A Clarkesville Sunday school teacher went to jail Wednesday after pleading guilty to stealing more than $350,000 from a Hall County business as the company's bookkeeper.
Superior Court Judge Kathlene Gosselin sentenced Clara June Allen to 30 years, with five to be served in custody (three in prison, two on house arrest).
Gosselin's order, which resulted in Allen, 40, being taken into custody right after the hearing, followed tearful testimony and impassioned statements from a group of Allen's supporters.
Her former boss, Bruce Mistarz, also spoke about the pain he and wife Barbara suffered as a result of the crimes at their Mencom Corp. business.
"No one would've guessed you'd do something like this. You have betrayed trust," Gosselin said. She added a few moments later, "A person who teaches Sunday school knows what is right from what is wrong. You did know. I have to take that into account."
A grand jury indicted Allen in December 2009 on charges she wrote checks directing Mencom funds to D&J Contracting, made online payments to her credit card account and falsified her time sheets to inflate her pay.
Her husband Dale Allen was also charged with theft by taking in the indictment. D&J Contracting is a company the couple co-owned. It was unclear Wednesday how the case against him will proceed.
In a prepared statement she read to the court, Clara June Allen took full responsibility, describing through tears how she kept the secret from her husband and her employer, who she faced at one point and apologized.
"I realize I had a wonderful boss, a wonderful job," she said, turning to him. "I wanted to tell him. But I couldn't. No one knew but me and the Lord."
Hired at Mencom in 2001, Allen was accused of taking money from the company between Oct. 1, 2003, and March 28, 2008, with payments at the end increasing to as much as $11,000, Assistant District Attorney Alison Toller said.
What seemed as painful to the victims, Toller argued in pushing for jail time, is how the couple's lifestyle appeared unchanged after the owners pursued a civil suit and judgment to recoup some losses.
During the time of Allen's thefts, a bank receipt also showed a $7,300 donation made out from the victim's checking account to Cowboys for Christ, a mission she once championed in Habersham County, Toller said.
"She stole over $300,000 in dozens and dozens of ways and would've continued to do so if she'd not been caught," Toller said.
Several people spoke on Allen's behalf, describing a loving and involved mother of two teenagers, a church going woman who taught young adult children at Oakey Mountain Baptist Church. The supporters hoped Allen would be allowed to serve her punishment at home or in a work-release program.
Their statements were countered at the outset of the hearing by Bruce Mistarz, who read a brief statement to Gosselin.
He spoke about the electrical manufacturing business he started in his kitchen in 1987, its growth, success, and the college-educated, faith-filled woman he trusted to shepherd Mencom's finances in 2001.
"Little did I know within the first two years she would start embezzling from my company. Little did I know this person who seemed so genuine was stealing from my company," he said.
Added his wife Barbara Mistarz after the hearing: "It's sad for both of us. It has been a terrible ordeal. I feel for them, too."