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HILLSVILLE — Three former employees of Blue Ridge Tobacco and Candle in Galax have been ordered to pay restitution of more than $120,000 after pleading guilty in a case involving embezzlement from the business.
Amy Carrico Roberts of Galax, Holly Dawn Kelley of Fancy Gap and Carolyn Kaye Lane of Fancy Gap were indicted in Carroll County Circuit Court in 2009, according to court records.
In June 2012, each woman faced charges of obtaining money by false pretenses from the Virginia Lottery, conspiracy to embezzle from Blue Ridge Tobacco and Candle and three counts of embezzlement. Each charge carried a possible penalty of up to 20 years in the Virginia Department of Corrections, according to court documents.
Defense attorney James Ward and the prosecution entered into a plea negotiation, and the agreement resulted in prosecutors dropping all but one embezzlement charge against each woman.
The Carroll County Commonwealth’s Attorney recommended a penalty of 10 years in prison for each defendant, all suspended; active supervised probation for five years; agreeing to pay undetermined amounts of restitution; and being banned from any property owned by Frank J. Armstrong, according to the agreement.
A restitution hearing was held in September to determine the amount of money that the three defendants owed the business owner.
According to a statement from Detective Aaron Criner of the Galax Police Department, who investigated the incident, the women had admitted to scratching off lottery tickets from the store’s inventory before they were activated. “They were involved in a team activity, where they would split the wins and losses,” Criner said.
Tickets are normally activated after they have been purchased by a customer, he further explained.
According to statements from the defendants, they would pay back the amounts they believed they owed the store after playing.
When asked how much they thought they owed, they said it couldn’t be more than a couple thousand dollars.
The results of the investigation helped to determine that they had, in fact, accumulated over $120,000 in debt to the business.
Armstrong told Judge Brett Geisler that he had to take out a personal loan to make up the difference for the store.
The trio stood by their original statement, claiming that they, to the best of their ability, had paid back the money.
They explained that the problem could be with the register, which they said would malfunction on a regular basis.
Another employee testified in regard to this statement, saying that she had seen the register come up short by $100 or so on occasion.
One defendant also claimed that Armstrong had been notified of what they were doing, but that he’d told them it was okay. “We admitted to the scratching, but explained that we had a running tab. I didn’t know that I was doing anything wrong, and I paid back to the best of my knowledge,” the defendant said.
Following the hearing, Geisler shared a written opinion to both Ward and Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Mike Jones on Monday. In the letter, he set the restitution amount at $121,907.94, which all three defendants will be jointly responsible for. Each defendant will be required to pay $200 per month beginning on Dec. 25.
“There is no question that the defendants, by their admissions and otherwise, admit that they undertook a common scheme by which they would embezzle money from Mr. Armstrong,” Geisler wrote in the letter.
“This criminal scheme continued for approximately one year and defendants claim that they paid back all of those funds except for a couple thousand dollars.
“The defendants, however, presented no evidence of any sort of accounting with regard to their activities. Conversely, the business owner, Mr. Armstrong, does have documentation and a way by which he can account for the loss of tickets activated but not paid for,” Geisler continued. “It is not that hard to determine that, on any given day, it would be easy for the defendants to scratch off lots of tickets and accumulate $200 to $300 worth of scratched but unpaid tickets and then ultimately lose count of [what they owe].
“This is apparently what happened in this case and this court has no problem finding that the defendants would in fact scratch tickets before they were paid for and most likely lost track of what tickets were scratched and ultimately what they had reimbursed the store for.”
Jones was instructed in the letter to draft the order to reflect the court’s opinion on the case, and forward it to Ward for his endorsement or objection.