Pickaway County Common Pleas Judge P. Randall Knece told Rebecca Lee that he has seen the likes of her plenty of times before.
"I know you say you don't think you have an entitlement attitude, but you do have," Knece told Lee, 52. "You were in a position of trust and you betrayed that."
Then he sentenced her to three years in prison and ordered her repay the county a little over $19,000 in restitution. He also said she must cooperate with state prosecutors who will seek to take the money from her public pension.
Lee led the county's veterans services' from 1999 until she was fired in December 2014 when allegations of misspending surfaced after a string of public domestic-violence incidents between her and her then-husband.
Jurors convicted her last month on charges of theft in office, grand theft, theft and unauthorized use of property for stealing thousands of dollars in mileage reimbursements and by running up tabs on a county credit card the last few years she held the job. Some of those charges also related to the disappearance of a historic Nazi flag that World War II veteran Ernest “Snap” Ankrom, a former prisoner of war from Circleville, had donated to the office for safekeeping just before his death in 2009.
Before imposing the sentence, Knece listened as two experts tried to put a value on the flag. The judge eventually settled on $15,000, but said its monetary value wasn't the most important part of this case.
“The flag, it just tears your heart out," he said. "You can talk about fair market value, the dollars and cents, but really it’s more than that. It is irreplaceable."
Ankrom and his fellow WWII soldiers had been held prisoners at Oflag 64, a prison camp in Szubin, Poland. But when liberated in 1945, they took down the flag — 3 feet wide and 2 feet tall, red and gold and emblazoned with a Nazi swastika. At least two dozen soldiers then signed it and gave it to Ankrom, the highest ranking officer among them, out of respect.
Authorities believe Lee took the flag and either sold it or pawned it to feed her gambling and alcohol addictions. It has never been recovered.
"You've done a lot of good in this county," Knece told Lee. "There's no denying that. But you've got gambling and you've got alcohol and when you start mixing the two, then you're robbing Peter to pay Paul. That's what happened."
Lee addressed the court only briefly, and that was to deny the entitlement accusation. “I’ve never felt entitled,” she said. “I am humbled by all of this.”
Her sentencing Wednesday was of little comfort to Ankrom’s daughter, Sandy Williams, nor to Lt. Dale Parish, the Pickaway County detective who is still searching for the flag.
“She stole money from the office in this county that serves our veterans and that’s pretty low,” Parish said. “But she also ripped a family of its heritage. That flag belongs to the veterans of this county and it was supposed to be protected. We won’t be happy until we get that flag back.”
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