Palmertree sentenced to five years

Published 11:22 am Monday, September 29, 2014

Shelly Ashley-Palmertree was sentenced to five years in prison for embezzlement.

Shelly Ashley-Palmertree was sentenced to five years in prison for embezzlement.

Former Circuit Clerk Shelly Ashley-Palmertree will spend five years in prison for stealing from Warren County taxpayers after the special judge in the case rejected a plea agreement between Palmertree and the Attorney General’s Office.

Special Judge Henry Lackey sentenced Palmertree, 44, to five years in prison and ordered her to pay back $12,000 she admitted to embezzling from civil and criminal fee accounts under her care as circuit clerk.

“You’ve trampled over the goodness shown to you by the people of this county,” Lackey said before announcing the sentence. “You have spit in the face of every person who voted for you.”

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The plea deal reached between Palmertree’s attorneys and the AG’s Office involved five years’ probation for the three counts of embezzlement, but Lackey told the court that he is not bound by the deal and didn’t agree with it.

“I’ve never sentenced a public official who embezzled from a public treasury to a term that didn’t include incarceration,” Lackey told Palmertree after the agreement was announced by Assistant Attorney General Stanley Alexander.

Palmertree, who is represented by Jackson attorneys Joe Hollomon and Marc Brand, will remain free on bail until Oct. 15 when she is to report to the Warren Count Sheriff’s Office, Lackey said.

Hollomon requested that Palmertree have until the Oct. 15 deadline to pay restitution to the county.

Palmertree spoke briefly during the 30-minute hearing, apologizing to the Board of Supervisors and the county’s taxpayers.

“I want to apologize mainly to the citizens of the county who trusted in me,” she said.

Supervisors didn’t seem to buy the apology.

“The board of supervisors on behalf of the Warren County taxpayer are appalled at the actions of Shelly Palmertree and the breach of trust,” board attorney Marcie Southerland said.

Southerland told Lackey that the $12,000 was “just the tip of the iceberg,” before Holomon objected.

“She is not entitled to stand there and smear my client,” Holomon said.

Under state law, the only testimony allowed to be introduced in the case had to involve the $12,000 mentioned in the guilty plea.

Palmertree was removed from office by county supervisors when evidence surfaced that she had declared residence in Madison County in 2013. The board appointed to the post Greg Peltz, who faces four opponents in a special election to take place alongside other races Nov. 4.

A separate civil case initiated in March 2013 by the ousted clerk involving more than $1 million in fees collected by Palmertree’s office remains active in Hinds County Chancery Court.

State Auditor Stacey Pickering was meeting with supervisors this morning.

At issue is whether Palmertree owes $671,751.75 in excessive salary and questionable subcontractor payments to her father and predecessor in office, Larry Ashley, between 2006 and 2011. Interest and investigative costs push that to $1.04 million, according to State Auditor Stacey Pickering, who countered the former clerk’s suit against him in the matter. A third party in the case is the clerk’s former bonding company, CNA Surety. The worldwide insurer has argued against liability in the matter.

Arguments in that case are expected to pick up again in January after two rounds of testimony and mediation since last December have failed to produce a judgment from Hinds County Chancellor Dewayne Thomas.

On Sept. 23, attorney Frank Vollor withdrew from the civil case as Palmertree’s lead counsel, citing her inability to continue paying him.

A $98,794 chunk of money state auditors questioned in the county’s 2013 audit involved fees paid to lawyers and accountants who have testified as expert witnesses during the civil case. Thomas had asked her before the first round of testimony to stop paying for her legal defense out of her office’s funds. It was unclear whether the state and county would amend the civil matter further to include activity in 2013 or a $156,500 demanded of Palmertree that related to over-cap fees and subcontractor payments in 2012.

Staff Writer Danny Barrett Jr. contributed to this report.