Embezzlement leads to six months in jail

Tammy Lynn Atkins, the Washington woman accused of embezzling from the family of the ailing former mayor of Washington in 2011, was sentenced to six months in jail in Rappahannock County Circuit Court Tuesday morning (Aug. 27).

With credit for time served and standard good-behavior rules, Atkins could be free by December.

Tammy Lynn Atkins is led to jail by Maj. John Arstino and Sheriff Connie C. Smith after her sentencing Tuesday in circuit court. Photo by Jan Clatterbuck.
Tammy Lynn Atkins is led to jail by Maj. John Arstino and Sheriff Connie C. Smith after her sentencing Tuesday in circuit court. Photo by Jan Clatterbuck.

The 42-year-old Atkins was hired in 2011 by Clarissa Leggett to care for her and her ailing husband, former mayor and longtime Washington resident Eugene Leggett, who died June 8, 2012. Atkins was originally charged last Nov. 14 with 10 counts of felony embezzlement. Four counts were dropped as part of a plea agreement reached June 6 — the same day Atkins pleaded guilty to the six remaining charges and was sent to Rappahannock County Jail while she awaited sentencing.

Summarizing evidence in June, Commonwealth’s Attorney Art Goff said Atkins was hired by Leggett for duties that included opening mail, cleaning house and paying the bills. As part of her employment, Goff said, Atkins had access to Clarissa Leggett’s checkbook, which further enabled her to access Leggett’s bank accounts and ATM card.

Goff said that Atkins began accessing Leggett’s accounts without her permission in January, 2012, stealing funds every month through June — $1,000 in February, $1,250 in March, $650 in April, $800 in May and $2,700 in June.

Eventually, Goff said family members noticed the constant activity with the accounts and reported the discrepancy to the Rappahannock County Sheriff’s Office. Goff said RCSO investigator J.C. Welch interviewed Atkins last fall, where she confessed to stealing the money in an effort to catch up with mortgage payments which she claimed were three months behind.

Tuesday morning, Goff petitioned Judge Herman A. Whisenant to exceed the sentencing guidelines based on the nature and volume of Atkins’ offenses. “This was a breach-of-trust case of the most egregious kind,” Goff said. “I know property crimes aren’t usually treated as severely as other crimes, but this is not the first time she’s stolen.”

Amanda Zadrozny, Atkins’ defense council, submitted seven letters from community members on Atkins’ behalf, including several in which people offered to hire her after she’s released from jail. Zadrozny also asked that Whisenant credit her for time served.

“Despite knowing what happened and what she’s done . . . these people still trust her and want her employed with them,” Zadrozny said.

Neal Atkins, the defendant’s husband, testified that he has seen “a 180-degree turnaround” by his wife in recent weeks. Atkins said $2,000 in restitution had already been paid to the Leggetts and he had made plans to borrow the rest and pay it in full, though he added that it would be difficult to repay the loans — from friends and family — as long as his wife was in jail and unable to work.

Goff took issue with that statement, comparing it to “playing chicken with the court” in his closing statement — a statement that brought a chorus of groans and objections from Atkins’ supporters, followed by Whisenant’s warning that he would cite the next person who spoke out of turn for  contempt of court.

“The court needs to look at what she’s done, not at what she will do,” said Goff.

Dressed in a prisoners’ white and black striped jumpsuit, Atkins read a brief statement to the court before she was sentenced, apologizing for her actions and vowing to make amends.

“I haven’t yet had a chance to apologize to the Leggetts because part of my agreement was to have no contact with them, but I’m truly sorry and I hope you’ll be able to forgive me someday,” Atkins began. “I’m eager to make restitution . . . and I’ve made plans to get my life back on track.”

Judge Whisenant then sentenced Atkins to five years in jail on the first embezzlement charge, suspending all but six months — with credit for the nearly three months she’s already served. Atkins also received five years for each of the remaining five charges; all of that time was suspended. She was also placed on four years of supervised probation.

Whisenant also ordered her to pay $10,000 in restitution to the Leggett family, minus $2,000 credit for what had already been paid. As part of the restitution, Atkins must pay a to-be-determined amount each month (totalling at least $4,000 a year) for the next two years.

“This is going to leave you with a lot of time hanging over your head,” Whisenant said afterward, referring to the suspended portion of her jail sentence. “This court does not believe in the ‘revolving door’ — your attorney can tell you that. I’ll take you at your word . . . and give you the first chance, but after that, your conduct speaks. Do what the court tells you and you won’t have a problem; don’t do what the court tells you, and you will have a problem.”

Also in court . . .

Amissville resident Monica Cassandra Fincham was found guilty Tuesday of violating the terms of her probation after testing positive for opiates in March, May and June of this year. Goff said the 26-year-old, who gave birth just eight days ago, took at least some of the opiates while pregnant.

Pamela J. Jenkins, Fincham’s mother, said she had noticed significant improvement in her daughter’s behavior recently, before her incarceration, including bonding with her six-year-old son and finding a job.

Zadrozny petitioned Whisenant for leniency, asking him to consider house arrest or a work release program which would allow Fincham to help support her family. Goff, on the other hand, asked Whisenant to sentence Fincham to 18 months in jail.

“This is not the first time you’ve been here and somewhere along the line, the court has to stop the revolving door,” said Whisenant. He then found Fincham guilty of violating her probation and sentenced her to 18 months in jail, placed her on probation for two years and ordered her to attend a substance-abuse program.

Arrests

Rappahannock County Sheriff’s Office Deputy C. Koglin arrested 62-year-old Washington resident George Edward Woodward, Jr., for driving under the influence (DUI) on Aug. 23. Woodward was arrested as a result of a traffic stop on Lee Highway and is scheduled to appear in court on Sept. 10.

Two days later, on Aug. 25, Deputy W. C. Ubben stopped a vehicle for a traffic violation in Viewtown and subsequently charged both 20-year-old occupants with misdemeanors. Andie Rene Brown of Rixeyville was charged with possession of marijuana, while Katie Hunton, also of Rixeyville, was charged with underage possession of alcohol. They are both due in district court on Oct. 1.