Judge: Ex-bookkeeper will repay Ottumwa school, avoid prison

OTTUMWA — Jon Schuttlefield, a board member from Ottumwa Christian School, acknowledged he’d been anxious waiting at the Wapello County Courthouse.

He was present to hear the sentencing of the school’s former bookkeeper on a felony conviction of first-degree theft.

Joni Stinson, 41, of Ottumwa, had pleaded guilty in exchange for a deal which allows her the chance to avoid prison time. Regardless of any deal, the judge decides the sentence.

“When I got on the board for the Christian school, I never thought I’d be here, in a courtroom,” said Schuttlefield, the one board member still active from when the crime was discovered in 2016. “After two long years, this is nearly over.”

The plea deal requires Stinson repay the money she stole.

Assistant County Attorney Andrew Ritland said Stinson abused her position of trust by stealing around $160,000. He also told Judge Crystal Cronk that Stinson shouldn’t be sent to prison immediately.

After court, Ritland said if Stinson were sitting in prison, she would be unable to repay the school.

“And that was important,” he said, though the ability to pay wasn’t the only consideration.

Two teachers wrote victim statements, which the assistant county attorney read to the judge.

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The teachers described delays in receiving salary. In one case, with no money to pay bills for December, a teacher said she had to return her daughter’s Christmas gifts.

Stinson’s attorney said her family has pitched in to raise the $50,000 initial payment that was part of the plea agreement.

Her family’s home is being sold to help pay restitution, but that first $50,000 was released to the school on Thursday. The school board and the attorney will work out details of how much needs to be paid back in total.

Stinson apologized to her former colleagues, as well as the families of the school.

“I betrayed my friends, and embarrassed my family. I’ll do everything I can to make it right,” she told the judge.

When it came time to hand down the sentence, there was an audible gasp — the judge didn’t mention a suspended sentence at first.

She said Stinson was being handed over to the custody of the Department of Corrections and would spend a period not to exceed 10 years in prison. Stinson must report immediately to the Iowa Medical and Classification Center in Oakdale, transported by the sheriff.

“Her family seemed panicked,” Schuttlefield said. “I was wondering what was going on, too.”

After giving the sentence, Judge Cronk said it would be suspended if she completed five years’ probation.

Relief was clearly visible on the faces of those who had accompanied Stinson to court.

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“You do appear to be genuinely remorseful, you maintained a job during this process, you have no previous criminal history,” Cronk said.

Yet a couple of things bothered the judge: Stinson had been in a position of trust and the criminal conduct continued for six years. That’s why, Cronk said, she had to “think long and hard” before suspending the sentence.

Stinson will have to pay a $1,000 fine along with surcharges and court costs, and submit her DNA and fingerprints to a criminal database.

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