(05/09/2006)
By Drew Moody

Special to the Hur Herald

Gilmer Prosecutor Jerry Hough mentioned 'Dante's Inferno' as he told the court there must be a special place in Hell for anyone who violates the public's trust, referring to Michelle Dawn Rose's theft of over $8,000 from the Gilmer County Sheriff's office.

Rose, of Glenville, was a tax clerk there until her arrest in May of last year.

Hough told the court that while Rose had partied away much of the money she stole, he ultimately "didn't object to probation" in this instance. Rose is facing up to 10 years in jail for her crimes.

The former tax clerk was only charged with one count of embezzlement, although she could have faced multiple counts as there were numerous thefts occurring over a period of nearly a year.

She agreed to enter a guilty plea in lieu of a trial. Rose is the niece of a current employee in the sheriff's department.

Following Hough's allusions of Hell, Circuit Judge Jack Alsop made some scorching comments to the court as well.

Alsop became upset because a plan for restitution hadn't been prepared. Alsop asked Rose's attorney, John Oshoway about the plan. He responded, "Well I'm not sure Judge (Alsop)."

"I'm not going to be held hostage," Alsop said. "I'm either going to have a plan or not have a plan." Sentencing was then postponed until June 12 at 10:15 a.m.

Alsop was concerned that no communication has been received from the Gilmer County Sheriff's office about its position on sentencing the defendant.

Hough said Tuesday he thought the judge was upset, in part, because neither the county commission, nor the sheriff's office had taken a position on the matter of sentencing Rose. No such requests had been made to address the court, according to Sheriff Mickey Metz.

"If they need to pass blame, I'll take it," Hough said, referring to the absence of the letters. "But let's get to the real issue ... how do you want to sentence this lady."

Since the county is the victim in this case, Hough said, the court wants to hear directly from them.

HISTORY OF CORRUPTION

Other past employees in the Gilmer County Sheriff's Office have been convicted of stealing over the years. Some have sour recollections of how those cases have been dealt with.

"There's nothing wrong with stealing in Gilmer County," said Karen Elkin, assistant circuit court clerk. "They'll put her right back to work. I don't like it."

Elkin said in her 30 years in the circuit clerks office she'd seen employees 'steal the county blind.'

One former sheriff's employee, convicted in 1990 of embezzlement is now working for another county agency. That individual only served a 60-day evaluation period in Pruntytown and was subsequently released on five years probation.

Current Sheriff Mickey Metz believes he has made the necessary changes to permanently end the theft of tax collection moneys. New computer software and other measures are now in place.

"We're doing everything different," Metz said last week. The state auditor's office assisted with installing additional new safeguards in Metz's office.

The sheriff said when he became aware of the criminal activity he immediately contacted the auditor's office and successfully lobbied the department to forgo a special audit of the department.

This saved taxpayers potentially thousands of dollars, according to Metz. The state hasn't completed its annual county audit as yet.

HOW ROSE MANAGED TO STEAL MONEY

Rose was a tax clerk for over three years in the Gilmer County Sheriff's office. She well understood how the system operated. Over the course of nine months, beginning in July of 2004, Rose took cash money from tax payments.

She accomplished this in two ways. If people paid cash, she'd prepare a computerized receipt of payment then erase the information from the database and take the money.

If people mailed a tax payment she'd simply substitute the check for money on hand in the office.

The theft was discovered only after some taxpayers saw their names printed in the delinquent tax roles and complained about it.

Sheriff Metz ultimately confronted Rose and she readily admitted the crime, he said. The case was turned over to the West Virginia State Police to investigate.

"She actually kept pretty good documentation," Metz said, because she intended to pay it back.

"When it's good intentions but breaking the law - it's still 'breaking the law,'" Metz concluded.


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