GLENWOOD, Iowa — Standing in a courtroom in front of a judge, Tammy Gammon turned and addressed her former co-workers in the Mills County Treasurer's Office.
“I just want to apologize for everything that I did to you guys,” she said Monday, sobbing.
Despite her expressed regret, Judge Timothy O'Grady sentenced Gammon to 25 years in prison, the maximum possible, for stealing more than $36,000 from the office.
In doing so, he cited the importance of deterrence. Gammon, 43, is the second former employee of the Treasurer's Office to be found guilty of stealing from taxpayers in the past decade.
Gammon pleaded guilty Nov. 19 to one count of ongoing criminal conduct, a felony, as part of a plea deal. She originally was charged with ongoing criminal conduct, first-degree theft, felonious conduct and five counts of forgery.
She likely will serve a fraction of her sentence before being granted parole.
Mills County Treasurer Becky Killpack said she would be satisfied with even a couple of years in prison for Gammon.
Killpack was one of three former co-workers who read victim impact statements in court before the sentencing.
“Until the punishment fits the crime, it's going to keep happening,” Killpack said after the proceedings.
Tami Kusian of the State Auditor's Office said that in fiscal year 2002, the office handled 10 public corruption cases. For 2012, the number was 23.
“It definitely is increasing,” she said.
In the majority of cases, she said, the perpetrators were not sentenced to prison, she said.
In 2004, Donna Davis, a former Mills County deputy treasurer, was found guilty of a number of felonies after stealing public funds. Davis was given a 25-year suspended sentence and probation and ordered to pay restitution. She was fired in 2001.
Gammon, who was hired in 2003, stole fees that should have been used for county and state government services.
According to a special investigation by the State Auditor's Office, Gammon took annual vehicle registration payments, entered the information into an Iowa Department of Transportation database, then voided the transactions and kept the fees. The practice dated to at least 2005, the report said.
The audit found 182 such transactions with fees typically around $200. Her actions caused problems for drivers whose cars appeared to be unregistered in the state database. Some may have been improperly ticketed or warned by police for not having their cars registered, while others may have been made to pay late fees when they renewed their registrations the following year, Mills County Attorney Eric Hansen has said.
After the allegations came to light, the county fired Gammon in April 2011.
Gammon committed the thefts using state computer programs that the county uses for motor vehicle registrations and titles, Killpack said. The state is improving those programs, but she said she couldn't guarantee it wouldn't happen again.
She is also considering adding security cameras above the cash registers to keep watch on employees that might have prevented Gammon's theft. The cameras could also clear someone from wrongdoing if he or she were falsely accused.
“If they are not stealing, which they shouldn't be, that is protecting them as well,” she said.
In court Monday morning, Gammon's attorney, Thomas Severin, argued that his client should not go to prison. He told the judge that Gammon was sincerely remorseful. She is also employed again and is the divorced mother of three children who need her, Severin said.
Hansen said Gammon should go to prison, pointing out that the last person to steal from the office didn't go to prison and that more of a deterrent was needed.
Treasurer's Office employees described the stress they felt as the State Auditor's Office investigated.
“I would come home and cry and cry,” said employee Melinda Lucy. “We will always be known as the community office that can't be trusted with (taxpayers') money.”
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