A former Effingham County Health Department director accused of stealing more than $50,000 was expected to pay restitution in full by Friday afternoon, her attorney said.
Jean Shuman, who changed her plea from nolo contendre to guilty, was sentenced to seven years probation, 360 to 420 days in a detention center, 240 hours of community service and to pay full restitution for money and credit card charges she rang up on a state credit card while she was director of the health department. Shuman’s detention time was suspended to 30 days to be served in two-day increments, Judge John Robert Turner ruled Wednesday in the Effingham County Justice Complex.
Shuman’s attorney, Michael Classens, asked that Shuman be given five years probation, no jail time and any fines and surcharges be waived with prompt restitution. Ogeechee Judicial Circuit Assistant District Attorney Michael Muldrew said the state recommended 10 years probation, 180 to 240 days in a detention center, a $2,000 fine and full restitution in 45 days. The state was asking that if Shuman did not make restitution within 45 days that her probation be extended to 15 years and her jail time extended to 540 to 600 days.
“Upon release, she would have 13 1/2 years to pay back,” Muldrew said.
Shuman was charged with stealing $53,171 in petty cash, credit card charges and cell phone bills while she was director of the Effingham County Health Department.
An audit of the health department’s finances revealed more than $78,000 questionable purchases, according to Muldrew, but the amount was eventually pared down to $53,171.
Shuman was hired as a bookkeeper at the health department in 1987 and later promoted to office manager. Muldrew said the investigation revealed that Shuman first began misappropriating funds as far back as January 1999. She was terminated by the health department in September 2005.
Classens called on several character witnesses, including two of Shuman’s current employers, her former supervisor at the health department, a former subordinate at the health department, her psychologist, her husband and state Rep. Jon Burns. More than 30 family and friends gathered in the Ebenezer Courtroom and many circled around Shuman later outside the courtroom.
The Shumans are marking their 21st wedding anniversary today.
Muldrew pointed to the length of time the crime occurred and the hundreds of charges on the state-issued credit card to places ranging from Belk and Bass Pro Shops to Old Navy, Wal-Mart and Outback.
“Very often, these people have reputations that are good in the community,” Muldrew said of public officials who have been convicted of stealing public funds. “We know punishment is often more severe for the family. We have a lot of these type of cases. They’re stealing from churches, from government agencies. Unfortunately, it’s all too common.”
Classens said there was deal in 2005 for Shuman to pay restitution, but the deal was never consummated. He argued that incarceration would not do anyone any good.
“Collectively, they opined she is a good person who made a mistake,” he said of the witnesses, “that she has in the past and will continue in the future to make a positive impact.”
Judge Turner said he had no problem with the first offender status, but the nolo contendre plea entered last week to Judge Gates Peed caused him concern. Shuman eventually withdrew that plea.