Money schemes result in 10 years plus probation

A woman with a decadelong history of lying and stealing received a 10-year prison sentence plus 10 years' probation Thursday for her most recent set of crimes.

 

Judge Carl C. Brown Jr. warned Terra Garner that probation wasn't an option, considering the number of criminal counts she faced and her criminal history.

Ms. Garner pleaded guilty in Columbia County Superior Court for crimes committed there and in Richmond County. Most of the charges of forgery, credit card fraud and theft resulted when Ms. Garner helped herself to possibly as much as $30,000 from the bank and credit card accounts of her employer, Ashmore Concrete Contractors.

Most of the money was used to pay for Ms. Garner's wedding on Sept. 8, 2007, while she was still married to a Michigan man. The crime she admitted to committing in Richmond County was bigamy.

What Assistant District Attorney Adam King called particularly distasteful was Ms. Garner's false claims to her employer and co-workers that she had cancer. Ms. Garner received about $6,000 in sick leave benefits from Ashmore Concrete, Mr. King said.

"I want to apologize to Mr. (Jerry) Ashmore. I am so sorry, from the bottom of my heart," Ms. Garner said.

But Mr. Ashmore, who trusted Ms. Garner and hired her as his executive secretary in October 2006, asked the judge to impose a prison sentence.

It's not that he didn't want Ms. Garner to pay the money back, Mr. Ashmore said. "I want restitution but not at the expense of other victims who may come after me."

Mr. Ashmore wasn't Ms. Garner's first victim. In 1999 she pleaded guilty in Henry County, Ala., to reduced charges of misdemeanor theft. Court records there show Ms. Garner stole from her employer. She also pretended to have cancer, going so far as to shave her head, Mr. King told the judge Thursday.

In 2002 she pleaded guilty in Oakland County, Mich., for passing fake checks. She was sentenced to 153 days in jail, according to court records. Criminal charges filed in 2003 and 2005 were dismissed. In Michigan she also falsely claimed to have cancer, Mr. King said.

Wherever Ms. Garner has gone, fraud and financial ruin has followed, Mr. King said.

But Ms. Garner's family stressed she has become determined to change and make up for the damage she caused. Her brother, Tony Taylor, told the judge he had a job waiting for Ms. Garner. She needed to be out and working to pay the money she took, Mr. Taylor said.

Assistant Public Defender Jason Hasty asked the judge to consider how long ago the prior crimes occurred. She is remorseful for stealing from Mr. Ashmore and wants to repay the money, Mr. Hasty said. He described the bigamy as a careless mistake.

Ms. Garner blamed the events leading up to her September 2007 wedding on an addiction to prescription pills.

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or sandy.hodson@augustachronicle.com.