Former district clerk pleads guilty of theft - KTRE.com | Lufkin and Nacogdoches, Texas

Former district clerk pleads guilty of theft

NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - A former Nacogdoches County clerk pleaded guilty today for stealing thousands of dollars from a child support account. It was discovered earlier this year. Donna Phillips entered the plea before the judge she served during her six years in office. Then she was taken down the hall to go over the terms of her probation. Phillips receives ten years probation. She could have received up to 20 years in prison.

Phillips has already paid back $35,OOO by cashing in her retirement check, but will have to come up with $3,000 more. Beginning January 2nd she will start a 180 day sentence in the Nacogdoches County Jail. Community service is also ordered.

Both attorneys say it is awkward convicting and representing a person who they worked with so closely over the years. Defense attorney John Heath Jr. shared, "I'm not qualified to talk about what caused donna to go so far astray. She was a diligent, effective, elected official in nacogdoches county for years. And I think we're all shocked, astonished and dismayed to find out she had done this." District Attorney Stephanie Stephens agreed. "You know, it's not a comfortable feeling. It's not one of those situations where you feel good about what happened. I feel like justice was served." Phillips will write a letter of apology to nacogdoches county taxpayers. She served them for 17 years.

Prevention

Nacogdches County Auditor Keith barber has a keen eye when it comes to missing funds.   Barber said, "The job of the auditor is not to find fraud. It's to prove that there's none going on. We're here to verify the accuracy of the records and at some point we could not verify the accuracy of the records."

Soon after Barber ordered scheduled audits. They're now conducted in every county department.  "We adopted an audit calendar. We have a calendar for the next 12 months--who we will be auditing. Pretty much when we will be auditing."

A full time person is hired to do the audits, but all employees are trained in the task. Barber's theory is, "Follow the rules and it's easy."

Loretta Cammack became district clerk, first by appointment and then elected by the voters. Passport purchases to fees paid by felons bring in a lot of revenue to the office. Checks and balances are in place.   "We cross train where there's just not one person responsible for making the deposits. They're responsible for balancing their cash funds. It's rotated so it's not just one person who is constantly doing it,"  explained Cammack. After getting caught stealing, donna Phillips resigned. Then the county went to work regaining the public's confidence. Leaders say they've reached their goal. Barber knows, "You got somebody else's money and we need to be accountable for it." Cammack says, "I would be surprised if we ever saw that happen again."   

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