Judge rejects plea on welfare theft, orders jail time for Rockland woman

Posted Jan. 08, 2013, at 4:09 p.m.

ROCKLAND, Maine — A 67-year-old Rockland woman will have to spend at least three days in jail after a judge rejected a proposed deal that would have spared her time behind bars for theft of welfare benefits.

Elizabeth Riley pleaded guilty Tuesday in Knox County Superior Court to one count of theft.

Riley had signed paperwork saying she was the sister of Joseph R. Shaw so he could receive $742 in general assistance from Rockland last summer.

But according to court documents, since Riley and Shaw were boyfriend and girlfriend and living in the same home, her income should have been included in the application for general assistance. Police investigated after the city’s welfare director, Samantha Mank, became suspicious and referred the matter to the city attorney.

Shaw was sentenced in October to 30 days in jail by Justice Jeffrey Hjelm for the theft charge as well as unlawful possession of hydrocodone, violating a condition of release, and operating under the influence.

On Tuesday, Justice Hjelm rejected a negotiated sentence agreement reached between the district attorney’s office and defense attorney that would have fined Riley $250 for the theft as well as make her responsible for repaying half the money paid out by the city to Shaw. Shaw had earlier been ordered to pay half.

Defense attorney Daniel Purdy argued for the no jail sentence, stressing that Riley had no criminal record and didn’t realize she was doing anything wrong when she stated she was Shaw’s sister. Riley has been through the wringer, the attorney said, by having her name in the newspaper.

“She was just helping out an old friend,” Purdy said.

Justice Hjelm, however, said he could not accept a deal with no jail time.

“There are tremendous consequences to this type of theft. There are limited public resources. This hurts everybody else who needs public assistance and hurts the taxpayers,” Hjelm said.

After a brief recess, Riley agreed to plead guilty to theft and accept a three-day jail sentence. The sentence was deferred for 12 months. If she refrains from additional criminal conduct she will serve the three days. If she violates the deal, she could face up to 364 days when she appears in court again in a year.

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