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In mid-November, after spending nine months behind bars for stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from her employer, Jody Wills began a new phase of her life – that of a citizen with a court-ordered debt to pay.
Wills had been jailed but on work-release since February – some of the time in Oldham County – after admitting that she stole nearly $900,000 from Shelbyville lawyer Mark Dean, for whom she was office manager.
Though she had agreed to a plea deal for a 10-year prison sentence, Wills was given 9 months in the county jail and 5 years probation by Judge Steve Mershon, who also required her to make full restitution.
That means that, though she arrived home to be with her family just before Thanksgiving, Wills must pay $725,000 to Dean by making weekly payments of $600, court records state, “to cover just Mr. Dean’s interest on the debt occasioned by her theft.”
During their high-profile case, which involved both local prosecutors and the FBI, investigators discovered that Wills had kited more than $2.6 million between 2001 and 2005.
When she left Dean’s employment as office manager in 2005, after the thefts were discovered, his escrow account at Citizens Union Bank was $840,000 in the negative.
Dean, who also had a romantic relationship with Wills during the time she worked for him, said he had to sell a farm and take out a loan to make good on his account, stating in court that he had already paid $220,000 just in interest on the loan and was nowhere near paying off the principal.
But now he will recoup about $31,000 a year from Wills.
During her work release, she was hired by Shelbyville Physical Therapy. She was transferred to Oldham County last spring, Capt. June Craig of the Shelby County Detention Center said, because, typically, inmates on work release are not housed in their counties of residence.
Wills’ weekly requirement extends for her term of probation, meaning she would pay Dean $156,000 during that time, but Wills remains on the hook for the remainder of the $725,000 that was not recovered after her arrest.
“If it’s not paid back in full by the end of her probation, she may petition the court to extend her probation,” Commonwealth Attorney Laura Donnell said.
She added that the $725,000 includes interest charges of 12 percent. “That’s the legal rate of interest,” she said.
Neither Wills nor her husband, Daniel, would comment about her probation and referred questions to her attorney, William Stewart of Shelbyville.
He said the Wills are coping with the situation the best they can.
“They have survived as a family unit and they are doing everything they can to meet the requirements the court has set out and comply with conditions of her probation,” he said. “Jody accepts that responsibility and is doing everything she possibly can, and will continue to do that and will not shirk that responsibility.
“She wants to do what she’s supposed to do.”
Donnell said that as far as she is concerned, even the fact that Wills was given probation and the opportunity to pay the money back was a break for Wills, and she needs to do whatever is necessary to fulfill her obligations.
“She needs to do as any other person would do that’s not a thief,” she said. “She needs to pay her bills in a legal way, and if that means she needs to find an extra job to make ends meet, then she can do that just like everybody else.”
Donnell said she knows her stance on the situation sounds tough, but she said she doesn’t condone stealing money from one’s place of employment.
“I don’t have a lot of sympathy for embezzlers,” she said. “Because they know every day that they go to work that they’re going to steal from their employer, who is providing them with a job that could be given to someone else who needs a job.”
Donnell said her office had in fact petitioned the court to have Will’s probation revoked for not making restitution payments on time, but the court denied that request after receiving a letter from Sheri LeCompte, owner of Shelbyville Physical Therapy and Spine Care Center, who explained that the tardiness was her fault.
“In the sixteen years that I have been in business, I have never dealt with a wage garnishment, and therefore, since it was not routine, I simply forgot to write the check and mail it to Mr. Dean,” LeCompte wrote. “I apologize for any trouble this may have caused and would like to exonerate Jody of any negligence as it was fully my oversight.”