Convicted embezzler Starla Ruth Ingram awakened Saturday on the first of what will be many days spent in confinement.
Starla Ruth Ingram listens as she is sentenced to 10 years for embezzlement. Photo from December 14, 2018.
A judge ordered her to serve 10 years for stealing massive amounts of money from her employer, Summerford Truck Line of Ashford.
Ingram, 58, pleaded guilty to the theft of nearly $600,000 though prosecutors claim—and Ingram doesn't dispute—that she actually embezzled nearly a million dollars. Because the statute of limitations expired on some cases she can't be charged with them.
Houston County Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Stanley calls it one of the most heinous white collar crimes she has prosecuted. “(The Summerfords) were hurt tremendously. This is a person they considered a member of their family who preyed upon their business.”
Ingram, as her mother did, worked many years for the company and the Summerfords relied on her to take care of their finances.
When the company began to struggle the Summerfords, a Christian family, prayed for financial blessings. Ingram, according to testimony, prayed with them, never letting on she was the culprit causing their desperation.
When things went from bad to worse, they began to suspect Ingram. Then, in 2017, investigators charged her.
While the Summerfords teetered on the brink of financial collapse, Ingram lived a lavish lifestyle and donated large sums of money to her church, Stanley claims.
Her attorney, John White, describes Ingram as remorseful, but makes no excuses for her criminal actions. “In cases like this when you initially justify to yourself that you can commit these thefts it becomes easier and easier to do."
The case conflicted Houston County Circuit Judge Larry Anderson who struggled to find the best way to punish Ingram. Even though the Summerfords wanted her behind bars, Anderson believes she must repay the money.
Prior to Friday's hearing she had returned $141,000 but, locked up, she would be unable to pay $443,837 still owed.
So, Anderson decided to place her in Community Corrections, a work release program, where she will report to a job each day but return to lockup at night. A portion of what she earns will be forwarded to Summerford.
Rarely in criminal cases do both sides walk away lauding the judge's decision but this one is an exception.
“The fact she can remain in Dothan and remain employed is more than fair,” White said.
As for Stanley, she successfully argued that Ingram's actions were so financially heinous that she should receive more than probation called for under Alabama's sentencing guidelines.