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Former branch manager pleads guilty to embezzlement

August 25, 2005|by Pepper Ballard

pepperb@herald-mail.com

A former branch manager of Fidelity Bank on Dual Highway pleaded guilty Wednesday to embezzlement after she dipped into customers' bank accounts to make up for losses she created in other accounts between December 2004 and June.

Kelli Jo Lawrence, 37, of 18561 Burnside Bridge Road in Sharpsburg, pleaded guilty in Washington County District Court. District Judge Ralph France II ordered Lawrence to serve 12 months in jail, which he suspended. Five other charges were dropped: four counts of felony theft and one count of felony theft scheme, according to court documents.

Lawrence was ordered to serve 18 months probation, pay $557.50 in criminal fines and costs and perform 80 hours of community service, according to Washington County State's Attorney Charles Strong and court documents.

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She paid $6,900 in restitution to Fidelity Bank on June 20, Strong said.

On Wednesday, she paid the balance owed to the bank - $31.52 - through the Office of the State's Attorney, he said.

According to charging documents, Lawrence told Hagerstown Police Department Detective Shawn Schultz on June 20 that she began stealing money from customers' bank accounts in November 2004. At that time, she had spent her own money that was set aside for bills before learning she wasn't getting as much money as expected from a home equity loan. Because of that shortage, Lawrence said she closed a customer's account and took $4,000 to pay her bills and to go on a planned vacation, intending to pay that customer back after she got her loan. But after she was confronted by that customer, Lawrence dipped into another customer's account to make up for it and the pattern continued, documents state.

According to charging documents, bank officials contacted police June 15, reporting that Lawrence had talked with a customer who complained she didn't authorize two April 4 withdrawals from her accounts, which amounted to nearly $6,000. Lawrence told the customer June 3 that there was another woman with the same name who did business at the branch and the complaining customer's account was drawn upon in error. She told the customer the mistake would be fixed, documents state.

At about the same time, the branch's assistant manager reported that a 76-year-old man's $6,000 certificate of deposit account had been closed without his authorization. It was discovered that Lawrence approved the $5,941.70 transaction, documents state. Lawrence told the man April 4 that she found $5,941.70 in the head teller's drawer, charging documents state.

Three days later, a representative from Independent Junior Fire Engine Co. No. 3 reported that a certificate of deposit the company redeemed was short $1,000. A look into that transaction indicated Lawrence noted that $1,000 was given to the fire company's president, but the president never received that money, documents state.

When bank officials interviewed Lawrence on June 7, she denied involvement and wrote her letter of resignation, according to charging documents.

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