Former Grovetown city clerk pleads guilty to federal crimes

Vicky Capetillo

Former Grovetown city clerk Vicky Capetillo pleaded guilty Monday in U.S. District Court, admitting she stole from the city from 2011 through 2016.

 

Capetillo, 60, pleaded to theft from a federal program and money laundering. As part of the plea deal she agreed to forfeit $891,721, the total amount authorities believed she took from the city’s coffers, IRS Special Agent Jeff Hale testified Monday.

In 2015 alone, she deposited more than $186,000 in cash into her own bank account, money that she stole from the city, Hale said.

Capetillo used different schemes. One that netted her more than $756,000 in cash was using customers’ accounts to steal cash payments for city services. In September 2014, she took $13,5000 from funds the Federal Emergency Management Agency gave to Grovetown to compensate for damages from the 2014 ice storm, Hale said.

A service Grovetown provided, cashing personal and payroll checks, gave Capetillo another way to steal from the city. Capetillo would give customers cash but instead of depositing the corresponding checks into the city’s bank account, she occasionally deposited them into her own account, Hale said.

U.S. District Court Chief Judge J. Randal Hall asked Capetillo to tell him in her own words what she had done. Capetillo said she did cash checks for people and “inadvertently” deposited some checks into her own account. Hall confronted Capetillo, asking if she was pleading guilty to crimes or saying she had made an error. Capetillo admitted she knew what she was doing and did it intentionally.

Hall accepted the recommendation of the pre-sentencing probation officer and allowed Capetillo to remain free on an unsecured $20,000 bond pending sentencing. She will have a 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew, surrender her passport, and remain in the counties that comprise the Southern District of Georgia. She is prohibited from having contact with anyone involved in the case.

A sentencing date will not be set until a pre-sentencing report is prepared. The theft charge is punishable by up to 10 years and the money laundering charge is punishable by up to 20 years. However, with the plea agreement in place, the federal sentencing guideline range will not call for any maximum punishment.

Capetillo resigned in August 2016, not long after those inside and outside the city government complained of financial irregularities.

Grovetown settled two civil lawsuits earlier this year. One cost the city $750,000 to settle claims of residents who contended their utility rates were inflated to cover theft and fraud. The other cost the city $150,000 to settle a former employee’s whistle-blower case.

Capetillo is the stepdaughter of city Councilman and former mayor Dennis Trudeau, and the daughter of former councilwoman and mayor Mary Ann Trudeau.

Grovetown Mayor Gary Jones said in a statement after the hearing that the city has options regarding recouping the lost funds.

“We have the right to file a claim with GERMA which is the insurance portion of the Georgia Municipal Association, for a dishonest claim against an employee for up to $500,000,” Jones said at city hall Monday afternoon. “So maybe with that and some reimbursements back from her imposed by the courts, maybe we can get some of that money back.”

Jones said Capetillo’s plea was expected and that new procedures have been implemented to prevent this type of theft from occurring again.

“I can ensure (residents) that all the precautions are in place to prevent this type of crime from happening again,” he said. “It’s a large amount of money, but I think we are on the right track, I don’t think we will have these kinds of problem in the future.”

Capetillo faces unrelated theft charges in Columbia County Superior Court. She is accused of misappropriating about $20,000 from the Grovetown Lions Club while serving as the club’s treasurer. She has pleaded not guilty.

Staff writer Abbigail Lennon contributed to this story

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

 

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