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Tuesday, 06 August 2013 17:49

Bookkeeper Sentenced to Seven Years For Theft from Florida Body Shop

Jennifer Vasseur could have gotten six months in jail, but when she couldn’t make restitution, she was given a seven-year prison sentence. As part of a plea deal, the 38-year-old Winter Haven woman had to repay more than $20,000 that she stole from A&E Auto Body in Eagle Lake, where she worked as a bookkeeper and secretary. The deadline was July 9. She was short about $15,000. Her punishment was up to Circuit Judge Catherine Combee to decide. She ordered Vasseur to serve seven years in prison followed by 10 years of probation.

Vasseur was arrested in May 2011 after an investigation by the State Attorney’s Office in Bartow. She wrote unauthorized checks in her name, her husband’s name and to cash, according to a complaint affidavit. Vasseur told investigators that she took the money to help pay bills, the affidavit states.

In May, she pleaded guilty to grand theft and making false entries on the books of a corporation.

During the hearing, Vasseur vowed to “pay back every single penny.” She asked for house arrest or probation. “I will pay the money back,” she said. “I’m not the person that I was.”

Victoria Arrington, owner of A&E Auto Body, said she and her employees were supportive of Vasseur while she worked there for four years.

She described many examples of assistance provided to Vasseur over the years: getting her a car, paying to turn her power on, giving her a computer, providing her extra money to eat at restaurants on the weekend, paying for her cellphone, purchasing massages for her, helping with preparations for her wedding, offering to pay for her to continue her education and sending Vasseur’s daughter to a theater camp. Vasseur’s theft was painful, but the business was able to carry on, she said.

“We didn’t lose faith in people though,” Arrington said. “We still hire people, and we still trust them. We could have been cynical, but we believe that people are good.” Prosecutors asked for a five-year prison sentence. The judge went higher, noting Vasseur’s past criminal history.

Vasseur said she didn’t know that her plea deal exposed her to a seven-year prison sentence, or she wouldn’t have signed it. She thought the most that she faced was 15 months in prison. Vasseur was also ordered to pay $20,729 in restitution.

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