Crittenden County woman sentenced to one year and one day in prison for embezzling more than $300,000

A Crittenden County woman indicted on a charge of embezzling more than $300,000 from a bank where she worked as a vault teller was sentenced Wednesday to a year and a day in federal prison by a federal judge in Little Rock.

Pamela Cooper, 63, of Marion, was facing a possible 30-year prison term for the offense, which she pleaded guilty to last October before U.S. District Judge James M. Moody Jr. She was indicted in July 2021 after she was accused of embezzling an estimated $314,000 between January 2019 and December 2020 from Premier Bank of Arkansas in Marion.

Cooper was fired from the bank on Dec. 22, 2020, after a surprise count of the bank's cash vault the previous month that revealed a shortage of about $200,000. After that discovery, bank officials conducted a full branch audit of all automatic teller machines, teller drawers and recycler machines -- which dispense cash for tellers similar to the way an automatic teller machine dispenses cash to bank customers -- which revealed an additional $94,000 missing from bank funds.

When Cooper's teller drawer was audited on Dec. 15, 2020, bank officials discovered that instead of the $25,136.34 that should have been in the drawer, records showed the drawer was short by exactly $20,000.

An FBI investigation turned up evidence that Cooper, whose salary was about $30,000 annually according to court records, was a regular gambler at Southland Casino in West Memphis and that records subpoenaed from the casino showed that from November 2019 until December 2020 Cooper had lost a total of $311,925.34.

Cooper's attorney, Assistant Federal Public Defender Molly Sullivan, said that Cooper had suffered health problems including a stroke and cardiac issues since her plea hearing resulting in significant medical bills, including ongoing costs for prescription drugs that could impact her ability to pay restitution.

Under U.S sentencing statutes, Cooper, who has no prior criminal history, could have been sentenced to as much as 30 years in prison and fined up to $1 million. Under the sentencing guidelines, her recommended sentence was calculated at 21 to 27 months imprisonment, two to five years supervised release and a fine ranging from $10,000 to $1 million. Citing Cooper's health problems, Sullivan asked Moody to consider a sentence of one day in prison to be followed by five years of supervised release.

"Ms. Cooper will be 64 next week and up to this point she has led a law-abiding life," Sullivan said. "I think it's clear from the pre-sentence report ... that she has a gambling addiction that developed for whatever reason."

Mental health counseling Cooper has undergone since she was indicted, Sullivan said, had largely alleviated the depression and anxiety that had led to the gambling addiction, but she argued that Cooper's health problems, lack of prior criminal history and her remorse should justify the requested below-guideline sentence.

"An addiction to gambling doesn't justify her behavior here but I think it explains what happened," she said, "her access to funds and her thought process that, 'I'll just hit it big at the casino and pay that money back,' and that didn't happen here obviously."

Asking for a low-end guideline sentence of 21 months in prison, Assistant U.S. Attorney Will Crow called Cooper's conduct "one of the more severe breaches of trust I think I've ever seen."

"It would be a miscarriage of justice for her to steal $314,000 and not spend a day in jail," Crow said. "You can't steal hundreds of thousands of dollars and not get significant prison time."

After considering the matter, Moody decided on the one-year-and-one-day sentence as appropriate to address the federal sentencing factors laid out in 18 USC § 3553, including general deterrence. Under federal rules, only defendants sentenced to more than one year in prison are eligible for good time credits that can reduce a sentence by up to 15%.

"You can't steal over $300,000 and not expect some prison sentence," Moody said as he imposed the sentence.