Former county employee pleaded guilty in federal court to $31K theft from Cascade County Sheriff’s Office

A former Cascade County employee entered a guilty plea during a hearing in federal court in late January for taking money from the Cascade County Sherriff’s  Office while she was employeed there as an accountant.

Michele Levesey Woods, also known as Michele Levesey Saubak, was indicted in November on a federal count of theft from a program receiving federal funds.

In January, the court accepted her guilty plea and last week, Judge Brian Morris issued an order setting the sentencing hearing for May 2. She also plead true to a criminal forfeiture allegation.

According to court documents, the offense carries up to 10 years imprisonment, a $250,000 fine and three years supervised release.

This case is completely separate from the current investigation that the county referred to the Montana Division of Criminal Investigation, according to DCI. That investigation is still pending and no further details have been released or confirmed by officials.

The County Commission did approve an agreement in January with the Montana Attorney General’s Office for prosecutorial services, but the document doesn’t identify the parties of the case or list a case number that is attached to any existing case.

If charges are filed related to the DCI investigation, it will likely be in the state’s district court.

DCI investigating irregular purchases at Cascade County Sheriff’s Office

Woods worked in the Cascade County Sheriff’s Office as an accountant and between September 2014 and May 2016, received cash deposits from members of the public, including money for the 24/7 sobriety program and other services offered by the county, according to the court documents.

Instead of properly depositing the money, Woods embezzled it to cover personal debts and gambling habits, according to court documents.

The investigation began after Woods left the sheriff’s office and while cleaning out her desk, employees found a cash intake form that did not have a corresponding deposit slip, according to the court documents.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation interviewed Woods and she confessed to taking the money, according to the court documents.

She wrote an apology letter to the CCSO that states: “I realize I have taken money from you in amounts unimaginable to me[,] and I am deeply sorry. I will pay it back…[I]t might take many years[,] but I will,” according to court documents.

The investigation determined the total amount Woods embezzled was $31,614.37, which is the same amount the U.S. prosecutors have indicated they will seek as restitution, though that won’t be final until sentencing.

Prosecutors are also seeking a monetary judgment for the forfeiture charge of the same amount, bringing the total money owed by Woods to about $63,228.74, according to court documents.

Woods’ public defender, David Ness, confirmed to The Electric that Woods made a large restitution payment when she entered her guilty plea on Jan. 24. He said it was about 10 percent of the amount that was allegedly taken.

In a statement to The Electric, County Attorney Josh Racki said: “As noted in the offer of proof filed in federal court, an employee of the Cascade County Sheriff’s Office was charged with theft for stealing money entrusted to her care. Cascade County would like to thank the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office for their investigation and prosecution of this case. Because the employee has yet to be sentenced Cascade County is unable to give further comment.”

The Electric inquired whether any changes had been made to the cash handling process as a result of the investigation, but won’t likely receive further information from the county until the case is fully resolved.

In order for a defendant to be found guilty of theft from a program receiving federal funding, the U.S. must prove that:

  • the defendant was an agent of a state or local government or agency thereof;
  • the Cascade County Sheriff’s Office received in excess of $10,000 during any one-year period under a federal grant, subsidy, loan guarantee, insurance, or other form of federal assistance;
    • CCSO received federal funding in excess of $10,000 in each and every one-year period of the indictment
      • 2014: $1,021,743.54
      • 2015: $878,338.82
      • 2016: $1,023,441.20
  • that the defendant embezzled, stole, obtained by fraud or otherwise, or knowingly converted the use of any person other than the rightful owner, or intentionally misapplied property;
  • the property had a value of $5,000 or more;
  • and the property was owned by or was under the care, custody or control of CCSO.