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Welch

Former Chambers County bookkeeper pleads guilty to stealing $300K from probate office

LaFAYETTE — A Valley woman has pleaded guilty to using her official position in the Chambers County Probate Judge’s Office for personal gain.

Rene Welch, 57, was sentenced to 18 months in prison and supervised probation for five years on Monday for her involvement in the theft of about $300,000 from the probate office.

According to the plea agreement, between July 2013 and December 2017, Welch used her position in the Chambers County Probate Court to steal $299,861.68 that belonged to the court. At the time of the plea, Welch had not paid any money to the court, according to court documents.

The plea agreement says Welch has agreed to pay restitution in the full amount of the stolen funds.

The funds were discovered missing after a report from the Alabama Department of Examiners of Public Accounts was released in November. At the time, Welch was charged with theft of property first degree, but that charge was later changed to intentionally using an official position or office for personal gain, a Class B felony.

In the report from the examiners’ office, it said a letter was sent to Welch requesting that she pay back the money. Additionally, that report said Welch failed to show cause as to why the charges should be dropped when she met with the examiners’ office and her petition to not pay the charges was denied.

The timing of the report being released was a few days before the general election for the probate judge position between then-Probate Judge Brandi Easlick and Paul Story. Story won the election.

At the time, Easlick released a statement saying the probate office worked with the examiners’ office for almost a year before the report regarding the misappropriated funds was released.

The report spelled out the responsibilities of the bookkeeper position and how the money within the probate’s office should be handled day-to-day. The bookkeeper is responsible for verifying the amount of money collected each day is correct and is tasked with correcting any discrepancies that come up. That position combines all the money collected throughout a workday and prepares a deposit slip for the bank, then takes the money to the bank.

“Numerous instances were noted where the amount of cash recorded on the deposit slip by the bookkeeper and (the cash) deposited into the bank was less than the amount of cash collected by the clerks and verified by the bookkeeper,” the report reads.