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Parks employee gets probation

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By The Staff

A Levy County Parks and Recreation Department employee has been sentenced to three years probation on a felony charge of swindling the county out of $5,797.63 between May 2009 and December 2012. 

Pamela Sheppard Owens, of Gulf Hammock, admitted to county officials and a sheriff's investigator that she took monies collected by county workers at Shell Mound, Henry Beck and Blue Springs county parks and sent to her office, altered the receipts for the cash to lower the reported revenues and pocketed the difference, according to law enforcement officials. 

She was arrested on March 25 after County Coordinator Fred Moody filed a sworn complaint and freed on $20,000 bond. Moody also terminated her from the county job. Moody said Owens had made restitution to the county. 

When the case came to circuit court before Judge Stanley Griffis, she first pleaded not guilty. But on Wednesday, May 22, she changed her plea to nolo contendre — not contesting the charge. 

Griffis withheld adjudication — a finding of guilt — and sentenced her to probation. 

Under Florida law, any public employee convicted of a felony involving a breach of public trust — which includes fraud, embezzling and theft — committed prior to retirement “shall forfeit all rights and benefits under any public retirement system of which he or she is a member, except for the return of his or her accumulated contributions as of the date of termination.”

The law further states that the clerk of court where the person is convicted must furnish a notice of the court proceedings to the state Commission on Ethics whether the person is found guilty by a judge or jury or pleads nolo contendre (no contest) to the charge. The employer, in this case Levy County, is also required to report the termination to the Commission on Ethics. 

The Commission on Ethics is then required to file the notice with the appropriate governing body of the public retirement system which then holds a hearing and determines whether to revoke the pension. A decision by the board can be challenged in the 1st District Court of Appeal.