City woman pleads guilty to embezzling $637,855

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 5, 2003

[8/5/03]A Vicksburg woman pleaded guilty Monday in federal court to embezzling $637,855 from two federal agencies during a six-year period.

Debra Strickland, 45, grimaced when she admitted to U.S. District Judge David Bramlette III that she stole taxpayer money for 4 1/2 years, including $234,479 in one year.

Strickland, represented by Vicksburg Attorney Travis T. Vance Jr., told the judge she was seeking treatment for gambling addiction, but was mentally competent when she took taxpayer money regularly from 1998 until earlier this year. Sentencing was set for Dec. 1.

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Strickland was serving as treasurer of the Lower Mississippi River Conservation Committee, established in 1994. The committee has an annual budget of about $155,000, but received more than $700,000 in grant money from other agencies, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Strickland admitted taking the money before the investigation began, which may help her chances of receiving a lesser sentence, but Bramlette said she will be jailed.

“Because of the amount of money involved, I can assure you that you will serve prison time,” Bramlette told Strickland.

The maximum would be 10 years, plus a fine and restitution order.

Assistant U.S. Attorney John Dowdy said Strickland gambled away most of the money in Vicksburg.

Strickland was allowed to remain free on a $10,000 unsecured bond until her sentencing date. She is allowed to travel to Louisiana and Alabama to visit her mother and children. She would not comment after she left the courtroom.