On Thursday, Putnam County Circuit Court Judge Matthew Headley sentenced Michelle S. Everhart, 36, to two years with six months executed in the Putnam County Jail. After serving that time, Everhart will spend six months on home detention and one year on probation.
Everhart's court-appointed attorney, Melinda Jackman-Hanlin, lobbied to have her client serve any executed time on home detention. Putnam County Prosecutor Tim Bookwalter countered that by asking Headley to consider putting Everhart in jail for a year.
"She's a thief," Bookwalter said. "The only reason we're going to get restitution is because we set a high enough bond."
Everhart was convicted of Class D felony theft for taking funds by various means from the Cloverdale United Methodist Church, where she was employed as an administrative assistant.
"At that point in my life, I was not in the right mental state," Everhart said in court. "We were having financial problems. My husband works in construction, and he was going in and out of layoffs. We were having issues with trying to pay our bills."
Everhart was arrested on Aug. 25. She paid a $6,000 cash bond and was released from jail five days later.
Everhart used two of the church's credit cards -- a Visa and a Wal-Mart and Sam's Club card -- to make unauthorized purchases. She also admitted to writing unauthorized checks from the church's missions fund account -- which is used to support the Putnam County Pregnancy Center, assist abused women and supply infants and children with food and clothing -- and taking cash from the church's collection plate.
"In my mind, I was thinking 'I can use this and pay it back,'" Everhart said. "It just progressively got worse."
In all, court documents said, Everhart stole from the church on 79 occasions. The state requested restitution in the amount of $5,767.92, which included $600 for an audit the church had conducted.
Everhart and Jackman-Hanlin disputed dozens of the allegedly fraudulent charges. Headley said he would subtract some of those charges and would enter a restitution amount later.
Everhart, a married mother of three, began working at the church on March 15, 2007. According to court documents, she began stealing funds a week later.
The thefts came to light this past summer. Representatives of the church told authorities it had been discovered they were not getting bank or credit card statements, and had requested additional statements be sent to a different address. Upon receipt of those statements, church officials began to suspect Everhart had been embezzling funds.
Church officials confronted Everhart and terminated her employment in August.
Everhart originally said she had begun stealing in December of 2007 and used the stolen funds to purchase Christmas gifts for her family. Court records show the thefts started long before the holiday season and that the credit cards had been used to purchase such items as alcoholic beverages, cigarettes, fuel and tires for Everhart's personal vehicle, gourmet coffees, cosmetics, gift cards from Best Buy, clothing, toys, meals at restaurants, electric, telephone and propane bills for Everhart's personal residence, as well as for dental work for one of her children.
"They were very personal expenditures," Indiana State Police Sgt. Stockton, who led the investigation of the case, said. "At the interview, she was in shock that I had that information."
The church hired Bray & Associates CPAs, LLC of Greencastle to conduct an audit, and it was discovered that the first theft from the church Everhart committed was on March 22, 2007.
In court, Everhart said she would intercept the church's daily mail in an attempt to hide what she was doing.
Stockton described Everhart as "very forthright, very emotional and remorseful for what she has done."
Everhart has been in weekly counseling since Sept. 15. She said she has been diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, and has spoken to her therapist at great length about "what my triggers are and why I do the things I do."
"I'll do anything and everything to try to please everyone around me," she said.
Bookwalter had a hard time buying that argument.
"When you were buying gourmet coffee and cosmetics, who were you trying to please?" he asked.
Everhart reiterated that she had stolen to please others.
"I'm very remorseful," she said. "This just makes me sick to my stomach."
Jackman-Hanlin asked Everhart what she would say to officials from or members of the Cloverdale United Methodist Church, none of whom were present in court Thursday.
"I would love to ask them for their forgiveness and tell them how sorry I am," she said.
Everhart has two weeks to report and begin serving her sentence. She will receive credit for five days she has already served.
As a condition of her probation, she must continue counseling. She was also ordered to complete 48 hours of community service and pay the costs and fees associated with her case.
This is not Everhart's first theft conviction.
In February of 2002, she was convicted in Marion County of stealing funds from the Boys Scouts of America. She served as the treasurer of that organization.
She qualified for alternative misdemeanor sentencing in that case.