SCRANTON — Former union official Lisa Barrett wept as her sentence she was sentenced Friday, shoulders heaving deeply as she learned a judge’s mercy still meant she will spend a year of her life in prison.
“I had planned to give you more time,” U.S. District Court Judge James Munley told Barrett, 48, of Shavertown, the former president of the Wyoming Area Teachers Union who pleaded guilty in October to embezzling nearly $60,000 using union debit and credit cards to support a lifestyle of shopping, travelling and dining.
The charges carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years’ probation. Munley sentenced Barrett to 12 months in prison, two years’ probation and $2,600 in fines and fees.
As Barrett sobbed, Munley told her written and verbal statements given by relatives, friends and colleagues about Barrett’s character factored into his decision.
Those supporters variously recalled a young woman who put herself through college after her father died, a sibling who cared for an ailing sister, the mother of a teenage son, and a suffering woman being treated for mental health issues.
“Looking at you, hearing the people here and considering all the people who hold you in high regard, I changed my mind and gave you a lesser sentence,” the judge said.
“I’ve also considered your son. I am aware of the fact that you and your former husband share custody,” the judge said.
Violated a trust
But Munley also made plain that Barrett had violated a position of trust, earning her a place among a catalogue of corrupt Northeastern Pennsylvania officials who have made headlines for all the wrong reasons, from judges and county commissioners to school board members and Little League officials.
“These are crimes. They are thefts. They are embezzlement,” Munley said. “You know, what I am concerned about is that we sent the right message so we discourage persons from abusing their positions of authority.”
Barrett, a high school career technology teacher, resigned her position as union president and requested a sabbatical from work in February at the same time Luzerne County District Attorney Stephanie Salavantis confirmed her office had agreed to look into reports of missing funds.
Barrett is no longer a teacher or a union member.
Her crimes occurred between 2007 and 2012, prosecutors said, describing purchases from department stores and restaurants, as well as on family trips to Virginia Beach, Va., and Ithaca and Cooperstown, N.Y.
$59,273 in restitution
She has paid $59,273 in restitution, defense attorney Christopher Powell said.
“I accept full responsibility for my actions,” Barrett told the judge. “In my quest to please everyone and gain acceptance, I became overwhelmed.”
Barrett, who has the right to appeal, according to Munley, did not speak to reporters after leaving court.
“You’d have to ask Judge Munley what he was trying to do, but to me, that sentence is severe enough to send a message,” Powell told reporters, adding that his client is “very upset.”
“I understand the sentence,” Powell said. He and Barrett had hoped for a lesser penalty, but acknowledged “it was within the guidelines.”
Current Wyoming Area Education Association President Melissa Dolman told the judge that the union accepted the restitution that has been made.
The judge pointed out Barrett may actually have taken as much as $90,000, according to early estimates, and that the amount recognized by investigators was all that could be documented because of union record-keeping. Dolman acknowledged the group “never had an audit done.”
“That’s not saying much for the union,” Munley retorted.
Dolman told the judge, and later reporters, that procedures have changed, and there is now an audit committee.
Barrett has until March 5 to surrender herself to federal custody. Officials did not say where she might be housed.
“I’m sorry, but you have to pay the consequences, you know?” Munley said, sighing before he spoke his final words to the trembling, sobbing Barrett.
“Good luck to you. That’s it.”