Editor's update: Gibson County Clerk's Office records Wednesday confirm that Held made restitution of $4,194.50 in the theft, forgery and fraud case.
PRINCETON — A Loogootee woman pleaded guilty Tuesday in Gibson Circuit Court to three level 6 felony counts of theft, forgery and fraud.
Special Judge August Straus sentenced Neely Held, 25, formerly of Vincennes, to 360 days probation for the three felony convictions. She received credit for one day in jail for the time involved in turning herself in at the Gibson County Jail and posting bond. The judge dismissed 19 other felony counts in the case.
Held was arrested last summer on 22 felony charges: one count of theft, seven counts of fraud and 14 counts of forgery reported by her former employer during her time as an advertising sales representative for Paxton Media Group, which owns The Princeton Daily Clarion, Vincennes Sun-Commercial and Mount Carmel Register newspapers.
At the time of Held's arrest, police stated in the affidavit of probable cause for the criminal charges that overcharges and unauthorized charges from Held's actions exceeded $125,000. The newspapers issued credits to all of the affected businesses.
Along with the year of probation, Straus said roughly $215 of fines and court costs will be taken out of the original $1,500 bond Held posted in July 2018. The bond money will also be applied to probation fees. Anything remaining owed at the finality of probation will need to be paid, he ordered.
Before sentencing, Duff asked that the three felony counts to be lowered to class A misdemeanor offenses, which is a possibility in Indiana with a level 6 felony.
Gibson County Deputy Prosecutor Sharon Werne strongly objected, emphasizing that part of the plea agreement was that Held would plead guilty to felonies. "Part of taking responsibility is to take the felony conviction," she said. "This was not an isolated incident. Her actions came over many months," she argued.
Werne said the felony plea is minimal compared to the damages suffered by the victims, including the local newspaper which has had to work to repair its reputation with clients as a result of Held's actions. "The newspaper was left dealing with the fall-out... making good with customers..." she said, "...suffering considerably."
Offered a chance to address the court prior to sentencing, Held tearfully expressed her regret. She said she never believed in a million years she would be in her position and would give anything to go back in time. Held said she hates that she hurt the newspaper, local businesses, friends, and family.
"Shame is something I wear every day," she said.
Held said there is not a day she doesn't regret her actions. "I am very sorry from the very essence of who I am for what I did," Held said.
Held told the court she would never do it again and then quoted lyrics from a Christian song, "Reckless Love," about nothing keeping the love of God from coming after a person.
"My regret is that I lost my way to begin with, because I hurt so many people," she said.
Held's attorney, Patrick Duff, also gave the judge character statements on Held's behalf.
Duff said he did not believe there is any punishment the court could give that would be tougher than what Held has brought down on herself.
He reminded the judge that Held was 25 and had no prior criminal record.
"I do think you are remorseful," the judge told Held. "But I also have to look at the seriousness of the issue," he said, referring to the numerous felony counts. He made note of Gibson County Clerk's records of her restitution. Efforts Tuesday afternoon to determine the amount of restitution were not successful. While the judge did not specify the amount in court, he said Held has paid "a very significant sum" to pay down the restitution, made note of her lack of a prior record and her sincerity before imposing the probation to be served concurrently for each count.
Straus said Held's charges can be converted to misdemeanors at the end of her probation, but they will remain felonies while probation is in force. According to the court record, charges will convert automatically unless there is an objection, following that year of probation.