A former Ashland Parks and Recreation receptionist convicted of stealing $43,390 from the department over a two-year period was sentenced Wednesday to 45 days in jail and ordered to pay back the money.
After maintaining her innocence against a dozen initial charges for nearly two years, Rebecca "Becky" Bianco, 50, entered no-contest pleas in Jackson County Circuit Court on two counts of aggravated theft and one count of first-degree theft.
"I just don't believe she could bring herself to say she was guilty," said Jeremy Markiewicz, deputy district attorney for Jackson County. "We gave her an offer, and she chose to plea no contest." A no-contest plea has the same legal effect as a guilty plea.
Judge Tim Gerking ordered Bianco to begin her 45-day sentence immediately and spend two years on supervised probation. He also handed down a 13-month suspended prison sentence that will be imposed if she violates the terms of her probation, Markiewicz said.
Gerking also ordered that the Ashland resident not be released early from the Jackson County Jail.
As part of her plea agreement, Bianco paid back $20,000 to the city of Ashland and is required to pay another $23,900 in restitution, Markiewicz said.
Bianco's $20,000 bank-certified check was handed over to the city on Wednesday, he said.
"I know a lot of people have a little bit of a sense of relief today. "… I don't think anybody wished her any misfortune, but it does bring closure for us," said Parks Director Don Robertson. "It has been difficult for the department, and the commission and all of our co-workers."
Ashland police arrested Bianco in January 2011 on three counts of first-degree aggravated theft, two counts of aggravated identity theft, two counts of computer crime, two counts of falsifying business records, two counts of first-degree theft and one count of second-degree theft.
Nine of those charges were dismissed as part of Bianco's plea agreement, Markiewicz said.
After the allegations surfaced, Bianco became one of four parks employees placed on administrative leave or fired near the end 2011 for stealing from the department or knowing of a theft that had occurred.
A two-month Ashland police and Medford police investigation revealed that Bianco diverted fraudulent refunds for recreation classes or park facility rentals into debit cards in her name.
The investigation was sparked in November 2010 when a company that processes payments for the parks department reported a suspicious number of refunds to a single card, and further investigation found three additional cards in Bianco's name also had received multiple refunds.
Police served a search warrant on Bianco's home on Nov. 16, 2010, seizing paperwork and two computers, and another computer from Bianco's city office, Markiewicz said.
Bianco initially claimed she might be the victim of identity theft, but police found no evidence of viruses or malware on the computers used to process the 215 fraudulent refunds, which began in August 2008, Markiewicz said.
Subpoenaed financial records show Bianco was the sole owner of the accounts that were credited, and the refunds were quickly spent on a range of items, including travel and daily expenses.
Bianco, who was initially placed on paid administrative leave, was fired on Feb. 8, 2011, said Tina Gray, human resources director for Ashland.
Since Bianco's scheme was realized, the parks department has changed its procedures for the processing of refunds so they are manually reviewed by several people, Robertson said.
Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.