Lori Beth Feaster
ELIZABETHTON — Lori Beth Feaster, 36, a former bookkeeper with the North Elizabethton Water Co-op and Watauga River Regional Water Authority, pleaded guilty to four charges in Carter County Criminal Court on Thursday.
The charges were theft over $10,000, fraudulent use of a credit card, official misconduct and forgery.
Judge Stacy Street placed Feaster on six years’ probation and ordered her to serve four months in jail, beginning Feb. 14. She will be on court-ordered work release during that time. Street also ordered Feaster to serve a week in jail for the next three years, with Feb. 14 the date to report to jail.
Feaster also must pay $100 per month toward restitution to the water authority.
The other three sentences were concurrent to the sentence on the theft conviction, but consecutive to other sentences Feaster has in Washington and Sevier counties.
The charges were made following an investigative audit by the Tennessee comptroller.
The comptroller said Feaster had issued district checks totaling $23,742 to herself that she was not due and concealed the payments by making the records show the money went to a vendor for the water authority. The audit also claimed she was reimbursed $836 for mileage on trips she did not take and for trips in which she was a passenger and didn’t drive.
The comptroller also alleged $15,505 was removed from cash deposits and the deposit slips were altered.
Feaster was also accused of making personal charges on agency credit cards. These included charges at Lowe’s Home Improvement for a washing machine and landscaping material, as well as numerous charges for cleaning supplies, including laundry detergent and automatic dishwasher detergent.
Agency management told the auditor that all cleaning supplies were provided by the landlord and the agency did not have a washing machine or dishwasher. The total amount of questioned Lowe’s purchases was about $2,700.
The comptroller’s officer reported that Feaster’s personal bank account showed a great deal of cash going into her checking account in an 18-month period, more than $50,000 from July 2010 to December 2011.
In a sentencing memorandum, Feaster’s attorney, Clifton Corker, wrote Feaster cooperated with law enforcement from the start of the investigation and immediately admitted her wrongdoing to the comptroller’s office. Corker said the total loss to the water authority was a little more than $50,000 over a two-year time period.
Corker said Feaster “did not live a lavish lifestyle.” He said she supported two young children without help from her divorced husband and helped with other members of her extended family, who had been rocked by a suicide and an attempted suicide, and continues to care for her mother.
“While she used the money to care for her family, the use to which she put the money does not in any way, shape or form justify the taking. Ms. Feaster understands what she did was wrong and she feels tremendous remorse for her actions. She knows the predicament she has placed her young children in by her actions,” Corker said.
Corker said Feaster had previous misdemeanor theft charges in her past, but those were limited to a four-month time period when she was 18 years old.
Corker asked the judge to “fashion a sentence that will permit her to serve her time, remain employed, pay restitution and not have her children become wards of the state.”