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Former Southern Middle School finance officer Deborah A. Scayles was sentenced Thursday to eight years in prison, with all but 18 months suspended, in Calvert County Circuit Court.

Scayles, 49, of Lusby was indicted in August 2011 for stealing cash collected by students for fundraisers and writing out checks to herself from the school’s bank account, totaling more than $12,000 during the school year. She was indicted with 15 counts of forgery and counterfeit of private documents, two counts of theft from $10,000 to $100,000, five counts of theft from $1,000 to $10,000 and several counts of theft less than $1,000.

She pleaded guilty in April to theft scheme more than $10,000 but less than $100,000 after she was found to be taking money from the middle school.

Calvert County Circuit Court Judge Marjorie L. Claggett sentenced Scayles to eight years in prison, with all but 18 months suspended to the Calvert County Detention Center. Claggett authorized work release if Scayles could find employment and said after Scayles served half of her sentence there was the potential to be placed on home detention.

Scayles was placed on five years of probation, with special conditions including paying $14,130.18 in restitution to the school, staying away from school property and receiving a mental health evaluation. She is required to serve 24 hours of community service.

Scayles’ husband, her daughter and several members of her church sat in the courtroom in silent support as Claggett handed down her sentence.

“I take full responsibility for what I did,” Scayles said, calling her actions “totally out of character” for her. She said she wanted to publicly apologize to the Calvert County Board of Education and the Southern Middle community.

“I’m not a bad person, I just made some bad choices,” Scayles said.

Public defender Del Lynch, Scayles’ attorney, said his client has no real criminal record other than a few “bookkeeping issues.”

In 2006, a charge for writing a bad check less than $100 that Scayles was charged with was placed on the stet, or inactive, docket. Scayles was given probation before judgment in 2003 when she was convicted of a similar charge, writing a bad check less than $500. In 2001, a charge against Scayles for writing a bad check more than $300 was placed on the stet docket.

Lynch said Scayles is married, has two daughters and is well-educated. He said Scayles was “very remorseful” for what she did and “recognizes she made a mistake.”

Predating the time of the thefts, which occurred from October 2010 to May 2011, Scayles and her husband were unemployed and were “faced with hardships,” which drove her to steal money from the school so she and her husband could survive, Lynch said. He said once her mistakes came to light, she admitted to her problems and rejoined her church for support.

Lynch asked the court to consider a suspended sentence or work release with the potential for home monitoring due to her “lack of criminal record” so she could try to get her life back in order.

Assistant State’s Attorney Kathryn Marsh said the state was requesting a 10-year sentence with all but 18 months suspended “because of the level of harm” done to the community and because of Scayles’ actions over an extended period of time. She said while Lynch said the Scayleses were out of work and needed the money, there are bank statements to show that between October 2007 and June 2011 two paychecks were coming in every two weeks.

Marsh read a list of “unnecessary expenditures” the Scayleses made during the seven months she was taking money from the school, which included purchases from the Home Shopping Network, for expensive dinners, for furniture, for clothing and from liquor stores.

“These aren’t necessary expenditures,” Marsh said. “This is taking more than $14,000 from students from Calvert County … to live in a lifestyle you cannot afford.”

In rebuttal to Marsh’s comments, Lynch said Marsh “is very good at being dramatic.” He said Scayles admitted to what she did once she was caught and acknowledged it was a mistake.

Claggett said “it is a conundrum” that Scayles was standing in her courtroom because for most of her life she has lived “in an exemplary fashion.” She said Scayles abused her position of trust and “damaged” the community, the Southern Middle community and the school children by stealing from them. Claggett said Scayles could be an example to her two daughters that “You stumble, [but] you can pick yourself up and move forward.”

According to charging documents, on June 21, 2011, Edith Hutchins, the director of finance for Calvert County Public Schools, contacted the police after she received notice that a check written from Southern Middle School’s account bounced. She told Maryland State Police Prince Frederick Barrack’s Tfc. M. Roy that there should have been plenty of funds in the account. Members of the school system met with Scayles and she admitted that she stole cash collected by students that was supposed to be deposited in the school’s bank account, but it was not. It was determined that $1,349 in cash, which was collected by students for various fundraisers and events, was never deposited.

Scayles also admitted during the interview that she wrote checks to herself from the school’s checking account, forged the principal’s signature and deposited the checks into her personal account. A complete audit for the fiscal year 2011 confirmed that $12,781 was stolen from the school’s bank account when Scayles wrote 15 checks to herself ranging from $281.50 to $1,825.50 from October 2010 through May 2011, charging documents state. Copies of her bank records confirm the transactions, police said.

Calvert County Public Schools spokesperson Gail Bennet in an email said the school system did not have any comment about the issue.

kfitzpatrick@somdnews.com