No jail time for $35K theft of public money

After stealing nearly $35,000 from Morgan City City Court through forgery and other means, former Morgan City Juvenile Services Administrator Verne Lightfoot pleaded guilty to theft over $1,500 Monday in district court and will not have to serve any jail time, according to court documents.
District Judge Paul deMahy gave Lightfoot, 46, of Patterson, a five-year suspended sentence and she was ordered to do 120 hours of community service within five years, was placed on five years of supervised probation and ordered to pay $3,845 for expenses of a city court audit, the minutes of the court proceeding state.
Lightfoot did not pay the money back, City Court Judge Kim Stansbury said, but the public funds she stole were recovered after months of negotiations with an insurance company, which reimbursed City Court “everything that we proved, everything that was owed.”
The reimbursement was paid through an insurance policy. Stansbury said the bond company has the right to take action against Lightfoot for any of the amount it paid.
The state requested a letter from City Court of Morgan City to be sealed because “it dealt with the juvenile court,” assistant district attorney Tony Saleme said. Court records reveal a victim restitution sheet was also sealed.
Edward B. Jones, Lightfoot’s attorney, reserved the right to file a motion to reconsider sentencing at a later date, the court records state. Jones could not be reached for comment.
Lightfoot was originally charged with malfeasance in office, forgery and theft of goods over $1,500. The first two charges were dropped by prosecutors.
Lightfoot was arrested June 13, 2012, by state police and accused of writing checks from Juvenile City Court to individuals and cashing those checks for herself. Lightfoot also used department checks to make purchases then returned the items, keeping the refunds for herself, and fraudulently purchasing thousands of dollars in gasoline, investigators said.
Lightfoot faced a prison term of up to 10 years on the theft charge and/or fined up to $3,000.
The forgery charge carried up to a 10-year sentence while the malfeasance charge carried a sentence of up to five years.
Marc Folse, then Morgan City police chief, told state police that Walmart contacted Stansbury about Lightfoot using City Court checks to purchase items and then returning the items for cash, the arrest affidavit said.
State police uncovered four areas of suspicious activity, the affidavit said, which included the following accusations:
—Twelve Walmart transactions occurred between March 2011 and April 2012 in Franklin, Bayou Vista and Houma and totaled more than $16,000;
—Forging Stansbury’s signature on 10 checks, totaling over $11,000, written to three individuals and then cashing the checks for herself. Lightfoot is said in the affidavit to have admitted during a taped interview to the forgeries;
—Charging nearly $5,700 in fuel at Ganaway using a Morgan City city account for her personal vehicle although she was reimbursed mileage for the use of her personal vehicle. Lightfoot is said to have admitted to the fuel charges in the affidavit;
—Making seven transactions at Office Depot. She said the major purchases were for office use but an inventory did not discover the items.
Lightfoot was released after posting a personally secured $25,000 bail on the day of her arrest, Clerk of Court records show.
In May 2011, during the time Lightfoot is accused of defrauding City Court, she filed a lawsuit against an insurance company claiming damages for injuries from a parking lot wreck in Morgan City, Clerk of Court records show.
That suit was eventually dropped on Aug. 22, 2011, with Lightfoot and her co-plaintiff, Catherine Mingo, ordered to pay court costs.
Lightfoot was a City of Morgan City employee from March 13, 2006, to May 14, 2012, Morgan City Mayor Frank “Boo” Grizzaffi said.

By PRESTON GILL pgill@daily-review.com

St. Mary Now & Franklin Banner-Tribune

Franklin Banner-Tribune
P.O. Box 566, Franklin, LA 70538
Phone: 337-828-3706
Fax: 337-828-2874

Morgan City Daily Review
P.O. Box 948, Morgan City, LA 70381
Phone: 985-384-8370
Fax: 985-384-4255

Follow Us