Clerk gets jail time for theft

(Jan. 23, 2015) Katherine Fowler, an accounting clerk with Worcester County entrusted with collecting real estate taxes, was sentenced last Friday to four years with the Department of Corrections and two years of probation for stealing about $7,100 from the county.

All but 18 months of her prison time with the Department of Corrections were suspended and the balance can be served at the Worcester County Jail. If Fowler completes her 18 months in jail and probation without further incident, she won’t have to go to prison.

As a condition of her probation, Fowler will not be able to handle money for any organizations and she must forfeit any positions she currently holds requiring her to handle money.

Fowler’s attorney, E. Scott Collins, said he intends to write a letter to District Court Judge Thomas Groton asking him to reduce the sentence, since it exceeds the sentencing guidelines for this particular offense. Collins said judges are under no pressure to respond, but he thinks a hearing within 30 days “would be appropriate.”

“Sentences should be such that A follows B. You can’t give someone in Baltimore City five years for something someone in Garrett County gets probation for,” Collins said.

Fowler was charged with a litany of offenses, and all were nolle prosequi by Assistant State’s Attorney Steve Rakow in exchange for a guilty plea to theft scheme between $1,000 and $10,000.

“She cooked the books to cover, she illegally accessed computers, she generated false reports, she pointed at other people,” Rakow said, and she never showed any remorse.

“I think it’s time for a wake-up call,” Rakow said.

The defense never answered or addressed the prosecution’s accusations. Katherine Fowler’s husband, George Fowler, a retired law enforcement officer, spoke of his wife’s role as primary caregiver to his 91-year-old mother suffering from dementia.

“She’s a good mom and involved in the community. [Her incarceration] would be a severe hardship, and she’s no threat to the community,” Fowler said.

Judge Groton said it was clear to him that the defendant was “two different people.” The judge was particularly concerned with what he called the darker side of Fowler’s personality. He said if this were her first offense, he could see it as an aberration, but an older charge from nearly 30 years ago under similar circumstances as the ones generating this case, Groton said, “sometimes stealing is more than stealing.”

“She stole from everybody. She stole from the county and the residents of the county. I can’t conceive how a person could steal under these circumstances and continue the façade of being ‘just another person.’ I’m always amazed when someone can continue that front,” he said.

Jim Bunting, president of the County Commissioners wrote to Judge Groton concerning the sentencing, noting the county was primarily interested in restitution, but would favor the court making an example of Fowler due to a breach of public trust.

After the fact, Bunting said, “They handled everything appropriately. It’s a shame. I don’t really have any other comment but it’s a shame.”

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