Couple's fury as jury pays illegal immigrant maid's fine after jewelry theft conviction

A Virginia woman was outraged after the maid she hired stole $5,000 worth of jewelry from her home and then the jury chipped in to pay for the woman’s fine after convicting her of theft.

Sandra Mendez Ortega, 19, who is in the country illegally, was convicted of felony grand larceny for stealing three rings on Dec. 8 by a jury at Fairfax County court. Instead of jail time, the jury sentenced her to a $60 fine.

A sympathetic jury for the teenager, who is pregnant with her second child, and pulled together $80 to pay for the fine after they convicted her/

Jury foreman Jeffrey Memmott told The Washington Post the jurors felt sympathy for the woman who testified she dropped out of school after sixth grade, had one child and was pregnant with another but was not employed. 

“The general sentiment was she was a victim, too,” Memmott said. “Two of the women (jurors) were crying because of how bad they felt. One lady pulled out a $20 bill, and just about everybody chipped in.” 

Memmott said he contacted the case’s public defender and went to the former maid’s home to give her $80, more than enough to pay her $60 fine.

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“Justice had to be done,” Janice Woolridge, a juror, told The Washington Post. “But there’s also got to be some compassion somewhere. Young people make bad decisions. We just couldn’t pile on any more.”

However, Lisa Copeland, Mendez Ortega’s employer, was not happy with the sentencing – or their actions. She told the post that a $60 fine was insufficient for the crime committed and claimed Ortega told lie after lie.

“I was outraged,” Copeland said. “I was just flabbergasted. I didn’t think $60 equated to the crime at all.” 

Copeland said she discovered the rings missing in Sept. 2016 and actually did not realize a third ring had disappeared until they were turned in. The rings were worth at least $5,000, she aid.

Copeland called Fairfax City police who questioned the three housekeepers – including Mendez Ortega – who cleaned Copeland’s home and they all denied wrongdoing.

However, following the questioning the 19-year-old reportedly felt guilty about the stealing and told Copeland’s husband, Jeff, she had the rings and gave them back, The Washington Post reported. Police also had the young woman write the Copeland’s a letter of apology. Copeland said she has never seen the apology and the former maid never said sorry to her in person.

“Never saw it,” Copeland said. “Never heard about it until the trial, during sentencing.”

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Mendez Ortega was arrested and spent eight days in jail but posted the $1,000 bond and was released. The jury was not told of the woman’s stint in jail and that she was in the country illegally because “it was not relevant to whether she stole the rings.”

Copeland said she felt the jury should have been told these facts.

“I think it’s relevant to the case,” Copeland said.

“It really irritates me that she came here and committed a felony,” Jeff Copeland told The Washington Post. “People are coming here because there is opportunity here. But when they come here and commit crimes, that’s where you’ve got to draw the line.”

Lisa Copeland said she was “amazed” the jury did not want to convict Mendez Ortega although she confessed.

“The fact that she confessed,” she said, “and they didn’t want to convict her? I don’t get this. That’s basically saying it’s okay to steal.”

Mendez Ortega faced up to 20 years in prison and a $2,500 fine but the jury only made her pay a fine that would be equivalent to a day’s pay.

Speaking through an interpreter, she said she was “happy” following her sentencing.

“I became happy when I heard they wanted to give me that (money.) Thank you very much to all of them, God bless them,” she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.