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Law Practice Management

Hired By Counsel in Earlier Theft Case, Woman Pleads to Defrauding New Firm

Posted Jun 5, 2009 12:22 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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Even as 43-year-old Anna Howell pleaded guilty to money laundering and mail fraud in federal court in Virginia yesterday, the former secretary and bookkeeper for Jessee & Read appeared upbeat.

She was hired by the law firm after she pleaded guilty in state court, exactly two years before yesterday's plea, to charges concerning her theft of $16,000 while working for a Washington County Circuit judge, reports the Bristol Herald Courier. Howell has already more than repaid the $31,000 she was subsequently federally charged with stealing from a Jessee & Read trust account over 13 months.

Partner Daniel Read served as Howell's defense counsel in the state-court case, the newspaper notes. Within three months of starting work for his firm, federal prosecutors say, she was again stealing from her new employer. Although Howell and her husband sold their home and wrote Jessee & Read a check for $35,600, the firm now contends that she owes an additional $57,000 concerning other alleged thefts, the newspaper reports.

Howell could get as much as 40 years in prison and be fined up to $750,000 when she is sentenced in federal court in Abington, Va., the newspaper recounts. Meanwhile, her probation officer in the previous Washington County Circuit Court case is now seeking to revoke a five-year suspended jail sentence imposed after her June 4, 2007 guilty plea to 12 counts of forgery, uttering and grand larceny concerning the judge's funds, according to the Herald Courier and an earlier Bristol News article.

Howell's defense lawyer, Brian Beck, says she has admitted to pocketing some cash payments to Jessee & Read, as well as forging an attorney's signature on some checks drawn on the law firm's general operating account, the Herald Courier reports. However, Beck describes as "kind of a cloudy issue” whether the bank should have paid these checks, since the attorney whose signature Howell forged wasn't an authorized signer on the account.

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