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Robertson v. State

Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals

September 20, 2019

Paula P. Robertson
State of Alabama

          Appeal from Blount Circuit Court (CC-16-145)

          PER CURIAM.

         Paula P. Robertson appeals her conviction for first-degree theft of property, a violation of § 13A-8-3, Ala. Code 1975, and her resulting sentence of 30 months' imprisonment. Her sentence was suspended, and she was ordered to serve five years on supervised probation. Robertson was also ordered to pay a $250 fine, a $50 Alabama Crime Victims Compensation Assessment, and $17,419.18 in restitution to the Summit Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department ("the SVFD"). This appeal follows.

         Facts and Procedural History

         In May 2016, the Blount County grand jury returned an indictment charging Robertson with one count of first-degree theft of property. The indictment read as follows:

"The GRAND JURY of said county charge that, before the finding of this INDICTMENT, PAULA P ROBERTSON, whose name to the Grand Jury is otherwise unknown, did knowingly obtain or exert unauthorized control over U.S. CURRENCY, a further description of which to the Grand Jury is otherwise unknown, from the person of STATE OF ALABAMA, with the intent to deprive the owner of said property, in violation of Section 13A-8-3 of the Code of Alabama (1975), as last amended, against the peace and dignity of the State of Alabama."

(C. 48.)(Capitalization in original.)

         The following evidence was presented at trial:

Chris Latta, an executive at Peoples Bank, identified bank records for Robertson's personal bank account that showed deposits made to Robertson's account, as well as monthly bank statements for Robertson's account from 2013 through 2016. Latta also identified bank records from two separate bank accounts belonging to the SVFD, which included records showing the deposits made to the SVFD accounts and the monthly bank statements from 2013 through 2016. Copies of those records were entered into evidence.

         Kelly Stanton, the secretary-treasurer of the SVFD, testified that when she became the treasurer of the SVFD, Robertson was the chief of the SVFD. Stanton stated that Robertson also had the financial records for the SVFD at that time. According to Stanton, when she became treasurer, Robertson did not deliver the books to Stanton despite Stanton's repeated attempts to get them. Instead, Stanton went to Peoples Bank to obtain the bank statements for the SVFD accounts. Stanton testified that the SVFD had two bank accounts -- a general account and a restricted account. Stanton claimed that the general account was for "any day-to-day business" that the SVFD needed and that the restricted account "held funds that could only be used for certain things." (R. 45.) The restricted account contained money obtained from other organizations, such as the Blount County Commission and the Forestry Association, and the money received from those organizations was earmarked for certain respective uses. When Stanton reviewed the bank statements for the SVFD accounts, she noticed overdraft fees on the restricted account on the statements, which totaled $215.

         Stanton also testified that she and her husband had purchased a car from SVFD some time between 2014 and 2016 and that she paid for the car using cash. The cash for the purchase of the car in the amount of $550 was given to Robertson; however, when Stanton reviewed the bank records, she was unable to find a record indicating that the money had been deposited into either of the SVFD's accounts. Additionally, Stanton discovered other "irregularities" with the account, such as checks written from the accounts for large amounts of money to Robertson and to "Brooksville Food Mart," "Lucky's Food Mart," and "Wal-Mart," which were all expenditures Stanton was not aware of. (R. 52.) Stanton stated that while she was serving as treasurer, she was unaware of any reason Robertson would have needed to make expenditures on behalf of the SVFD to Lucky's Food Mart or Wal-Mart discount store, with a few exceptions when the SVFD needed to buy spray paint and other items from Wal-Mart or to buy sandwich ingredients for the SVFD from Lucky's Food Mart; however, when those purchases were made, Stanton was aware of them. Stanton testified that, during the time she served as secretary-treasurer for SVFD from 2014 to 2016, no one was authorized to make cash withdrawals from either the general or the restricted account. She also testified that no one was authorized to use SVFD funds to pay their utility bills or their household expenditures through either of the SVFD bank accounts. Stanton testified that no members of the SVFD were paid for their services. Stanton claimed that the only wage to be paid from the SVFD was to the chief in the amount of $25 per month for a fuel allowance for SVFD business done using the chief's personal vehicle. Stanton acknowledged that Robertson was authorized to make some purchases for expenditures for fundraisers, but testified that she was concerned only with the expenditures made by Robertson that were not authorized by SVFD, including the checks that were made out to Robertson or the cash that was deposited into Robertson's personal account.

         Douglas Smith testified that he was retired from the Alabama Forestry Commission and the Blount County Emergency Management Agency. Smith testified that the Blount County Fire and EMS Association ("the Association") received money from the County Commission, which is then distributed to the fire departments in the county, including SVFD. Smith stated that the fire departments also receive funds from the Alabama Forestry Commission and the Health Care Authority. Smith explained that "the Forestry Commission money cannot be spent on food or entertainment," and that the "Health Care Authority money can only be spent on items for medical care or support of the [fire department] in different ways as far as electronic and equipment purchases." (R. 68.) Smith stated that the money that goes to the fire departments from the County Commission, which is obtained from "landfill money or sales tax money" (C. 68), does not have any limitations that are set by the Association; however, Smith claimed, based on his knowledge of the Association, the funds were not to be used for personal expenses. Smith further explained that the "Fuel-Man program was instigated by the County Commission to support the fire departments" and that each fire department has a "Fuel-Man credit card that they are allowed to make purchases for fuel or gasoline only for each of their department vehicles." (R. 69.) The department vehicles can include fire trucks, the chief's officer car, tankers or brush-trucks, or other rescue vehicles used for EMS calls. On cross-examination, Smith stated that the fuel purchases are not required to be made on the Fuel-Man card and that the Fuel-Man card could also be used to purchase gas to support the fire department, such as for use in a lawnmower to mow around the station.

         Patrick Crockett, a law-enforcement officer with the Department of Insurance State Fire Marshal's Office for the State of Alabama, testified that he met Robertson in March 2016 after he began investigating the SVFD regarding moneys being taken from the SVFD. As part of his investigation, Crockett obtained the bank records from Peoples Bank for both of the SVFD's accounts and Robertson's personal account. He stated:

"[Crockett:] When I first received the [SVFD] records, both the accounts -- in each one of the records I could see checks being written out to Paula Robertson and checks being written out to cash. Once I got a list of the checks that were written out to cash and to Paula Robertson -- once I started looking at Paula Robertson's personal bank accounts, I could see ...

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