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Former Arundel employee agrees to repay $35,000 Lawyer says restitution may not prevent jail time


The woman formerly in charge of inmate funds at the Anne Arundel County Detention Center will have to repay $35,000 to the county, slightly more than half of the $60,000 she was accused of embezzling from jail accounts.

Wanda B. Conaway, 40, of Huntingtown in Calvert County, pleaded guilty to felony theft Friday in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court under an agreement that includes restitution. Judge Joseph P. Manck set sentencing for Feb. 23.

Conaway was charged in August with embezzling $60,000 from the jail, a figure she disputed, in what became a politically charged probe. Outside the courtroom, defense attorney Kevin L. Beard said that the $35,000 represented a negotiated figure.

It was less than what county auditors and investigators said was missing from the account and more than the $10,000 prosecutors said Conaway estimated embezzling.

Terms of the plea agreement call for Conaway to pay $10,000 during a 5-year probation, and the county will file a civil judgment of $25,000 against her. But that is no guarantee she will avoid jail time, said Assistant State's Attorney Frank Ragione. He said he planned not to make a sentencing recommendation to the judge. The maximum is 15 years.

"I am always hopeful for probation," Beard said. "But I am not as foolish as to think there would be only probation for a crime as serious as this."

How much the county could recoup was unclear. What, if anything, was recovered from a bonding company was unavailable Friday. Conaway has repaid nothing so far.

The indictment covered the 13 months from November 1995 through December 1996.

Conaway, who worked at the jail from September 1993 until August 1998 and was earning $24,954 a year, told investigators that beginning in late 1994, she started stealing from the inmate funds to buy Christmas presents and intended to repay it.

"Then she got greedy, I guess," Ragione said.

The money bankrolled trips to Hawaii and Williamsburg, Va. It paid for a stereo, and to take her mother to play bingo, as well as to pay rent and bills, he said.

She claimed to have repaid some of the cash she took, but Ragione said that could neither be proved nor disproved.

The charge was the culmination of probes first by the county auditor and then by the state's attorney that lasted two years. The investigations examined what turned out to be sorry fiscal practices at the jail, revealed an abandoned 1995 police probe of the embezzlement and led to open political warfare between then-County Executive John G. Gary and then-County Council President Diane R. Evans. Both are out of office.

Conaway's job was to handle transactions for the inmates' store and ensure that inmates who arrived with cash were credited with it. The commissary fund holds money prisoners use to buy snacks and toiletries.

Each inmate has an account within the fund. As an inmate buys items from the commissary, the amount is drawn from his account. If the inmate is released with money in the account, the jail issues a check to the prisoner for the balance.

No inmate complained of being short-changed.

The auditor's and prosecutor's probes showed that inmate pTC money was credited to the account on paper, but cash receipts were not always deposited in the bank. Deposit slips were altered. Conaway was the common thread.

Teresa Sutherland, county auditor, said she was happy the case was being concluded. Her office has helped the jail institute better financial practices.

"They do have controls in place that should be effective," she said.

Pub Date: 12/20/98

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