probation: That’s Sheila Caudle’s punishment for theft in a case where the sheriff once said $2 million was unaccounted for.

Sheila Caudle, 63, got a probationary sentence in Circuit Court in Conway this week after pleading guilty to theft while she was a Mayflower district court clerk from 2010 to 2014.

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Clarification on original article drawn from the Log Cabin Democrat: the charge related to a theft of less than $5,000, but at the time of her arrest in 2019 the sheriff put the amount unaccounted for at $2 million, but it now seems likely the figure is less than that. That figure was not from a state audit, as the Log Cabin originally reported. That audit confirmed about $3,200 improperly converted.

The article says Caudle left her job for state employment. She’s now retired after heading a small state licensing board. She was also assessed $1,440 in fines and costs. A restitution hearing is scheduled for Oct. 21.

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Old white lady’s life matters in Faulkner County? It may be a bit more complicated

The Log Cabin Democrat report didn’t provide information on what led to the prosecution’s leniency on the case. But after checking the record, I have some ideas.

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First, expect the state to ask for more than $3,200 at that hearing, though proof of the amount owed will be hampered by the loss of records and the system Caudle devised — booking some parts of multiple offense fines paid in cash, but treating other charges as dismissed and pocketing the difference. By one estimate, this might have amounted to about $1,000 a month over four years. By another, several times more than that.

The sheriff described the case in a 2019 release on her arrest:

Mrs. Caudle began working as the City Clerk in January 2010. As the city clerk, her responsibilities included maintaining all records; she was also responsible for accepting payments for fines and making the bank deposits. Sheila Caudle resigned from her position in August of 2014.

 

During the investigation, documents were requested from January 1, 2010, through August 14 2014. One of the documents provided was a receipt book, which was missing several pages and seemed to have been tampered with. This receipt book was used for documenting fine payments from the public. It was reported to authorities that citizens would often pay their fines in cash while Mrs. Caudle was outside on her break smoking or working in the flower bed, and she would accept these payments while she was on her break. Several discrepancies were noted while looking through the data provided from the Mayflower Court Virtual Justice System and the bank the city used.  As the investigation continued, it was determined that Shelia Caudle allegedly falsified the amount of money she collected from the public, as her computer entries never matched the bank deposits. Investigators were unable to determine how much of the total deposits were made in cash due to the missing fine payment receipts. It was also discovered that certain documents were either destroyed or had been tampered with. According to a written statement, Sheila Caudle was seen burning court documents in the parking area behind Mayflower City Hall. Sheila stated she digitized all the paperwork and no longer needed to keep the hard copy documents. There is no ordinance in place granting permission to burn court documents. Caudle is also accused of printing dummy checks just prior to her resignation. The investigation revealed a total of over $2,000,000.00 in missing funds.

 

On July 16, 2019, Shelia Caudle was arrested and transported to Faulkner County Detention Center Unit II, she was charged with Theft of Property (Class D Felony), Abuse of Public Trust (Class D Felony), and Tampering with Public Records (Class D Felony).

 

The charge to which she pleaded limited the theft accusation to an amount between $1,000 and $5,000 — specifically the $3,200 noted in the state audit. The Class D felony carried a maximum penalty of up to six years in prison and a condition for the severity of the sentence is being a public official. She had tried to have the charge dismissed under a statute of limitations argument, which the prosecutor opposed saying serial thefts by a public employee were a continuing course of conduct that occurred within the five-year period before her arrest in 2019. The statute, however, also tolls five years from the time when a crime should have been discovered. Her lawyer argued the state knew or should have known about her conduct as early as 2012 or 2013 and thus the charge should be dismissed. He ultimately entered a plea bargain.

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There will be an argument at the October hearing on how much is owed. The available accounting reconstruction will find the amount missing far less than the $2 million once cited by the sheriff. That figure may simply represent all the money handled by Caudle during her time in office. Though accounting for all that money can’t be fully reconstructed, it doesn’t mean she took it all.

The acceptance of the plea bargain was signed by Circuit Judge Troy Braswell. Conditions of her 72-month probation include a bar on casino gambling. That is not a routine addition to probation conditions and could be a signal of where some of the money is believed to have been spent.