Former Callaway County Collector Pamela Oestreich told the court Friday her gambling addiction led to her confessed theft of about $300,000.
She's requested a shorter prison sentence of 60 days, rather than the longer term of incarceration requested by prosecutors, according to a sentencing memorandum filed Friday with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri.
"Because of her gambling addiction Oestreich did not personally and financially benefit from her theft to any great extent," stated her lawyer, Daniel Hunt, in the sentencing memorandum. "The present offense has only served to damage her otherwise excellent reputation without any real benefit to her."
Timothy Garrison, U.S. Attorney for the Western District court, recommended a sentence of 37 months of imprisonment and three years' supervised release in a sentencing memorandum filed Tuesday.
"In an age of increasing public skepticism of the integrity of government institutions and public officials, Oestreich's crime has an exceptionally troubling impact on the public trust of fundamental government operations," Garrison stated. "The sentence imposed by this court must protect the public from faithless public officers, deter other public officials from similar conduct, promote respect for the law, including those who enforce it, and impose a just punishment."
Oestreich pleaded guilty Sept. 24 to one count of stealing from an organization that receives federal funds, admitting to stealing some $300,000 from the tax payments received by her office. Her sentencing is set for at 1:30 p.m. Jan. 23 before Western District Judge Stephen R. Bough.
Her plea agreement requires her to pay $279,957 in restitution, and the charge to which she pleaded guilty could carry 37-46 months in federal prison, according to the Office of the United States Attorney in the Western District of Missouri.
The filing by Oestreich's lawyer claims that mitigating factors in the case means she should receive a much lower sentence.
U.S. federal sentencing statutes list a number of factors to be taken into account when imposing a sentence: deterring criminal conduct, providing for needed correctional treatment, providing restitution to victims of the offense, and so on. Hunt said Oestreich agrees some amount of incarceration with the Bureau of Prisons is appropriate, given sentencing guidelines and the nature of the crime.
He argued Oestreich is unlikely to re-offend, as she is 60 years old and had no criminal history prior to her year of stealing from the county.
"The thought of any time being incarcerated is a frightening prospect (to Oestreich)," Hunt said.
Garrison pointed out the sentence is not just about deterring Oestreich, but restoring the public's faith in the government and preventing other potential financial misbehavior by officials. (An initial filing recommended 120 months of imprisonment at one point in the document; Garrison confirmed this was an error and would be corrected with an amended filing.)
Hunt also claimed that due to Oestreich's gambling addiction, "unfortunately, Oestreich has nothing to show for the theft she perpetrated." She's currently participating in a treatment program approved by the probation office, he said.
That's an inadequate reason, Garrison said.
"Oestreich's conduct demonstrate a sense of entitlement, a willingness to abuse power, and an appetite for personal enrichment," he said. "When Oestreich chose to steal from the people she swore to serve, she forfeited the right to lay claim to her prior service or personal weaknesses as a reason to avoid incarceration."
Garrison also stated Oestreich stole more money than she lost while gambling.
"In an interview with the (U.S. Probation Office), Oestreich claimed that her gambling addiction resulted in losses that motivated her theft of public money; however, even her self-admitted losses do not match the amount of public money she stole," he said.
Lastly, Hunt agreed there is a "great need" to provide restitution in this case. A short sentence will allow Oestreich to begin working on that as soon as possible, he said.
"Oestreich is older and finds herself now without a job as a result of this offense," he pointed out.
Garrison requested the court order the restitution due upon sentencing. If it takes Oestreich longer than 30 days to pay, he recommended the liquidation of some of her personal assets, including one of her three vehicles, 25 percent of her monthly pension, and half of the net proceeds of the planned sale of her house.
Oestreich held the collector's office from 1999-2018.
Central Bank officials reported suspicious activity in a collector's office-controlled checking account on March 15 and reported it to Callaway County Prosecuting Attorney Chris Wilson. Following that meeting, the prosecuting attorney informed Callaway County Sheriff Clay Chism of the report, then Chism and Wilson contacted the FBI.
Oestreich met with Jungermann and Chism and tendered her resignation immediately.
The case was investigated by the Callaway County Sheriff's Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Justice stated.
On March 19, county commissioners requested a state audit, which is required by law any time a county collector's seat is vacated. It began March 26. State Auditor Nicole Galloway's office discovered about $300,000 had gone missing. Much of it was cash tax payments Oestreich simply never deposited.
Oestreich also wrote herself about $71,000 in checks from county funds, Galloway said.
Galloway's office's report outlines steps the county can take to improve its oversight and prevent future problems, such as better segregation of duties, independent reviews of accounting and bank records, allowing the county clerk to verify the accuracy of the county's tax books and many others.
The county has implemented the recommended changes, county officials have said.