 months.
Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer addressed the court, saying there are times when that would be appropriate, but this was not one of those times.
“The defendant admitted she violated a position of trust,” Meyer said.
ACHS is a non-profit group with members who provide or administer programs related to chemical dependency, mental health and developmental disabilities. Kelley was social services manager for Lewis County.
Meyer estimates Kelley stole about $143,000.
“Something that sets Ms. Kelley apart, is she stole from every taxpayer in the state of Washington,” he said. “She spent it on lavish things that she was not willing to work for.”
Meyer noted over $1,000 in tickets to events, and shopping in Las Vegas, Canada and California.
She stole 90 percent of ACHS’s revenue during one year and about 75 percent of it in another year, he said.
The prosecutor suggested the judge should not give much weight to a letter in her court file that says she is bipolar, nor should he offer leniency because of an impact on her children.
Meyer raised the issue of a letter of support from Lewis County Commissioner Bobby Jackson, which he called inappropriate.
“It shows the manipulative nature of the defendant,” he said.
Defense attorney Shane O’Rourke acknowledged to the court it was a lot of money and there was no good or acceptable explanation for his client’s conduct.
“I think we’re in a difficult position, me and Ms. Kelley,” he said. “Not from a sympathetic perspective.”
O’Rourke pointed out there was no loss of life, no violence.
“Ultimately, we’re considering a property crime,” he said.
O’Rourke and Meyer had both submitted written briefs ahead of time, and he spoke to some of the comparisons to other cases involving large thefts of money in recent years.
His client is saying she’s sorry because she is sorry, he said. And she voluntarily paid $10,000 back the day before, which is as much as she possibly could, he said.
O’Rourke requested she be given 90 days in jail, which would be a punishment for someone who has never been to jail, he said.
Toynbee considered aloud the various aspects he would or would not consider, noting her sentence could be as little as zero days or as long as 80 years. He noted she has no criminal background.
The judge acknowledged the defendant has incredible community support, but that individuals don’t get a break because they are a good person.
“People are sentenced based on their actions, not their value in the communities eyes,” he said.
Toynbee concluded by telling Kelley he was sentencing her to 36 months with the Department of Corrections.
The parties agreed to return to court at 1 p.m. tomorrow, to fill out and file the written judgement and sentence. Kelley was to be taken down to the jail at the end of the hearing.
The judge left the bench and eventually a corrections officer arrived to retrieve her. For more than 10 minutes, Kelley accepted hugs from her supporters who lined up in the aisle.
Kelley was escorted, unhand-cuffed, by a corrections officer out of the room just before 2 p.m.
Lewis County Commissioner Jackson outside the courtroom declined to comment on his Dec. 28 letter submitted in support of the now-former county employee, in which he asked for leniency.
For background, read “Ex-government employee admits stealing thousands from account she managed” from Friday January 20, 2017, here