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Social Worker Scapegoat
October 7, 2008 permalink
Social worker Sabrina Walker received a cheque from the Minnesota Department of Health and Human Services for $2,600,000, issued as the result of a one digit data entry error. She spent the money, and has been sentenced for her "crime".
We don't often defend social workers, but will this time. In other areas of the law, the courts will not intervene to force repayment of money given away voluntarily, even if given away by mistake. Miss Walker was not the wrongdoer, she could have benefited from a better lawyer. The state used the courts to recoup its own losses where it would not recoup for a private party.
Looking at things another way, it takes Human Services a couple of hundred thousand dollars dollars to destroy a family, so if the department was impoverished by the amount of the cheque to Sabrina Walker, that is a dozen or so families preserved. A good deed for any social worker.
In the article below, there is no profession for Sabrina Walker, but other news stories identify her as a social worker.
$2.6 million check lands her in workhouse, not easy street
For the first time since she erroneously received a $2.6 million check from the state and went on a spending spree that included cars and jewelry, Sabrina Walker told her story Thursday, tearfully saying she never imagined herself in court for a criminal sentencing.
"Indeed this was a mistake. I didn't create this," she said. "I didn't swindle the state. I didn't trick anyone. I have suffered greatly from the moment this has been done. My dreams have been shattered."
Walker, 38, of Minneapolis, asked for mercy and compassion. District Judge Marilyn Rosenbaum noted that after calling the Department of Health and Human Services about the check and establishing it wasn't for her, Walker went out and spent $267,000 within a few hours.
Rosenbaum said Walker had already been given some mercy and sentenced her to nine months in the workhouse -- three months longer than a presentence investigation report prepared by the county suggested. She agreed to allow Walker to be released for classes and work.
Late in March 2007, a check intended for the Hennepin County Medical Center was addressed and sent to Walker when a state employee typed a single digit wrong.
The typing was proofread, but the error went unnoticed. Walker had a state vendor number because she had been paid $84 in October 2006 as a witness who testified in Hennepin County District Court. The bigger check cleared the state treasury on April 4, 2007.
Walker and her then-boyfriend, Charles Lockhart, went on a spending spree, buying several vintage and luxury automobiles, jewelry, retirement accounts and a U.S. Treasury bond worth $500,000. She also used $100,000 to pay off a student loan.
Some charges were dropped
Walker pleaded guilty in late July to failure to pay over state funds. In exchange, prosecutors agreed to ask for no more than a nine-month sentence and three years' probation, although they could have asked for a year in jail.
In exchange for Walker's plea, four other charges were to be dropped, including theft by swindle, appropriating lost property, concealing criminal funds and theft of more than $35,000.
Lockhart also faced similar criminal charges when the incident came to light in the summer of 2007, but charges against him were dismissed in exchange for his cooperation.
Walker's lawyer Eric Olson noted that one witness in the case, a bank employee, said Lockhart appeared to be a driving factor during banking transactions. Lockhart received no jail time for his role, Olson told the judge.
But Rosenbaum said she didn't handle Lockhart's case and wouldn't consider his role. "I had no part in or understanding of what went on," she said.
The judge said Walker's "thread that someone else was to blame" is "not credible."
Olson talked about how Walker will continue to pay back her debt, stay employed and never be before the court again. She also is working on her master's degree and has managed to continue to make payments on her town home.
Rosenbaum said to her, "I hope that you're not back. I hope nothing goes wrong in the next three years so you don't have to see me again."
Walker is on probation for three years. With good behavior, she could be out of the workhouse in about six months. She also will receive credit for the 17 days she served in jail after her arrest in 2007.
Walker said those days were the worst of her life and have caused a continuing case of depression.
Money was for needy patients
Before sentencing, assistant attorney general Cara Hawkinson, who works with human services, said the state has not been made whole since the check was cashed by Walker. She noted the funds sent to Walker were intended to cover health care for needy patients.
Prosecutors say some $2.1 million has been recouped as well as various cars and funds. "A lot of time, a lot of money and a lot of energy and effort" have gone into reclaiming the funds, Hawkinson said.
Source: Minneapolis Star Tribune