Two former clerks in a small, poor town in St. Louis County have been sentenced to prison after writing hundreds of checks to themselves while the town struggled to provide basic services to its residents.
Maureen Woodson, 68, the former city clerk in Flordell Hills, was sentenced this week to 18 months in prison and ordered to repay the $487,673. Her assistant, Donna Thompson, 76, was sentenced to a year and a day for stealing $159,903, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
They had pleaded guilty in February to mail fraud and wire fraud.
The two women wrote more than 600 checks across six years and used the money for gambling and personal expenses, prosecutors said.
Flordell Hills, about 8 miles north of St. Louis, has an annual budget of about $400,000 to serve nearly 800 residents, with nearly 54% of its mostly Black residents living below the poverty line.
Because of the embezzlement, Flordell Hills city officials stopping taking salaries and employees volunteered to repair equipment and mow. Street and sewer repairs stalled and the city wasn’t able to benefit from federal COVID-19 pandemic financial aid it received in 2020 and 2021, Attorney Jeffrey Duke wrote in a statement to the court.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Hal Goldsmith said the case “is maybe the worst” example of public corruption he has prosecuted.
“This is a Black community, more than half are living below the poverty line. They’re surviving,” Goldsmith said in an interview. “The harm this caused to them is staggering.”
The two women’s attorneys, family and some former parole officers told the court that Woodson and Thompson, who lived together, had a gambling addiction but otherwise led upstanding public and private lives.
Woodson, in a letter to the court, said gambling “replaced an emptiness in my life,” after her husband and mother both died in 2006.
Woodson was hired in 2010 and Thompson in 2012. They were fired in May 2022 and indicted three months later. Both women had previously retired as probation and parole officers.
They started stealing from the city in 2016, and the theft was discovered six years later when Commerce Bank flagged a check made out to Woodson that she had signed.
The women admitted they signed the checks without authorization and forged the signatures of the mayor and treasurer to authorize payment.