RYAN J. FOLEY
CLINTON — A federal judge has rejected a plea agreement calling for probation for a former Iowa postal employee who stole dozens of greeting cards containing cash, saying her actions deprived the intended recipients of emotional support.
U.S. District Judge Mark Bennett ruled last week that giving Charmagne LaPoint probation would ignore the "significant non-monetary harm" she caused people who never received cards from loved ones and friends. LaPoint's proposed sentence, in a plea agreement reached with federal prosecutors, was based too much on the relatively low amount that she admitted embezzling, he wrote.
LaPoint pleaded guilty to mail theft by a postal employee, admitting that she ripped open roughly 40 greeting cards that she believed contained cash. If the mail contained checks, she'd try to reseal the envelope and deliver it. Otherwise, she would take the cash and throw the mail away at the post office or her apartment. The theft occurred during a one-month span when she was temporarily substituting for the postmaster in Wesley, a small town 120 miles north of Des Moines.
In all, she stole cash, gift cards and a laptop computer worth $1,294 and has paid that amount in restitution. But Bennett said that didn't tell the whole story.
He noted that one of LaPoint's victims never received sympathy cards following the death of her father, and could not thank those who sent condolences. That woman lost trust in the post office, which caused her to stop mailing packages to her son in the military and to travel to neighboring cities to drop off mail. Dozens of others never received a variety of cards intended for them, he said.
"It is one thing to steal someone's money; it is another thing entirely to steal someone's emotional support in times of joy, celebration, grief, or danger. The latter is often far more injurious than the former," Bennett wrote.
He said that while a sentence of probation was too light, he might be open to a revised agreement calling for the single mother of three to serve less than six months in jail. LaPoint's sentencing is set to resume May 16.
Bennett declined to sentence LaPoint at a March 26 hearing, saying he had reservations with the plea agreement and the sentencing guidelines for theft.
Defense attorney Bradley Hansen and prosecutors argued that probation remained the correct sentence for LaPoint because she accepted responsibility and had no prior criminal history, among other factors. They didn't immediately return messages.