May 02, 2012 - Not guilty.
For Marion Patricia Paad, those were the two sweetest sounding words in the entire English language Monday as a jury of her peers acquitted her of all embezzlement charges following a four-day trial last week.
"I knew I was innocent and I'm glad the jury saw it that way," said Paad, who worked as deputy clerk for Oxford Village until her termination in March 2011. "I'm happy with the verdict – the truth prevailed.
Paad was accused of stealing village residents' property tax payments and police department funds. She was facing five felony counts of embezzlement by a public official over $50, each punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Heading into the Oakland County Circuit Courtroom in Pontiac on Monday, Paad tried to be "confident," but she admitted to feeling "sheer terror."
"You never know what 12 people who don't know you are going to decide," she said. "They have your fate in their hands."
The jury deliberated for about 45 minutes on Friday afternoon and 1½ hours on Monday morning. As a not-guilty verdict was announced after each charge, Paad felt "relief."
"It takes a big weight off my shoulders," she said.
Since the accusations were made public in January 2011, Paad indicated she and her family have been through "extreme hell" between the "mental anguish," stress, financial burden and media attention.
"It's been very hard, but I stood tall and kept my head up and fought for the truth," said Paad, noting she planned to celebrate the verdict by watching her daughter play soccer for Lapeer East High School.
"I wasn't able to do that all last week," she noted. "She's got a game tonight and that's first and foremost."
Not everyone was pleased with the verdict.
"Disappointed" was the word village Manager Joe Young, who testified during the trial, used to describe his reaction to the news. "Our prosecutor indicated that the evidence was there," he said. "I don't know what happened."
Oakland County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Paul Walton called the verdict "unfortunate."
"But that is why we have jury trials," he said. "We presented the evidence that we had and the jury did not feel it was sufficient to convict her."
"Making a determination that we have sufficient evidence (to prosecute) is not a guarantee of what a jury's going to do with the evidence. That's why we have jury trials," Walton noted.
The verdict surprised some folks.
"I'm kind of shocked, really," said village President Tom Benner. "(Based on what) the council members were told, she had taken these funds. I'm just shocked they found her not guilty on all counts."
Metamora-based attorney Denis J. McCarthy, who defended Paad, indicated the prosecution's case was based on the testimony of one witness and nothing else.
"The crux of my defense was that the jury had to rely solely on the word of Maureen Helmuth," he said. "There was nothing to corroborate what she said happened and there was no evidence to support what she said happened."
In January 2011, after remaining silent for about four years, Helmuth, who serves on the village council, disclosed that Paad had allegedly stolen more than $3,300 in property tax payments from three residents in 2006-07.
Helmuth, who was employed as the village's deputy treasurer back then, admitted to discovering the alleged embezzlement, loaning Paad money from her own pocket to cover the allegedly missing tax funds and not reporting the alleged theft to officials.
Helmuth claimed Paad told her she took the tax money to make mortgage payments because she was in danger of losing her home. The reason Helmuth indicated she finally came forward with this revelation was because Paad was a candidate for the village clerk's position and she questioned her honesty.
Helmuth could not reached for comment regarding the verdict.
During the subsequent investigation by the Michigan State Police, it was alleged that Paad stole almost $600 in village police department funds in 2010.
"It was never shown in the case against my client that there was any money missing because of anything that she had done or because of anything that she was accused of having done," McCarthy noted. "Pat maintained her innocence all the way through."
Walton admitted the prosecution didn't have much in the way of documentation, so it was forced to rely heavily on Helmuth's testimony to make its case.
"That was one of the factors – there just wasn't a good paper trail, which happens in a lot of smaller organizations," he explained. "You don't have the luxury of having three or four levels of checks (and balances), but the juries expect to see that. They expect the village to be run just like Chrysler."
Both McCarthy and Walton believe the jury might have been influenced by the length of time between the alleged crimes in 2006-07 and Helmuth's admission in 2011. The timing of the councilwoman's decision to come forward also played a factor.
"Maureen accused (Paad) of doing something that happened some 4½ years ago," McCarthy said. "The accusations came to Mr. Young's attention on the very day that Pat was up for the clerk position . . . Whether the jury found that to be a coincidence or something planned . . . The timing of it sure seemed fishy, let's put it that way."
"Juries decide cases on a lot of different factors such as how a witness presented, the strength of the case," Walton said. "I think one of the biggest impediments that we had was the delay in disclosure between the underlying offense and when our star witness in this case made the pronouncement to the police.
"Any time you have a delayed-disclosure-type case, the jury spends a lot of time questioning (what's) the motivation as to why this person delayed in their disclosure. Was it fear? Was it retribution? Was it political vengeance?"
In Helmuth's case, she claimed "she was concerned (Paad) was going to go further with her career, she was going to go further politically, and this (alleged theft) had to be disclosed," according to Walton.
Time is an enemy when there's delayed disclosure in a case because "evidence is lost" and "memories start fading."
"If you can preserve the 'crime scene,' whether it be (financial) books or an actual scene, as soon as possible, it is likely going to strengthen the case," Walton said. "We don't make up the facts, we just present them."
When asked if Paad plans to file a civil lawsuit against the village for terminating her employment as a result of these accusations, McCarthy replied, "She's considering her options right now."
He noted that "one of her options" could be a lawsuit against Helmuth.
Although Paad was never charged with any crimes connected to it, the village still has approximately $20,000 in property tax money from 2010 that remains "unaccounted for," according to Young. This amount – which consists of about $4,000 in cash payments and approximately $16,000 in check payments – was discovered during an internal investigation conducted by the village in the wake of the accusations against Paad.
"There's money missing (from) 2010 that really hasn't been investigated (from what) I could see," McCarthy said. "It came out that there has really been no criminal investigation about that money."
Prior to the trial, Walton had previously indicated the village could seek restitution from Paad for the missing $20,000 – even though she hadn't been criminally charged regarding any of it – provided she was convicted of at least one of the five embezzlement counts against her and the village could supply documentation as to the amount lost.
On Monday, Walton noted the village could choose to have police investigate these missing funds. "If it is an uncharged act, they have that opportunity," he said.
The village could also choose to sue Paad if it believes she is responsible for these missing funds. "They also have the opportunity to, if they feel that they have sufficient evidence, pursue a case civilly," Walton said. "The burden (of proof) in a civil case is not beyond a reasonable doubt (as it is in a criminal case). It's a preponderance of the evidence. That standard of proof is a lot less."
When asked about the status of the missing $20,000, Young replied, "Right now, it's in the hands of our insurance company, so I'll be following up with them now.
"We filed the claim, we just haven't pursued it yet because we we're waiting for the trial to be completed. As far as anything further, no decision has been made on that at this point."
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.