MICHIGAN CITY | A woman has been ordered to pay back a Michigan City animal shelter nearly $400,000 she embezzled allegedly to gamble and live beyond her means.
LaPorte County Prosecutor Bob Szilagyi said Friday if there's still a balance after her entire sentence is served the woman can be sued for the remainder of the cash.
Jennifer Westphal, 42, was sentenced Thursday in LaPorte Superior Court 1 to two years on work release followed by four years on probation.
She was convicted of Class C felony forgery. Under a plea agreement, Westphal must pay the Michiana Humane Society $100 a month for the first two years based on her income and cost of paying for her incarceration is one of the requirements for all offenders on work release, said Szilagyi.
After completing work release, her monthly payments will go up to about $268 over the remainder of her sentence, he said.
Westphal was operations director at the animal shelter when she was writing checks belonging to the Michiana Humane Society to herself from 2007 to 2013.
Szilagyi said it was alleged she used a portion of the funds to gamble.
There was also testimony Westphal purchased things out of her reach financially like an expensive home and extravagant vacations.
She is accused of forging the signature of Lorry Cates as maker/owner of the checks when Cates, a board member at the shelter, never authorized the transactions.
Cates is a member of the board for the shelter funded primarily with donations.
Police were contacted after an audit at the shelter revealed the thefts hidden from her access to the group's financial ledgers, according to court records.
Szilagyi said the terms were worked out based on the animal shelter's desire to get its money back.
Westphal must return to the work release facility after work daily and stay until she has to return to her job, giving her income to meet her financial obligations.
The court under the plea also issued a judgement against Westphal, which can be executed against her after completing her sentence if the animal shelter sues her for any unpaid balance.
Garnishing wages are among the options a court in a civil case can utilize to recover funds owed to the animal shelter.
Had Westphal been ordered to serve her entire sentence in prison, Szilagyi said she would not be able to earn money toward repaying the animal shelter.
"There was a lot of money taken. It might take forever to repay. We tried to at least to do something regarding restitution," Szilagyi said.
The most Westphal could have received was an eight-year prison sentence.