BCL bookkeeper strikes plea deal on embezzlement, library moving ahead

April 01, 2016
Santa Paula News

Tammy Ferguson, the longtime Blanchard Community Library bookkeeper, pleaded guilty Wednesday to charges related to the embezzlement of almost $500,000 from the publicly funded library. 

Ferguson, 55 of Santa Paula, pleaded guilty to a felony count of misappropriation of public funds, and a felony count of falsifying public accounts; she also admitted a special allegation that she took more than $200,000.

According to a District Attorney’s Office press release, “The anticipated sentence is four years in state prison and an order to pay $499,254 in restitution,” to the library Ferguson worked for from 1993 to 2013.

If she had gone to trial and been convicted on the charges Ferguson could have received a maximum sentence of 12 years four months in a state prison. As it is even with several charges dismissed in the plea deal Ferguson could be sentenced to a maximum term of seven years instead of a reduced sentence of four years.

“I think justice has been served,” said BCL Director Ned Branch who attended court Wednesday with several library board members and supporters. 

“I’m pleased that we don’t have to go through a long trial that could drag out for a couple of years before we saw some sort of resolution.”

Ferguson was arrested in October following an investigation that lasted for more than two years.

Said Branch, “I think given that this was resolved at such an early stage,” in the trial process, “I think the District Attorney’s office did well to get what they got this early and not having to wait until the day before an actual trial.”

Ferguson was fired from the library on May 30, 2013, after a BCL trustee visited a bank where a hefty Certificate of Deposit had been listed on financial reports prepared by Ferguson…the trustee was told there was no such account.

In the last 10 years of her employment Ferguson worked as the library’s financial officer and allegedly used her library credit card to make personal purchases, transfer library funds to her personal credit cards, and withdraw cash from various ATMs — $500 at a time on regular basis — using the library’s debit card.

Although she was charged with embezzling almost $500,000, library officials believe it was much more, but due to a bank merger and the lack of financial records only the period of 2006 to 2013 could be traced.

Ultimately the case file had more than 15,000 pages of library and bank records.

“Now,” said Branch, “we can all say financially the library is on stable ground and this is behind us now…we’re just looking to the future.”

And that includes new tight financial controls: “We have new policies and procedures we accomplished early on to have distributed functions and layers of review,” including developing an accounting procedures manual.

The BCL Board of Directors, a majority of whom were elected in the wake of questioning and criticizing library operations, recently approved a “comprehensive employee handbook,” in lieu of the earlier version that “was found not to be legally compliant…”

The board, said Branch, “Put a lot of things in place that should give everyone a great deal of comfort that nothing like this will ever happen again.”

The independent library — which is funded primarily by property taxes approved by Santa Paula voters that live in the BCL district — has since recovered about $435,000 from insurance, as well as a settlement from the library’s former longtime auditor of more than $100,000.

Nevertheless, Branch said, “When you total everything up,” including legal, investigative and auditing fees paid by the library, “we’ll probably still be out-of-pocket but a comparably small amount compared to what it could have been.”

When Ferguson’s case was called Wednesday there was a lengthy discussion between Deputy District Attorney Thomas Frye and Public Defender Daniel Taylor after they asked to approach the bench of Judge Bruce Young.

At the end of the short hearing the court allowed Ferguson’s sentencing to be delayed until June 20 at 9 a.m. only with the stipulation requested by Frye that no request be made at that time for an extension.

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