Restitution debt piles up after woman's 4th embezzlement conviction

A Michigan woman told a judge she just couldn’t resist the urge to steal money as she waited to be sentenced this week for her fourth embezzlement conviction since 1996.

Lori Smith, 47, of Lansing, pleaded guilty to stealing nearly $20,000 from a nonprofit food pantry earlier this year, the Lansing State Journal reported. She had added 1,147 extra hours to her paychecks over the course of 10 months.

But that amount was only a fraction of what she owes in restitution payments. Smith has racked up nearly $250,000 in restitution debt from her three previous convictions, the report said.

According to the State Journal, Smith’s first offense came in 1996 while working at her former father-in-law’s company, Ewing Well Drilling Inc. She pleaded guilty in 2000 and was convicted of four counts of misdemeanor embezzlement, sentenced to six months’ probation and a $1,000 restitution payment.

Smith was convicted again in 2006 for embezzling from the Michigan Municipal League in 1998. She was ordered to pay back the $156,543, and sentenced to five years’ probation. She stopped payments in 2011, still owing more than $116,000, when she was arrested again.

This time Smith was sentenced to 27 months in federal prison. Her new employer gave her access to the company credit card, which she used to buy almost $100,000 worth of personal items for herself and family, the paper reported. She pleaded guilty to access device fraud, and was ordered to pay $119,627 in restitution.

Smith appeared apologetic in court Wednesday. She said she plans to pay back the money she owes, going so far as to get her forklift certification while in prison so she can land a job that won’t give her direct access to money, the paper reported.

"I made the big mistake of going back to work in an office setting," Smith said. "I realize now I can't and probably never will be able to." 

The judge sentenced Smith to five years’ probation, choosing not to give her more prison time because she was currently serving a federal sentence. She was also ordered to repay the $20,000.

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