Rita Morris, the former Wilson utility billing clerk, appeared in District Court Wednesday and pleaded guilty to two charges of embezzlement of public money. When asked by District Judge Dennis Morris what she had done, Morris admitted to having drawn checks on the city's account in the amount of $7,500 and cashed them in her name. A guilty plea can carry a sentence of one to 10 years imprisonment.
Morris entered a blind plea, which means she has no prior plea bargain with the state. Sentencing was continued until 11 a.m., Jan. 30.
Assistant District Attorney James Gilmartin recommended a sentence of five years, with all but four months suspended. He also asked for restitution in the amount of $7,500, 100 hours of community service and district attorney supervision. Gilmartin made reference to a previous embezzling case and said that although Morris was charged with embezzlement in March, she has not paid any restitution to the city.
"This shouldn't go unpunished," Gilmartin said. "I am sympathetic to her plight, but she has not made an effort (to pay back embezzled funds).
Defense attorney Rob Neal of Ada requested a deferred sentence of 10 years and said it would take that long for Morris to pay the city back. He said the blind plea was based on Morris' lack of a criminal history and said that the money was embezzled in a time of need. He also said that when Morris was confronted, she made a statement to the Wilson Police Department and admitted everything she had done. He said Morris is a mother of three, and two children still live at home.
Neal also said Morris would be able to make a $1,000 payment in the upcoming days.
In asking for the deferred sentence, Neal said the City of Wilson has never requested Morris go to jail and the city stance has been it wants the money back.
Wilson Mayor Frank Schaaf, who was present at the proceedings, said he was unaware the burden of asking for a jail sentence fell on the city.
"I believe someone should be held accountable, I believe someone should go to jail," Schaaf said. "And I believe that someone should be Rita."
According to a state audit, Morris began serving as utility billing clerk for the City of Wilson in July 2010. Her employment ended in May 2011. Between July 1, 2010 through May 31, 2011, the audit revealed a number of financial irregularities took place, including the embezzlement of $7,500.
Michael Pineda