(Feb. 8, 2018) Former Snow Hill Town Clerk Erica Holland, who was found guilty of embezzling from the town, was sentenced to 15 years in state prison, reduced to only five of active incarceration by Judge Newton Jackson, in Worcester County Circuit Court last Thursday.
Holland also will serve five years of supervised probation after her release and was ordered to pay restitution of the more than $169,000.
Holland’s sentence goes far beyond state sentencing guidelines because of the severity and longevity of Holland’s offenses.
State Prosecutor Emmet Davitt said the guidelines call for up to two years in prison, but going farther was warranted because Holland exploited the public trust and altered documents to conceal her crime.
Holland was hired as the town clerk on Jan. 28, 2014. Among her duties was to accept payments on behalf of the town from citizens. Often, these payments were made in cash.
By August of that year, Holland admitted, she had begun stealing these payments and continued the thefts until her April 2017 dismissal.
Holland admitted to stealing cash from residents, and then altering sewer or leachate invoices to cover the theft. Holland admitted to committing 237 separate thefts to obtain slight more than $169,100.
Davitt said Holland also employed a type of fraud called “lapping,” in which payments to one account are credited to another to disguise theft.
If taken in equal parts, each theft totaled about $713.50.
Holland then deposited the funds into one of five accounts: one under her control, one held jointly with her husband, Fulton Holland Jr., or one of three held separately by Fulton Holland Jr. Erica Holland made about 340 deposits of taxpayers’ money into personal accounts.
According to Davitt, Holland had two accounts at a bank, one personal and one held jointly with her husband. In her personal account, she made 153 deposits totaling about $45,000 for an average deposit of about $294. In the joint account, she made 38 deposits totaling about $20,000, or about $526 each.
At another bank, there was an account in her husband’s name that received 99 deposits totaling about $31,000, or averaging about $313 each.
The Hollands also maintained two credit union accounts, both under the control of Fulton Holland Jr. One account received three payments totaling about $1,900, and the other received 48 payments, totaling about $19,000, or about $400 each, on average.
If taken in equal parts, the deposits were about $500 each.
Davitt said Holland, whose town job paid her $30,000 a year, also confessed to spending some of the money on bills. Her husband Fulton, the assistant warden of the Worcester County Jail, earned $93,768.06 in 2017.
Fulton Holland was investigated by authorities, but no charges were filed against him.
“When this all came out, the community was unbelievably shocked. How does no one see this?” City Councilwoman Allison Cook said during the trial, said. “Town Hall is small, and Snow Hill is a small town. We’re not looking over each others’ shoulders.”
Cook said she was pleased with the sentencing, and thought the new policies and procedures implemented following Holland’s removal would protect the town from such schemes in the future.
During the trial, Holland read a letter explaining her feelings of remorse.
“I’m not proud of what I’ve done and I think about it every day,” she said.
Holland said incarceration would affect her ability to repay the money she took from residents and friends, would affect her relationship with her five-year old daughter and would affect her ability to work with Free Indeed ministries in town.
Leaders from Free Indeed ministries wrote letters of support for Holland, who works with ministry youth, and sings to the congregation.
“We have a very intelligent and educated young defendant who appears to be a charming individual and God-fearing. This isn’t a single incident but a two-year period that took lots of thinking and lots of planning,” Judge Jackson said before sentencing Holland. “It’s not just the money. The amount is huge but a breach of trust for her employer but a betrayal of friends and coworkers … any sentence must have a deterrent effect.”
Jackson said citizens were losing respect for government institutions when they should be able to trust towns and governments to do things properly.
Holland, who has been working as a caregiver for an elderly woman, brought a payment of $3,000 toward restitution to her trial.