|Judge will make final decision in 12 months|
Sarah Moody Arnold
Wednesday, February 12, 2014
By KEN BRADLEY - Staff Writer
A Franklin County High School teacher who pleaded "no contest" Friday to five misdemeanor charges related to a welfare fraud case received a delayed disposition from a circuit court judge.
Sarah Moody Arnold, 42, entered the pleas to five amended charges of interfering with the property rights of the Department of Social Services (DSS), according to prosecutor Dwight Rudd.
Arnold was indicted in October on 17 felony charges, including seven counts of welfare fraud (larceny), seven counts of making a false statement on applications for assistance (perjury) and three counts of failing to report a change in circumstances that affected her eligibility to receive benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the energy assistance program between July 2010 and July 2013.
Through a plea agreement, 12 of the felony charges were dismissed (nolle prossed) and five of the perjury charges were amended to the interference charges, which are not crimes of moral turpitude, so as "not to completely eliminate future opportunities for her to be employed and productive" as a teacher, Rudd said.
In December, Judge Stacey Moreau rejected a plea agreement that obligated the court to dismiss the charges if Arnold successfully fulfilled all terms and conditions imposed by the court.
Judge Joseph Milam, however, accepted Arnold's pleas Friday, sentenced her to 12 months unsupervised probation and ordered her to pay $7,563 in restitution for the financial assistance she received from DSS. The judge also stated that Arnold could not apply for any public assistance for three years.
At the urging of Arnold's defense attorney, Will Davis, Milam agreed to delay his decision on the finality of the five criminal convictions for 12 months and to consider possible dismissal of the charges at that time.
"By doing this, I am not indicating or suggesting that the charges will ultimately be dismissed," Milam said.
Whether the reduction of the charges will allow Arnold to return to work as a special education teacher is unclear, according to Davis. Arnold has been on unpaid administrative leave since she was indicted on the charges.
During Friday's hearing, Arnold testified that she has a master's degree and has been a special education teacher in Franklin County since 2000. She has also cared for an adult through the foster care system for the past 10 years. The woman is now 31 and can only speak a few words because of her severe disabilities, Arnold said.
The woman was taken from Arnold's home after Arnold was indicted on the charges, but Arnold said she hopes to regain custody after this case is resolved.
Former Franklin County Commonwealth's Attorney Cliff Hapgood testified for Arnold as a character witness, saying he had known Arnold since she was a teenager. Hapgood said Arnold cared for his children and other children on his street. He said he admired how Arnold took care of the woman she had through the foster care program.
Hapgood said he considered Arnold to be peaceful, law abiding and trustworthy.
Rudd said the court recognized that Arnold's record and history in the community show that Arnold is a good person, a professional and has taken responsibility for her offenses in these matters.