By MARY RAINWATER
A former Anderson County employee accused of embezzling county funds was sentenced this week to probation, jail time and community service and was ordered to make restitution by a state district judge.
According to Anderson County District Attorney Doug Lowe, Bridgette Franklin of Elkhart was sentenced by 87th State District Judge Deborah Oakes Evans to 10 years of straight probation, 180 days in county jail and 400 hours of community service.
Franklin also must make restitution to the county, paying back the $32,261 taken during the incidents.
During a three-year period from February 2008 through May 2011, the state alleged that Franklin, who was formerly employed as a deputy clerk in the Anderson County clerk’s office, skimmed a total of $32,261 intended for the county.
Authorities have said they believe Franklin stole cash presented by customers to purchase birth certificates, death certificates, marriage licenses and other documents during her employment by the county.
The defendant was indicted in 2011 on a total of 918 counts of felony charges.
Two different causes were involved in Franklin’s sentencing, Lowe said — one for theft by a public servant and the other for misapplication of fiduciary funds.
“The county had insurance to cover the theft,” Lowe said. “Once they receive the money, the county will pay back the insurance company the $31,261 they covered and the county will keep the $1,000 deductible.”
Several witnesses took the stand for the state during the hearing, including investigator Chris Dobbs, County Clerk Wanda Burke and local probation officer David Purcell.
“Dobbs had reviewed the documents, confronted Franklin on what he found in the investigation and she confessed,” Lowe reported. “Dobbs testified at the hearing that she told him she did not know how much she had taken.”
Burke’s testimony about the incident was emotional, the DA reported.
“Burke had known Bridgette all her life and was shocked and hurt by what she had done,” he said. “Burke testified that she has lost longtime friends through her church (at the time), Crockett Road Church of Christ, where both families attended.
“Wanda was tearful, and said that this has hurt her reputation and that of her office.”
Purcell, Lowe reported, said he felt that Franklin had not taken responsibility for what she had done and thought jail time would do her good.
“He testified that he thought she didn’t appreciate the seriousness of what she had done, telling him at some point that ‘it was just a bunch of paper,’” Lowe said.
The defense, represented by Athens attorney Mike Head, called several character witnesses to the stand, including former Elkhart Independent School District superintendent Johnnie Keeling, former county commissioner Joe Chaffin, Franklin’s pastor Dan Manuel and the defendant’s uncle David Franklin.
“Keeling testified that Franklin had come from a good family and was shocked about what had happened,” Lowe said. “He said that he thought she had punished herself enough.”
Bridgette Franklin also testified on her own behalf.
“Franklin said she had worked at two jobs and got fired from both after they found out that she had been indicted,” Lowe said. “She also said she has started cosmetology school and was set to graduate in December.”
Lowe told the Herald-Press Thursday that he was happy with the sentence issued to Franklin.
“I am pleased with the court’s verdict, and I am glad the county will get restitution for this,” he said. “I hope that this will help rebuild confidence among county residents.
“I think it was a fair sentence.”
Franklin will begin her 180-day stint in jail at 6 p.m. today, Lowe said.
Mary Rainwater may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org