Former County Community Justice Department employee Linda Hald was sentenced to 30 months in prison and 24 months post-prison supervision on Tuesday, July 10, for embezzling more than half a million dollars while employed by the department.
Hald appeared before Judge Ted Grove with her attorney, Michael Staropoli, and the support of several of her friends and family members in the gallery.
“Due to her position and a lack of significant oversight, she was able to systematically steal a significant amount of money from the county,” John Tseng, prosecutor for the State of Oregon said in a statement on behalf of the state. “In doing so, she violated the trust of the people of the county and betrayed her oath to serve the community with honor and integrity.”
Tseng said the state recognized that Hald had admitted to her guilt without putting the witnesses through the pressures of a trial, and that it was appreciated. Taking into consideration that Hald had also made efforts to gather as much money as she could to pay back the county, Tseng said the state believed the sentence of 30 months in prison and 24 months of post-prison supervision was an appropriate punishment.
Hald did not wish to make her own statement, but Staropoli pointed out that Hald had the trust and love of many family members and friends in attendance, and many who were not.
“It is tempting, but not particularly helpful this morning, to delve into the serious health issues and personal challenges with which Mrs. Hald has been confronted over the last decade and a half,” Staropoli said.
“So, I’m not going to go there. I will simply reiterate the fact that Mrs. Hald has gone through extreme efforts, with the help of her husband, to obtain and become as liquid as possible so as to provide a meaningful response to the losses, or some of the losses, that are involved here, and as counsel has already noted, that deserves some recognition,” he said.
On behalf of the Columbia County Board of Commissioners and the taxpayers of Columbia County, Commissioner Alex Tardif took the witness stand to make a statement. “When Columbia County Commissioners realized that a long-term county employee was embezzling funds, we were shocked,” he said.
“Our first thoughts were, ‘how could this person, this trusted employee of 30 years, do this? What kind of person can work in community justice – ironically an area that works to help make our community better – could be so selfish as to steal public funds,” Tardif questioned.
“Adding insult to injury was the realization that Linda collected her salary and benefits all while using work time to commit her crimes. Linda was able to retire with full tier 1 PERS benefits that she earned while stealing. But this isn’t just about us. This crime at its core is about the residents of our county, the people who pay taxes and fees for good service. It’s also about the people we employ to perform the tasks the public needs. It’s about our partners, it’s about building a good community, and finally but equally important, it’s about the entire justice system,” Tardif said.
Tardif said the timing of releasing information about Hald’s crime to the public coincided with a measure on the ballot to support the jail, potentially jeopardizing that much needed support by losing the voters’ confidence in their governing body. He said the amount being requested in compensatory fines and restitution did not even remotely match the amount of the loss.
“The county was able to establish, with the help of a hired forensic accountant, that Linda stole in excess of $650,000 from 1999 to 2015 – the year she retired. In addition to the cash taken, we also paid the forensic accountant $70,461 to uncover the scope and scale of the crime, plus $6,356.50 to consult on our insurance claims. The total direct cash cost is $726,356.50,” Tardif said.
Tardif said, when adding what the county estimated to be more than 500 hours of staff time, the loss was even higher. The county’s insurance carrier covered $468,139 of the loss. According to Tardif, county taxpayers have taken a loss of more than a quarter of a million dollars.
“The people of Columbia County need to recover the dollar amount taken, the time our staff has put into dealing with this situation, and the services we paid to provide this transgression. We have a right to that, and we ask the Court to impose as much restitution and fines as possible within the Court’s authority to fully repay the County and its insurer. We believe full compensation and restitution is called for in this case,” Tardif said.
“If Linda walks away from this decades-long, high-cost criminal enterprise without fully repaying all funds, then the message we are giving is that crime does indeed pay, and she would be proof positive,” he said.
In response, the judge ordered an increase to the compensatory fine from $70,000 to $75,000, with an additional $20,000 to be paid in restitution. Hald was prepared and paid the $95,000 at her sentencing.
“While I certainly support and acknowledge and believe that the statements of Commissioner Tardif today are completely accurate, I don’t intend to repeat that,” Grove said. “My position is that for a 70-year-old woman who’s never spent a day in jail that a 30-month sentence is significant and appropriate.”
Grove said he suspected that it was likely the county’s insurance company would continue to pursue the claim against Hald, and the reason he wasn’t including those amounts in his judgement was because the focus of the proceeding, in his perspective, was to come up with a plan that could be supervised by the Department of Corrections.
“I believe it’s something that they’re not best suited for, to try to pursue a judgement for a subrogation claim to the insurance company, so that’s why I am entering the judgement that was essentially agreed upon at the time that you entered your plea,” Grove said.
“I would just say that the part of the commissioner’s comments that I will repeat here today is that this certainly is an extreme case of betrayal to the community and your position as a member and a long-term employee of the Community of Corrections, and it is most unfortunate that we find ourselves here today,” Grove said.
After imposing the 30-month sentence, compensatory fines and restitution, Grove noted that Hald would be eligible for the AIP programs that may be available to her at the Department of Corrections.
Hald was taken into custody immediately following her sentencing.