A Mechanicsville woman walked into the state’s attorney’s office in Leonardtown on Friday afternoon to drop off a $20,000 check, kicking off her large restitution payment after pleading guilty to skimming checks from a California law firm.
In a plea deal arranged by her lawyer, the newly appointed St. Mary’s District Judge James L. Tanavage, who finished the case before his investiture ceremony on Friday, Erin Melissa Barnes pleaded guilty last month to a felony theft charge in a case where she was accused of stealing a sum of money from Harris and Capristo LLC, where she had been employed as a secretary.
Barnes was “in charge of the books” when she worked at the firm, often depositing checks, and had skimmed a substantial amount of money from the law firm, with restitution for the case being set at $198,000.
When confronted by her employer about the losses, Barnes had admitted to the thefts, according to prosecutors.
At Thursday afternoon’s brief sentencing hearing, Barnes apologized for the thefts, and the law firm’s partners declined to make an impact statement. Her new employer, a partner at a D.C. law firm, spoke positively of her in court.
“I’ve found working with her to be a wonderful experience,” Tyler Whitmer of the Quinn Emmanuel law firm said in court.
St. Mary’s Circuit Judge Michael J. Stamm questioned if Barnes would be able to handle the firm’s money “now that she’s a thief and a felon.”
“That’s not part of her duties,” Whitmer said.
Tanavage and State’s Attorney Richard Fritz (R) had agreed in the plea deal on a sentence of 18 active months incarceration with work release, as well as five years of supervised probation and the $198,000 restitution payment, beginning with the $20,000 check on Friday.
Fritz said work release would be “not only in her best interest, but also the victim’s best interest” in order to pay off the debt.
Stamm sentenced Barnes to five years incarceration suspended down to the 18 months with authorized work release, on the condition that the payments go as planned.