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Former Halfway House Director Sentenced to 18 Months

A former halfway house director, who embezzled up to $213,787 from a federally-funded non-profit Oregon halfway house, pleaded guilty and has been sentenced to 18 months in prison.

As previously reported in PLN, Laura Marie Edwards, 39, served as executive director of the Oregon Halfway House (OHH), now known as the Northwest Regional Re-Entry Center, from 2007 until she was fired in 2010. The facility houses federal prisoners prior to their release from custody. [See: PLN, March 2012, p.33; Jan. 2011, p.42].

Edwards' troubles began when the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) alerted the OHH Board of Directors that she should be relieved of her duties. BOP officials would not elaborate, but OHH commenced an internal investigation and turned its findings over to the FBI.

The investigation revealed that Edwards had funneled up to $213,787 of OHH's funds into her personal bank account. According to court records, she misused an OHH debit card meant for business purchases to buy items from the Adoption Shoppe – an online store that she owned.

Edwards also admitted to OHH Board President and Federal Public Defender Steven Wax that she previously had been fired as the regional director of Cornell Industries, a California-based halfway house, for embezzling about $90,000.

After leaving the state and attempting suicide, Edwards was returned to Oregon and pleaded guilty to embezzlement on January 9, 2012. The government alleged at the plea hearing that Edwards had stolen $213,787, though she claimed the amount was substantially less.

OHH's Board recommended that Edwards be sent to prison, according to the government's sentencing memorandum. Board President Steven Wax, who normally fights to avoid prison sentences for his clients, found himself in the unusual role of advocating for Edwards' incarceration.

"While the Regional Re-entry Center is a private non-profit organization, it serves a public function," he noted. "Miss Edwards' violation of the public trust is among the most disturbing types of criminal conduct. What made this even more disturbing is that this was the second time that she had abused her position in a re-entry center to embezzle funds."

On April 16, 2012, U.S. District Court Judge Ancer L. Haggerty rejected Edwards' request for probation and sentenced her to 18 months in prison plus three years of supervised release, and ordered her to pay $162,421.17 in restitution. In a twist of irony, Edwards will likely serve out the final months of her federal prison sentence in a halfway house. See: United States v. Edwards, U.S.D.C. (D. Ore.), Case No. 3:11-cr-00241-HA.

Currently incarcerated at FMC Lexington, Edwards is scheduled to be released in September 2013.

Source: The Oregonian

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Related legal case

United States v. Edwards