First Posted: 11/10/2009
DOBSON After more than four years of investigation and court actions, the Bassett Furniture Industries embezzlement case ended Tuesday with the sentencing of a key figure in the crime to 10 days in jail.
In handing down that term to Lisa Marie Galyean Martin in Surry County Superior Court, Judge A. Moses Massey indicated that he was influenced by community support voiced for Martin, including by her present employer, John Springthorpe III.
Springthorpe the president of SouthData Inc. in Mount Airy spoke on Martins behalf Tuesday along with others who filled several rows of seats in a courtroom in Dobson and said Martin had worked hard to turn her life around.
I dont think I have ever received as many letters from fellow employees as I have in your case, Massey told a tearful Martin when sentencing her, as the defendants daughter also sobbed in a front row.
Massey further acknowledged the fact that Martin one of eight people implicated in the scheme had cooperated fully with investigators since she was charged with 25 counts of felony embezzlement, including supplying information aiding the prosecution of her co-defendants.
However, while agreeing that Martin had assisted the probe, a special prosecutor in the case urged Massey Tuesday to render a lengthier sentence for the 51-year-old woman who had a Mount Airy address when she was charged.
Im still asking the court to impose three active sentences, Kathleen Barry, a deputy attorney general with the state of North Carolina, said after a stream of character witnesses expressed support for Martin.
And the reasons for that is, despite what you hear, Barry continued, what she did was to betray the trust of her employer.
She enabled the embezzlement of a large amount of furniture from the plant, added the prosecutor for the state. In 2006, it took over the investigation and prosecution of the embezzling case at the urging of the Surry County District Attorneys Office and sheriffs office, due to its magnitude and complexity.
As safety director and head of warehouse shipping at the Bassett plant on Sheep Farm Road, Mount Airy which since has closed Martin was in a unique position to manipulate company computers in order to conceal the thefts, Barry said.
Ten new pieces of furniture per day went missing for several years, according to the special prosecutor, who said the period of loss has been traced from December 1998 to April 2005 when the investigation began.
Based on analysis of numerous boxes of records and seizures of furniture from defendants homes and other locations, the companys loss has been put at nearly $2 million. But Bassett was able to cut that to $975,000 through insurance payments for the missing items, although the original $1.9 million figure did not include profits that would have come from the stolen furniture.
The company shut down after the massive wrongdoing was uncovered, but Bassett officials have said the move did not result from the crime.
Martin had pleaded guilty in August 2007 to the 25 embezzlement charges, as part of an agreement that required her to aid authorities in bringing other defendants to justice. That plea bargain called for the state to seek three active prison sentences of five to six months for Martin, along with a $5,000 fine and 100 hours of community service.
I still stand before the court today and ask for those three active sentences, Barry told the judge.
Instead, Massey handed down a series of six-to-eight-month terms, all of which were suspended except for the 10 days Martin must spend in jail, along with being placed on probation for 36 months. The judge also said Martin can work out an arrangement with her probation officer to serve that time on weekends, so it wont interfere with her employment at SouthData Inc.
He further sentenced her to 100 hours of community service and to pay $2,200 in restitution to Bassett and a $1,000 fine, among other conditions.
Plant Manager Blamed
In summarizing the evidence Tuesday against Martin, the state prosecutor said the woman had joined the company in January 1980 as a shipping clerk and worked her way up to safety director and shipping supervisor.
Mrs. Martin was in charge of a lot of computers at the plant, said Barry, explaining that in this role she could obscure the normal tracking processes for furniture produced there.
Despite the fact Martin has done everything that we asked of her, the prosecutor said, the volume of theft at the furniture factory would not have been possible without Martins computer skills.
Barry also told the court, however, that Martin and others earlier sentenced were working under the direction of Plant Manager Ron Jarrett, who now is serving a prison term for his role in the crime. The prosecutor called Jarrett the ringleader.
Martin was compelled to give out her computer password and otherwise follow his lead, and though Barry referred to her as a strong woman, she indicated that Martin was being told what to do by Jarrett.
The womans attorney, Hugh Mills, also told the judge Tuesday that Martin was under Jarretts control. She knew that being fired was just around the corner for anyone who did not do what they were told, Mills said as his client wiped her face with a tissue.
In arguing for a probationary sentence, the lawyer told Massey that Martin has done much good in the past four years.
That was supported in comments by Springthorpe and others.
She has made herself an indispensable employee in our organization, the SouthData official said of Martin, who began as a temporary worker there and later was elevated to regular full-time status.
Local attorney Sharon Lowe also spoke highly of Martin. If I had an opening in my office, Id hire her in a heartbeat, Lowe said.
After hearing numerous similar comments, the judge told Martin, Ive very seldom had anyone conduct themselves as appropriately as you have after making a mistake. I salute you for that.
Massey did point out Tuesday that other Bassett defendants who exhibited the same degree of guilt as Martin were sent to prison for their roles.
In requiring that she serve 10 days in jail, the judge said it reflected a long-held practice of his in meting out punishment from the bench.
When someone steals something, they almost always spend time in jail, Massey told Martin.
After leaving the courtroom Tuesday, Barry had no comment on the sentence.
Contact Tom Joyce at [email protected] or at 719-1924.