Prosecutors seek 10-year sentence for court fund theft

Sunday, July 8, 2007

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Prosecutors were pushing for 10 years in prison for a former Springfield municipal court employee who pleaded guilty to embezzling court funds.

A defense lawyer, however, says Rhonda Bateman, 51, should be granted probation.

Bateman, of Rogersville, Mo., pleaded guilty Friday to one count of felony stealing. She had been charged with three counts of class B felony stealing.

Under a last-minute plea agreement, two of the charges will be dismissed when she is sentenced.

Bateman, a former accounting services representative who collected cash and check payments for municipal ordinance violations, was arrested in June 2006 and later fired after city officials discovered more than $500,000 in court revenue missing. An internal audit conducted by the city last year put the total amount of missing money at about $1.3 million, with thefts reaching back to Jan. 1, 2000, or earlier.

The charges against Bateman, handed up by a Greene County grand jury in September, did not specify how much she had stolen, only that she took $25,000 or more on at least three occasions between Jan. 1, 2004, and June 13, 2006.

Bateman faces a possible prison sentence of five to 15 years, but prosecutors were recommending the 10-year sentence as part of the plea agreement. Defense attorney Joe Passanise said he would ask that she not serve jail time when she is sentenced Oct. 19. He noted that she has no prior criminal history.

"We felt the plea agreement was fair," Passanise said, "and Rhonda wanted to accept responsibility and start moving forward."

If probation is granted, prosecutors will ask that Bateman be forced to pay $447,928 in restitution, according to Greene County prosecutor Darrell Moore.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: