SCRANTON — A woman charged with embezzling in excess of $30,000 might actually have helped herself to more than $50,000.
That’s the amount U.S. Assistant Attorney Robert O’Hara gave when U.S. District Judge James Munley asked for more specifics in the charges against former Wyoming Area Teachers Union president Lisa Barrett, who was arraigned Wednesday on charges she took money from the union over six years. Barrett previously signed a plea agreement and near the end of the hearing pleaded guilty.
When Munley asked to know a specific amount, O’Hara replied the government believed Barrett had actually taken more than $50,000 from union coffers, but the charge being levied required only the amount be in excess of $30,000.
The money was taken from 2006 to 2012 through access to a union debit card used for restaurants, retail stores, travel expenses and ATM withdrawals, among other things, O’Hara said.
In a pale blue top, black skirt and with breath freshened by an Altoid mint popped shortly before Munley arrived, Barrett softly responded to the judge’s questions designed to make sure she understood the consequences of her plea, including waiving her right to a trial and likely losing the rights to vote, hold public office or carry a firearm.
Barrett then entered a guilty plea. The charges carry a maximum sentence of five years prison, a $250,000 fine and three years probation, but Barrett is unlikely to get such a stiff judgment for her first criminal offense.
A pre-sentencing report will be drawn up with a recommendation for a sentence range based on the federal sentencing system, which ultimately issues a numeric value, or sentencing level, for the guilty party. As part of the plea bargain, O’Hara said, the government has agreed to urge a reduction in Barrett’s sentence by two levels if the pre-sentence report recommends a level of 16 or lower, and a reduction of three levels if it is above 16.
Assuming Barrett is sentenced as a first-time offender, that would mean a maximum of 15 to 21 months, based on the federal sentencing guideline tables. Munley is not bound by the guidelines.
Munley ordered the pre-sentence report be completed and made available for review by both sides by Nov. 27, and scheduled sentencing for 10 a.m. on Jan 8.
Barrett, 48, 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 possible missing funds. Barrett is no longer a teacher or a union member and has mounted her own defense without union assistance. Her lead attorney, Christopher Powell, declined comment after the hearing.