Although definitely guilty of embezzling from her employer, since Wendy Rae Hunt had no prior felony convictions, the state sentencing-guidelines in her case came out to probation.
But when the judge learned — right before pronouncing sentence — that the Centreville woman not only hadn't changed her ways, but was now stealing from her own mother, he sentenced her to eight months in jail.
"The defendant's mother was here today and wanted you to know [this]," Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Catherine Zanga told Circuit Court Judge Arthur Vierreg Jr. "Her mother wants her to have substance-abuse treatment in [a facility in] which she's locked down."
Hunt, 23, of 14223 St. Germain Drive, No. 104, was arrested in October. Fairfax County police charged her with embezzlement, forgery and uttering (passing) forged checks. The victim was her employer, Creative World Learning Center at 6715 Little River Turnpike in Annandale, where she'd worked since August 2003.
IN AN OCT. 9 affidavit for a search warrant for Hunt's Centreville apartment, police Det. Ronald Manzo detailed the case against her. Police responded to Creative World Learning Center, on Sept. 22, for a report of a grand larceny. The company's owner, Michele Tyler, stated that $50 in cash and two televisions were missing. She also told police that the money was kept in the office behind a locked door in a desk drawer.
"Further investigation revealed that only Mrs. Tyler and another employee, Wendy Hunt, were in possession of the only keys that unlock the office door," wrote Manzo. "Furthermore, while conducting an internal investigation, Mrs. Tyler found check numbers 0259, 0260, 0271, 0272 and 0273 missing from the company check books for [the company's] bank account, along with several cash and check deposits made to the company that were never deposited into the company's bank account."
Hunt was in charge of making deposits. According to the detective, she "took said deposits to the bank on the dates they were not deposited. This was confirmed by [Manzo] who placed a video surveillance system in the office on Sept. 27 and has since taped Wendy Hunt taking the daily company deposits with her to deposit them at the bank."
Manzo wrote that Tyler contacted him, Oct. 6, to tell him that check numbers 0259 and 0260 from the company bank account were returned to her from the bank. "She further stated that both checks were made to pay to the order of Wendy Hunt," wrote the detective. "Check number 0259 was cashed on Sept. 12 for the amount of $75 with the forged signature of the company's director, Brandy Lee."
In addition, wrote Manzo, "Check number 0260 was cashed on Sept. 12 for the amount of $50, again with Lee's forged signature. Furthermore, check number 0260 displayed a handwritten phone number in the upper left-hand corner of the check, which was confirmed through company records to be the home phone of Wendy Hunt's parents."
THE DETECTIVE noted that the handwriting on the checks — including Hunt's endorsement signature — matched Hunt's handwriting and signature on official company documents. He requested a warrant to search her home.
Police executed it, Oct. 10, seizing deposit slips from Wachovia Bank showing a $105 deposit on Oct. 2, a $901 deposit on Sept. 26 and another deposit on Oct. 2 in the amount of $2,975. On Oct. 10, police arrested Hunt.
The grand jury indicted her in January; on Feb. 23, she pleaded guilty in Circuit Court to forgery, uttering and embezzlement. She returned Friday, April 9, for sentencing before Judge Vierreg.
Public defender Dawn Butorac said her client was beginning a new job in five days and could make $200/month restitution. Then prosecutor Zanga dropped the bombshell from Hunt's mother.
"The defendant is now stealing checks from [her] family and writing them out in her own name," said Zanga. "She's been taking them from her mother and forging them."
Zanga also shared some additional information with the judge. "Since the offense date, [Hunt] tested positive for cocaine [in her system] on Dec. 22, 2003, on Jan. 22, 2004 and on March 24, 2004," she said. "This last test is very interesting because she then told the probation officer that she'd been drug-free since February of this year."
"The probation officer has concerns about her veracity," continued Zanga. "The commonwealth suggests she be given some jail sentence and then a bed-to-bed transfer to a long-term, residential treatment program. We'd also want her to complete full restitution and to notify her new employer of her recent convictions."
Butorac said Hunt "accepted responsibility from the beginning and is more than willing to make restitution. This is her first felony conviction; she has two prior misdemeanor convictions. If sent to jail, she'd lose her new job, and it would be hard for her to make restitution."
NOTING THAT Hunt has a 1-year-old daughter, Butorac said, "She has a young child and wants to be a good mother to her. I'd ask you to sentence her to minimal jail time."
Crying, Hunt then stood and apologized "to Mrs. Tyler and everyone involved. I think about it every day. I really don't want to go to jail."
By then, however, the court was no longer willing to look upon her favorably. Vierreg sentenced her to three years in prison, with all but eight months suspended, for each of her three offenses. He ran the sentences concurrently and placed Hunt on three years probation.
"I'm also going to place you in the adult, intensive-addictions program within the jail, and then order you into a long-term, residential-treatment program," he told her. "CPS [Child Protective Services] will be contacted, and you must notify any employer of your embezzlement conviction."
Added Vierreg: This sentence exceeds the guidelines because of the defendant's breach of trust and lack of candor regarding her drug problem."