Rita K. Lang, 57, was handed a two-year sentence Monday in Putnam County Circuit Court on a Class D felony theft charge. Judge Matthew Headley ordered Lang to spend four-and-a-half months in the Putnam County Jail, four-and-a-half months on community corrections and the remainder of her sentence on probation.
Lang, who now resides in Indianapolis, was the business operations manager of the conservancy when she committed the thefts. She was ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $23,528.24 -- a combination of salary overpayments, cash stolen from the sale of conservancy trash bags and penalties and interest caused by Lang's negligence.
Lang had also been accused of stealing a laptop computer valued at $1,700 from the conservancy. She told authorities the computer had been accidentally destroyed while it was in her possession, and Headley said she would not have to pay for it.
The conservancy was bonded for $15,000.
Lang was arrested Jan. 10, 2008. She posted10 percent of a $5,000 bond and was released on Jan. 14, 2008.
"The money was always intended to be paid back," Lang told the court. "It was very bad judgment. I should have just quit the conservancy. I never should have put them in the situation they're in. When I look at these things now, I see someone I don't even recognize."
Lang's attorney, James Recker, asked Headley to consider allowing Lang to serve any jail time on home detention, a request Deputy Prosecutor Justin Long said would not reflect the seriousness of Lang's crime. Lang suggested a one-year executed sentence.
"Justice calls for executed time," Lang said.
"House arrest is no picnic," he said. "It would serve the state's purpose and be mitigated with a little mercy."
Lang pleaded with Headley to consider her lawyer's recommendation.
"I allowed a stressful period in my life to affect my work," she said. "I am truly sorry. I ask for the mercy of the court."
Scott Stockton of the Indiana State Police headed up the investigation of Lang's criminal activities. Conservancy President Jerry Thacker initially contacted Stockton.
"Mr. Thacker noticed Mrs. Lang had written two payroll checks to herself on the same date," Stockton said in court.
The State Board of Accounts was brought in to do an audit of the conservancy, but Stockton said representatives from that board said the conservancy would have to hire someone to do a private audit because the "office records were in such disarray."
When she was initially interviewed about the thefts, Lang confessed.
"She took full responsibility," Stockton said. "She didn't try to blame anyone else. When I asked her if anyone else was involved (in the thefts), she empathetically said no."
Stockton said at his first meeting with Lang, the woman was "emotionally distraught."
Lang told Stockton the thefts began after the health of her husband, who is now on dialysis, began to deteriorate.
"It was my understanding that she used the funds for personal survival," Stockton said. "There were a lot of medications and medical expenses."
Lang said her husband takes dialysis three times a week, is losing his eyesight and suffers from congestive heart failure. She acts as his primary caregiver.
"His medicine alone is $1,300 a month," Lang said. "Slowing down isn't an option. It's all we can do to live … the last two years have been a nightmare for us."
Long pointed out that court records said Lang admitted that she used some of the stolen money to play bingo, sometimes spending $300 to $400 a night. He asked Lang if this was indeed the case.
"If it's in there, I said it," Lang said.
The amount the court said Lang stole in trash bag money was over $9,000, and Lang said she took issue with that.
"When I saw that number, I was totally shocked," she said.
Lang told the court that although she couldn't remember how many times she had stolen trash bag money and had no idea how much she may have taken, she didn't believe the total was that high.
The trash bag money, Lang said, went into a large petty cash fund in the office that was not policed. That fund, she said, had been used to pay for outdoor furniture for the conservancy's beach house and "a big weekend party." Lang said she had always had a problem "figuring out how to account for that money."
"You're pinning losses on me that aren't mine," a tearful Lang said.
Conservancy director Bill Dixon said in his estimation, Lang's thefts and negligence would cost the conservancy $150,000 to $180,000.
"This damage is going to hurt us for years," he said. "There's 400 families out there … this is serious. She just let people go -- let them just pay the water bills and not pay the sewer bills."
Dixon admitted his numbers were an estimate, and that he hadn't studied the audit reports.
"Have I seen it?" he said. "Probably. Have I paid attention to it? Probably not."
Jerry Thacker, chairman of the conservancy's board of directors, thought Dixon's estimate was conservative, guessing the conservancy's losses at Lang's hands were closer to a quarter of a million dollars.
"In December we got another bill for $90,000 that we had no idea was out there," he said. "There was $3,000 a month not paid on a loan for four years. Much of the paperwork has disappeared out of that office. We found boxes that had bills in them that were received and never opened. There were no computer entries made for four years."
As a result of the thefts, the conservancy's rates have increased significantly.
"People are angry," Thacker said. "My house went from $280 a year to over $500 a year."
While Thacker sympathized with Lang's personal situation, he didn't think it should excuse her from punishment.
"I think, in my heart of hearts, that she needs to serve some time," he said. "It's the only way you're going to satisfy people out there. We all have family problems, we all have health problems, we all have financial problems."
Putnam County Probation officer Cody Tillotson conducted a pre-sentence investigation of Lang. He said he had received no documentation pertaining to Lang's husband's health problems, and that he thought a sentence of only home detention would be a "privilege" for Lang.
After her arrest, Lang began working at a Kroger store in Indianapolis. The day before her sentencing, she received a promotion that would have meant a substantial pay increase, she said. Lang told Headley a jail sentence would guarantee the loss of her job.
Still, Headley stood by his sentence.
"The board probably would have worked with you and tried to help you out," he said. "Instead, you elected just to take from them."
After her sentence was handed down, Lang broke down. A couple of her family members, who had been sitting in the courtroom with dozens of Van Bibber Lake residents, made loud verbal threats and profane remarks to the residents on their way out of the courtroom.
Lang was given one week to report to jail. She will receive credit for the five days she served after her arrest.