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A woman who forged checks worth more than half a million dollars while working for Western Governors University using a majority of the stolen cash to buy a house was sentenced Friday to probation, community service and eight days in jail.
Shelley Ann Wilkinson, 45, of Belgrade, Mont., was charged last year with one count of theft, a second-degree felony, and three counts of forgery, all third-degree felonies.
Last month, Wilkinson pleaded guilty to two third-degree felony forgery counts and the other charges were dismissed.
On Friday, Wilkinson stood in tears as 3rd District Judge Elizabeth Hruby-Mills ordered the jail time, 200 hours of community service, along with 36 months probation. Wilkinson also must continue paying restitution.
Prosecutor Vincent Meister said that of the roughly $526,700 embezzled by Wilkinson, she used some to buy a $350,000 house in Canada.
"The embezzlement in itself is selfish," Meister said, refuting the defense's claims that Wilkinson always gave and helped others. "What she stole wasn't something she needed for subsistence. She bought [another] house and she got caught."
Defense attorney Taylor Hartley said that after a few weeks after buying the home, Wilkinson's guilt got to her and she tried to sell it. She later turned the deed to the home over to the university and Wilkinson started paying money back, but still owes the school about $288,000.
Meister said the most "aggravating factor" is that she had the money to pay back the school right away.
Hartley said it was his client's first criminal offense and that out of all his clients "she has been most remorseful." Hartley asked the judge to impose community service rather than jail time. He said Wilkinson had apologized to the university and "she has felt absolutely horrible about what she has done."
The defendant's husband, Aaron Wilkinson, said during sentencing that "she is truly sorry for this, it is truly a one-time thing for her."
Wilkinson worked at the university from Aug. 7, 2007, to Dec. 7, 2010. As part of her employment she was responsible for the university's general accounting, financial analysis and bursar functions, charging documents say.
Wilkinson did not have authorization to generate or sign checks and had access to files listing the authorized checks and accounts, police were told.