A woman accused of embezzling more than $100,000 from a Michigan City animal shelter could avoid jail time but she has agreed to pay back at least some of the stolen funds.
Jennifer Westphal, 42, of Michigan City, pleaded guilty Thursday to Class C felony forgery.
Terms of the plea call for Westphal to spend two years on work release and four years on probation.
She must also pay back the Michiana Humane Society.
LaPorte County Prosecutor Bob Szilagyi said Westphal will have to make monthly payments over the course of her sentence. If she fails to live up to her obligation, she could wind up serving the entire term behind bars.
The amount of the payments has not been determined yet and will be based on her income.
Westphal could be taken to civil court by the animal shelter and have her wages garnisheed until whatever balance remains after completing her sentence is paid down, said Szilagyi.
According to court documents, Westphal allegedly wrote checks belonging to the animal shelter for various cash amounts and cashed the checks from Jan. 1, 2007, until April 2013.
She is accused of forging the signature of Lorry Cates as maker/owner of the checks when Cates never executed or authorized the checks.
Cates is a member of the board for the shelter, which is funded primarily with donations, according to humane society officials. Police were contacted after an audit at the shelter revealed the alleged thefts, according to court records.
Johanna Humbert, Michiana Humane Society executive director, said care for the animals never suffered as a result of the financial draining but their ability to provide extras for the animals like flea collars and grooming supplies was pinched.
The humane society lost some financial backers as a result of the negative image cast upon the organization by the thefts, but there's been a significant recovery of public support since her arrest.
"Now we're able to provide a little higher level of care for the animals," said Humbert. "We've done a really good job of getting back on firm footing in terms of trust."
If the court accepts the terms of the plea, sentencing for Westphal will be April 17.