In my most recent article for the Huffington Post, we examined how the Oklahoma County Jail has been ripping off its inmates, overcharging them for indirect costs of incarceration, for nearly 20 years. The article discussed how the Oklahoma County Jail is not unique in its problems--rather, the entire state of Oklahoma incarcerates far too many inmates for far too long, and unjust and arbitrary policies keep people in jail for no other reason than poverty.
Now, the Pushmataha County Jail is getting its share of the ignominious spotlight after a former sheriff's deputy has been accused of stealing directly from inmate bank accounts.
Polly Culver, 31, was working for the Pushmataha County Sheriff's Office as a deputy, K-9 handler, and secretary in 2014. Between July 3 and September 13 of that year, says the OSBI, Culver allegedly wrote five checks, totaling nearly $1,000, from inmate accounts to women who were not jail inmates.
Four of the checks were written to Culver's former sister-in-law, who told investigators that Culver gave her the checks and asked her to cash them and give the cash to Culver.
The fifth check was made out to a woman named Jennifer Teafatiller, who initially told investigators that the money came from her husband's inmate account. She later changed her story, saying Culver gave her a check for $170, asking her to cash it and return the money to her.
The five checks were written for amounts ranging from $110 to $292.57, totaling $952.57 in allegedly embezzled inmate funds. The money in inmate accounts is intended for jail inmates to use in purchasing goods from the commissary, including snacks and phone cards.
Culver is charged in Pushmataha County District Court with five felony counts of embezzlement by a state or county employee. In general, embezzlement is punished according to the value of the misappropriated funds or property:
- Less than $500 - misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $1,000 fine
- $500 but less than $1,000 - felony punishable by a maximum of one year in jail and a $5,000 fine
- $1,000 but less than $25,000 - felony with a maximum penalty of 5 years in prison, a $5,000 fine, and restitution
- $25,000 or more - felony punishable by a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, a $10,000 fine, and restitution
However, embezzlement by a county or state employee is a more serious offense. Even for a small amount, like the less than $300 checks alleged in this case, and a less than $1,000 total, the act is a felony. Each count of embezzlement by a state or county employee is punishable by one to 10 years in prison, a fine equal to triple the value of the embezzled property, and restitution.
Click here to learn more about Oklahoma embezzlement laws.