Judge orders partial restitution to Cape Girardeau doctor

Thursday, March 23, 2006

A circuit judge determined that the former office manager of a Cape Girardeau doctor stole more than $47,800 from her employer, but ordered the likely restitution for half that amount.

In determining the restitution Melissa James should pay to her former employer, Dr. Paul Clarke, Circuit Judge Benjamin Lewis said in a Wednesday ruling that he could not order James to pay back more than she is able.

Lewis ordered her to pay $400 a month for the next five years, which is the length of her probation. The amount may increase or decrease depending on her financial status, according to the ruling.

In January, James, 32, of Scott City, pleaded guilty to two counts of obtaining controlled substances by fraud and three counts of forgery. She admitted to writing three checks from Clarke to herself for $1,583.43.

However, 104 other cashed checks were found written out to either James or the Family Support Payment Center for a total of $47,806.08.

In a written statement, Clarke said he was pleased with the judge's findings that nearly $48,000 was misappropriated by James but disappointed that full restitution was not ordered.

"The disposition of this case seems to invite this type of crime because there's a net profit of $24,000 and no real punishment," he said.

During a restitution hearing earlier this month, Clarke speculated that James had hidden much of the funds in a joint bank account she shares with her children.

But in the judge's ruling, Lewis said there was no evidence of such an account and the court was "unaware of any instance in which an embezzler was so motivated by thrift as to save any part of his or her ill-gotten gains."

James said Wednesday night she was relieved that she would not have to pay full restitution but stressed the only wrongdoing she had done was writing three checks without permission, to which she pleaded guilty.

"If I had $47,000 of his money, I would not be driving a car 14 years old with 200,000 miles on it. I would not be living in a double-wide trailer," James said.

Lewis' ruling would not bar Clarke from seeking full restitution from James in civil court. If Clarke does proceed with civil action and receives the full lost amount, the monthly restitution James is required to pay would cease, the ruling stated.


335-6611, extension 127

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