The court sentenced an area woman who pleaded guilty to stealing more than $25,000 to 5 years of probation Monday.
Police originally charged Kimberly Pepper, 43, of Zearing, with five counts including identity theft, forgery and second-degree theft, for embezzling money from Calvin and Shirley Goecke in late 2010. However, Pepper accepted a plea in February, reducing the number of charges to a single first-degree theft charge.
Pepper worked as a nurse's aide at Marshalltown Medical & Surgical Center prior to providing in-home care to Calvin Goecke before his death in February 2012.
Assistant County Attorney Ben Stansberry and Pepper's attorney, Barry Kaplan, both recommended probation. However, the restitution effort needs to "have teeth behind it," Stansberry said.
The only point of contention between the attorneys was whether Pepper should receive a deferred judgment, which would allow her to petition the court to wipe the felony charge from her record upon completion of the probation.
Judge James Ellefson and both attorneys agreed that Pepper's ability to pay restitution to the Goecke family was paramount. However, Kaplan asked for the deferred judgment to better assist in that process, saying that although Pepper is employed, she may need to seek additional employment to pay the full restitution. Having a felony charge loom over her forever would make that more difficult.
"She learned her lesson," he said. "Word got out to the community that this can't happen."
Ellefson said his concern is with protecting the community and ensuring that the sentencing does not give the impression that behavior such as Pepper's can go unpunished. However, he added that in an increasingly digital age, a deferred judgment doesn't carry the same implications as it did in the 1970s when the code was enacted.
Although Pepper will honestly be able to claim that she is not a felon upon completion of her probation, it is not as though that fact will remain a secret given today's increased availability of information.
"It seems to be that the breach of trust here and the victimization that is involved cries out for conviction," Ellefson said. "This was on knife's edge when I came in here, and it was on knife's edge until about 30 seconds ago."
The conditions of Pepper's probation are to be determined by the Department of Corrections, and as a felon, Pepper will be required to provide a DNA sample to the court to assist with further investigations.
The pre-sentence investigation stated that Pepper is of a low risk to re-offend. Pepper can only have the charge expunged if she complies with the terms of her probation and pays the associated fines, including the money owed to the Goeckes.
Pepper executed her right of elocution to apologize to the Goecke family. Shirley Goecke was in the court and presented a victim impact statement to the state, but that statement was not read in the courtroom.
"I feel very responsible for taking care of her and paying her back the money that I took," Pepper said, turning to face Goecke momentarily. "I cared about them very, very much, and I know what I did was horribly wrong. I am a good person, and I just used very poor judgment."