A former secretary to the warden of the Bedford County Jail may find her retirement much smaller than anticipated if officials are successful in using it as a means of restitution should Shelia Suter be convicted of stealing more than $50,000.
Suter, 64, of Bedford, waived her right to a preliminary hearing at Bedford County Central Court on Wednesday on a charge of felony theft filed by authorities Friday.
“Any cash that came in, she considered it hers,” said Bedford County District Attorney William Higgins. “It’s been going on since 2008 and could have been even farther back.”
The alleged thefts were uncovered by Warden David Kessling, who was hired in April to operate the Bedford Township facility.
The thefts were not uncovered earlier because there probably should have been better oversight, Higgins said.
Kessling began asking questions after he realized that checks and money orders sent into the prison for specific inmate use at the commissary by friends and relatives were being deposited, but not cash.
The big thing missing, said Higgins, was cash brought to the jail for inmate commissary use and no deposits made.
As part of the scheme, Suter credited the cash to the appropriate inmate commissary account, so they did not lose out. But instead of depositing the cash in the Bedford bank that held the account, she put it in her pocket, Higgins said.
Suter has been terminated from her job, marking the second time for such action.
She worked at the jail in the 1990s and was fired in 2001 after, officials said, it was learned she was having a relationship with a corrections officer and for having obscene material in her desk.
County commissioners said at the time she had a Playgirl magazine in her desk, a violation of state law.
She appealed her firing and won an arbitrator’s decision that she was wrongly dismissed.
The county was forced to rehire her in 2003.
As the case moves through the court system, Higgins said he is looking for the best way to make the county whole.
“The county, right now, has suffered the loss,” he said. “What we’re going to be looking at is taking the restitution from her county retirement fund.”
Kathy Mellott covers Bedford County for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/kathymellotttd.