Former Ignacio employee sentenced for embezzling
Jackie Mejia to pay more than $66,000 in restitution
Jacquelyn “Jackie” Mejia, 55, was facing up to 90 days in jail after pleading guilty to felony theft and misdemeanor theft.
The felony will be wiped from her criminal record if she successfully completes the terms of her five-year probation. Mejia also was ordered to pay more than $66,000 in restitution, participate in addiction counseling and complete 48 hours of community service.
Through tears, Mejia begged District Judge Jeffrey Wilson for leniency. She apologized to her family and community. She said she has received counseling for her gambling addiction and no longer recognizes the person she had become.
“I have embarrassed myself and my entire family with my actions,” Mejia said.
Mejia, a front-desk worker at Ignacio Town Hall, voluntarily turned herself in June 19, 2015, to the Ignacio Police Department. She admitted to stealing about $17,000, but said the amount might be even higher.
Durango defense attorney Ingrid Alt said that during the midst of her gambling addiction, something snapped and she went to police to confess her crimes. Prior to doing so, she had no brushes with the law, not even a speeding ticket, Alt said.
Mary Stowe, an addiction coach from Arkansas, testified by telephone that gambling can be a harder addiction to break than heroin. Some people’s brains are wired in such a way that gambling releases a flood of dopamine, and addicts need to keep increasing their thrill to keep the high alive.
Alt said it took Mejia several months to find an employer who would hire her as a result of her embezzlement case. She has moved to Montrose, where she works in marketing for $11 an hour and has no access to money, she said.
Deputy District Attorney Reid Stewart said Ignacio town officials thought it was important that Mejia be exposed to a possible jail sentence, so he asked Judge Wilson to impose some jail time. But Alt said a jail sentence would cost Mejia her job and prevent her from paying restitution.
Judge Wilson seemed to agree. He said he understands why the town of Ignacio asked for jail time, but after listening to testimony Thursday, he feared it would send her into a downward spiral and negate her progress.
He also was impressed that she turned herself in with no prompting.