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Jody Wills, a Shelby County woman charged with embezzling $600,000 of escrow account money from her employer, pleaded guilty Wednesday morning in Shelby Circuit Court under an arrangement with prosecutors.
Wills had been charged with 39 counts of theft by unlawful taking, but nine of the charges were dropped.
In her plea before Senior Judge Steve Mershon, she pleaded guilty to failure to make a required disposition of property, tampering with physical evidence, fraudulent use of a credit card, and 30 counts of theft by unlawful taking over $300.
In addition to recommending 10 years in prison, the plea agreement offered by Commonwealth's Attorney Laura Donnell includes restitution. Donnell also told Mershon she recommends no probation.
A date of Feb. 19 has been set for Wills' sentencing and restitution arrangements.
Wills, 34, is charged with embezzling the money from her former employer, the Dean Law Office in Shelbyville, from 1999 through 2005.
She also admitted to kiting $2,609,672 in funds as well in a bank kiting scheme between area and local banks.
Wills, wife of former Shelby County Deputy Sheriff Daniel Wills, was arrested in September 2008 on theft-related charges but quickly made bail.
During the time that she worked for attorney Mark Dean, she was the preparer of closing documents and the issuer of checks, billings and payoffs. Her position also allowed her access to the law office's operating and escrow accounts.
In court on Wednesday, she admitted to taking the funds for her personal use.
Donnell asked Wills why she had taken the money.
When Wills remained silent, Donnell asked again, "I think she needs to admit what she did," she told Mershon.
"How did you steal the money and what did you do with it?" she asked Wills.
Wills continued to look down at the floor, downcast. "Did you pay off your home equity loan?" She nodded her head yes. "Did you pay off your credit card bills?" Yes. "Did you steal cash?" Yes.
The only thing that Wills responded no to was Donnell's query as to whether she had stolen money to give to family or friends.
Donnell told the court that the fraudulent use of a credit card stemmed from Wills' unauthorized use of Dean's credit card.
According to court records, after Dean had confronted her and asked her if she had taken money from him, she said that she had taken some, but that she planned to pay him back, which she did two days later.
The only thing was, it was his money with which she repaid him.
Donnell said the she was prepared to prove that Wills took $37,000 from Dean's credit-card account and "laundered it through her account and paid him with a check from her account.
"So she paid him back with his own money."
In an interview with detectives, Wills said she told Dean there was $30,000 in the drawer from the office that hadn't been deposited. "I put him off for a day because I knew there wasn't any money in the office," she said. "The money came from an advance from his credit card."
Wills declined to make a comment to The Sentinel-News on her behalf. However, in an interview with detectives in May 2008, she said she had worked for Dean for 12 years, leaving in 2005 to go to work for Stites and Harbison. She stated that when she worked for Dean, she was the only full-time employee.
"I did pretty much everything," she said. "I prepared all documents, paid the bills, made the deposits, wrote the checks, answered phones; you name it, I did it."
Wills' salary was $32,000 yearly. She also got extra money per closing and got a Christmas bonus each year.
Her residence in Waddy, which she and her husband sold in 2006, had both a first and second mortgages on it. She told detectives the mortgage on her present house is $150,000 and that her house payment was $968 per month, without taxes and insurance.
Wills told detectives she had two post office boxes.
"I had them to have bills sent to so no one would know about them," she said. "I only took money from the escrow account. I didn't take money from the other accounts. I didn't get all of this $600,000 that you say is missing. I understand that it may not matter."
Some of the money Wills took - $3,500 - was used to pay for a breast augmentation. "It was pure hell for a week," she said.
Donnell insisted that the court correct what she considered a false statement in the records that said she had received a request for a change of trial venue. She added that she knew nothing about it and only found out about it accidentally. Donnell said that nothing should be added to Wills' file without her knowledge.
Overall, she was satisfied with the results in court on Wednesday and gave credit to Kentucky State Police detectives.
"We couldn't have done it without the diligent efforts of the detectives who worked very hard to prove the case," she said.
In addition to KSP's involvement, the investigation also initially included an FBI investigation, because of the large amount of money involved with the banks. FBI agents had been investigating Dean, but then cleared him of any involvement in the check kiting scheme.